One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A red rose is tucked into her hair. A green scarf is tied under her chin. Her wrinkled hands lie folded on her lap. Her luxuriously embroidered sandals are beside her bare feet. Aged and regal-looking, she could as well be at her breakfast parlour. She is actually sitting inside a pavement shack, where she is a guest.
One afternoon The Delhi Walla meets Catherine Lama on Lodhi Road. Ms Lama is resting against a bundle of blankets. This little space on the brick-lined pavement is an entire house–the roof is a plastic sheet. The dwelling belongs to a family of beggars who spend their day outside the Sai Baba Temple, close to the next traffic light.
Speaking in English, Ms Lama says of her hosts, “They are like my children. I give them love and they wash me and feed me.” The elderly woman also says that she serves water to pilgrims at the Sai Baba Temple.
Ms Lama says she came to Delhi a long time ago from her home in the faraway hills of Darjeeling. “I was living with a Buddhist monk near the Nepal border… I took my last name from him… my….”
She suddenly stops and starts to look at the traffic on the road.
The pavement shack leans to the trunk of a Neem tree. Looking up towards it, Ms Lama says, “Neem is mother to all of us. Don’t you know? And Peepul [tree] is our father.”
She looks irritated when I enquire about her parents. “Don’t ask about those who went away.”
After a long pause, she says, “I live to love other people and then other people love me back.” Switching to Hindi, she says, “Ek haath se lo, ek haath se do (give from one hand; accept from another hand).”
She then starts to croon an old Hindi film song:
Musafir hoon yaaron; na ghar hai, na thikaana,
Mujhe chalte jaana hai, bas chalte jaana…
[I’m a traveler, friends; I have no home, no destination,
I must just keep going…]
[This is the 111th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The queen of love