Mission Delhi – Ramlal Thakur, Mirza Ghalib Street
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Switching it off, he tucks it inside his white plastic sack. “Radio is my life,” says Ramlal Thakur. In his 40s, Mr Thakur is living beside a brick wall on Mirza Ghalib Street in Nizamuddin Basti, central Delhi, for… nobody in the area knows since which year. Fixed to the same spot, he has become as much a signpost as the nearby tomb of Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib, after whom the street is named. “When I was in school, I would secretly listen to the radio… ”
Wearing navy-blue slippers, Mr Thakur is in striped shirt and light brown trousers that looks like as if they haven’t been washed for weeks. He is talking in scholarly Hindi, not spoken in casual chats. “… Earlier, we’d only All India Radio, but now there are so many FM channels. I listen to talks, debates and… I like old film songs. So much effort would be put into the making of each song.”
Be it morning or noon, Mr Thakur is always seen with the radio glued to his left ear. His head is constantly bowed down to the ground. A nearby grocer told The Delhi Walla that Mr Thakur is blind. Passers-by give him money though he never begs; the breakfast shacks give him tea, bread and sometimes even sweet lassi, for free.
Clasping his hands, Mr Thakur says, “I’m suffering. I have flaws in my character. I’m poor and wretched. I can’t see.” After pausing for a minute, he says, “My life has secrets. I’m ashamed of myself.” Again he goes silent, again he speaks. “I’m being tortured. Children kick me. I can’t eat in the day, I can’t sleep in the night.”
Mr Thakur takes out a water bottle from his sack. “What’s in there?” I ask. He says, “I’ve stuffed it with polythene packets. The bag has tied me to this street. If you have material belongings, you think twice before leaving a place.”
Mr Thakur isn’t telling me that why he left his family in Mussoorie, a Himalayan district 200 miles north of Delhi. “I can’t go back home. If a bird leaves its flock and joins the community of men, and later if it tries to return, it won’t be accepted.”
It is evening. What is Mr Thakur planning to eat tonight?
“I’ll eat tomorrow or the day after.”
How come his finger nails are so neatly clipped?
“I’ve a razor.”
Although he hasn’t shaven since a couple of days, it is clearly visible that Mr Thakur must have had a hair cut recently.
We sit quietly. Pedestrians aren’t noticing us. “Most of the times it remains erect,” Mr Thakur says, pointing to the zip on his trousers. “I’ve nightfalls.”
The next moment his thoughts turn to current events. “I’m sad for the people who died in the Bombay bomb blasts.”
As I leave, Mr Thakur says, “What do you know of my sufferings?” Lowering his voice, as if muttering to himself, I hear him saying, “I hate this life.”
[This is the 45th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Good morning, Mr Thakur
This is home
There are secrets…
Fixed to the spot
Can’t go home
Life is hateful
Goodnight, Mr Thakur