One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His bicycle is not looking like a bicycle. It is decked with lamps, water bottles, flags, locks, chains, switchboards, red and black power cables, a cassette player, a car license plate, his own photograph, and a paan-daani fitted with cups that contain all the ingredients that go in the making of an addict’s betel leaf. There is also a loud speaker.
One afternoon The Delhi Walla meets Muhammed Mirajuddin outside a police chowki in Turkman Gate. He has a long beard and is dressed in a white kurta pajama.
Mr Mirajuddin opens his mouth, spits out the red juice of the paan on the cracked ground and moves closer to his cycle. After clicking one of the dozen battery-operated switches fitted on his vehicle, he takes out a mike and starts to speak. His voice booms out of the speaker installed at the front.
“I welcome my friends from the media,” he says as if he were a politician addressing a packed press conference. “I was a driver and used to drive Maruti taxi in Delhi… but I had enemies. The taxi belonged to Muhammed Mussabar whose character changed after he came under the company of Muhammed Aamir. That man was my enemy and one night he forcibly rubbed white powder into my eyes. I could no longer see distant things. Muhammed Mussabar took back his taxi. I have been begging for three years.”
Mr Mirajuddin pauses to smile. His teeth are stained red with paan. His finger nails, too, are stained with what appears to be dried betel juice.
“I still have the number plate of my cab, he says, pointing to the license plate hanging from a rod fitted on the back of the cycle. The paint has peeled off the license plate and it is difficult to make out the numbers.
Mr Mirajuddin eventually puts away the mike and turns on his cycle’s cassette player. Over the screechy sound of an old Hindi film song, he tells me that his home is his bicycle. A few nights ago, while he was asleep on a pavement in another part of the city, somebody stole a light bulb from his cycle.
Mr Mirajuddin says he is 42 and had come to Delhi when he was around 13. His family home is in Moradabad, about four-hour-drive from Delhi. “I have three brothers and three sisters and one mother but I have not seen them for many years. I think one sister has already been married.”
Mr Mirajuddin warbles on about his complicated life. His sentences and his ideas might be clear to him but it is impossible for me to follow. His fast-moving narrative ignores conventional tools of story-telling and too many Muhammeds are popping up: Muhammed Manjoor, Muhammed Ashraf, Muhammed Din, Muhammed Khalid, Muhammed Manjoor, Muhammed Syed… this Muhammed Syed is, apparently, already dead.
“Why don’t you go back to your family?” I ask.
“I will go only after I have told the media… to Aaj Tak [a Hindi news channel]… about the unimaginable things done to me. The world has to know my story.”
Mr Mirajuddin turns off the old Hindi film song and begins to repeat the incomprehensible story of his life into his mike. I walk away leaving him as his only audience.
[This is the 118th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Listen to his story