Mission Delhi – Devi, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The elderly woman is walking alone with three bags this afternoon. One in her hand, two on her back. One of the bags is actually a large sack.
The Delhi Walla spots her singular silhouette in central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti. The woman is dressed in a mustard-green tunic, falling over a pink kaftan-like garment. Her accessories includes black-rimmed glasses and red-and-yellow glass bangles. She is walking down the Mirza Ghalib Street, a lane of kebab stalls, tea kiosks and meat shops that is named after the famous Mughal-era poet—the street actually ends in front of his tomb.
“We started seeing this aurat (woman) about six months ago,” says a bearded grocer, holding the holy Quran on his lap. “She has no home but now she lives in the Basti.” His neighbor, an observant eatery owner, gives his input, adding that the woman tends to stop outside every shop of the neighborhood, once a day, and waits to be given some money — but, he says with great astonishment, she never utters even a single word. Apparently, the woman spends most of her day sitting next to a bus shelter on Lodhi Road.
Now, she is standing outside the Husseini Hotel. I ask for her name. She looks up at her interlocutor, smiles and mutters something incomprehensible in a very low voice. It is impossible to untangle her words. The gentle-mannered owner of the Husseini Hotel comes to the rescue. He says he once tried to talk to the woman and figured out that her name was Devi, and that she had come to Delhi from a village high up in the mountains. He said she has no one in Delhi.
Meanwhile, the woman walks ahead. She stops some distance ahead and takes out a small handkerchief from her handbag. It has a few coins and cash, and some medicines. She gazes on at the contents of the handkerchief for about a minute, after which she keeps it back into her bag. She delicately places the bag on her head, and walks ahead casually as if she is heading to a market for shopping.
[This is the 105th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Lady with the bags