A family tradition.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He is the iron man of Nizamuddin East. Actually there are six of them in this central Delhi neighourbood. Radhey Shyam lords over C Block, which is home to writers, politicians, (retired) bureaucrats, artists, journalists and other power brokers.
“I get customers from C 17 to C 45,” Mr Shyam tells The Delhi Walla, referring to nearby apartments. Picking up a crumpled blue shirt, he modestly says, “I iron more than 100 clothes daily.”
Mr Shyam commutes everyday from his home in east Delhi’s Lakshmi Nagar. He reaches Nizamuddin East at 9 in the morning and leaves after the sunset.
Mr Shyam is not a rarity. At least one ironing man can be spotted outside every residential highrise in the city. Sprawling neighborhoods like Nizamuddin East have many such laundry establishments, each with its own turf of bungalows and flats. These makeshift shacks often double up as social clubs for the drivers and servants working in the area. Mr Shyam himself moonlights as a freelance driver for many of his customers.
His post in C Block lies at the east end of a community park, under a khirni tree. It is just a table but still it’s a grand sight – thanks to Mr Shyam’s sooty charcoal press that looks as stately as a steam engine. “It’s of brass and it weighs 5.5 kgs,” says Mr Shyam, adding, “I had bought it from Khari Baoli (in Old Delhi).”
Lifting up the black beauty, Mr Shyam runs it unhurriedly over a shirt’s sleeve; its crooked lines disappear instantly. “I will give you a hundred rupees if you can hold the (iron’s) wooden handle for one full minute,” he dares.
The handle is burning hot, even though it is wrapped around with a handkerchief.
The other heritage-worthy thing about Mr Shyam’s ironing service is his bloodline. His widowed mother spent 30 years ironing the clothes at this very spot. It was her father-in-law, Nanhe Ram, who had set up this business here some 60 years ago. They are all dead. Mr Shyam’s mother, Draupadi, died in 2010. The long-time residents of the surrounding homes remember her as Amma.
It is a miracle that in the furiously changing Nizamuddin East where nearly all the original bungalows have been razed down to give way to multi-storey apartments, this old make-do shed has managed to survive. But it too shall die. Mr Shyam, who is often assisted by his brother, says, “I have three children. They will work in AC (air-conditioned) offices. This iron will go away with me.”
Made of iron
1a. (Radhey Shyam)
1. (Dheeraj, Radhey Shyam’s brother)