Trees of Delhi.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It does not offer much protection from the harsh sun, yet its meager shade is comforting. One afternoon The Delhi Walla saw a Neem tree on Lodhi Road.
There were other trees in the vicinity that were bigger and denser and more majestic but this Neem looked special. It belongs to Bachchan Dev Ram. A shoe repairer, he sits under this tree daily. Mr Ram converted it into his establishment about eight years ago. The tools of his trade are neatly arranged on one side of the tree – stacks of shoes and sandals alongside rubber soles and shoe-polish brushes. A bunch of shoe laces is hung on a branch, along with a couple of trouser belts — Mr Ram can repair anything made of leather.
He lives alone on a footpath in Delhi, while his two school-going daughters—Sanwanti Devi and Anno Devi—are growing up with his wife, Anita Devi, far away from him at their village in Bihar.
Unlike many of us, Mr Ram has not decorated his work area with the photographs of his family. Instead, he has sanctified the tree with posters of gods and saints. There is Hanuman, the god of wind; Sai Baba, the Sufi saint of Shirdi, Durga, the mother of the universe. And then there is Guru Ravidas, the patron saint of leather workers—the artisans who are forced to inherit this living from their fathers because of the accident of their birth into an oppressed caste.
Mr Ram, who is fixing a scuffed leather heel, chooses not to show any resentment. Instead, he looks up at the Neem and says, “I think God made this tree for me.”