One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Is he a writer? A novelist?
He is tapping on his laptop with full concentration.
One night The Delhi Walla spots a man seated alone in Ajay Guest House, a café in the backpackers’ district of Paharganj. The coffee shop is always filled with mostly-white, mostly-young foreigners.
This man, however, is as brown as any Indian. He is also not young. His head bend downwards, the man is showing no interest in the immediate world around him.
It turns out he is writing on environment. Lifting up his eyes briefly, he responds to my query by saying, “I hope it can be published in one of the newspapers… let’s see.”
The man gradually opens up. Keeping aside the laptop for a while, he introduces himself as Prahlad Singh Shekhawat. “I’m from Jaipur,” he says in a gentle tone. His voice is very low, almost a whisper.
Mr Shekhawat arrived in Delhi two weeks ago. Staying in a hotel in Paharganj, he is in the city to apply visas for his forthcoming trip abroad. Though not a novelist, his life is full of plans. “First, I will go to attend the music festival in Fez in Morocco. Then I will go to Denmark. It’s the happiest nation on earth and I want to find out just why. Denmark also has the world’s most equal society… actually, I want to visit all the Scandinavian countries. They all are rated high in the quality of life. I want to study why it is so.”
It is surreal to talk about the world’s happiest countries in a place like Paharganj where homeless men and stray dogs line the road on either side.
Mr Shekhawat is waiting to get his passport stamped by the Moroccan embassy. He will then have to fill up visa forms for Europe. “I’m also planning to go to England where I intend to enroll in a short course on Indian Art Appreciation at Oxford University. I might also go to Switzerland and France. It’s relatively cheap to travel within Europe and I have friends in both countries.”
Meanwhile, Mr Shekhawat kills his hours in Delhi by following the urges of his artistic temperament. He walks through the galleries of the National Museum. He attends concerts at Sri Ram Auditorium and India Habitat Center. And, off course, everyday there are books to be bought in Khan Market.
“But sometimes I feel lonely,” he says.
Mr Shekhawat was married to a Japanese woman. “We are divorced,” he says, “Yushito has gone back to look after her mother in Kyoto.”
The man with the laptop soon gets up from the sofa. Heading back to his hotel, he says, “It is opposite Imperial Cinema… I will work on the rest of my article on environment tomorrow morning.”
[This is the 114th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Just before the world trip