One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He is looking very tired.
One afternoon The Delhi Walla meets Mohammed Saleem at the small mosque in Dargah Sabir, a Sufi shrine in Daryaganj. Mr Saleem is among a dozen men present at this hour. Sitting down in front of me, he offers a brief but astonishing account of his extraordinary life. This is strange because he is narrating his story to me, a stranger, without any prompting.
“I have just been released after spending seven years, one month and five days in prison. I’m from Gujarat. I was living with my wife and three children in Bhuj. My youngest is a daughter; she was only three months old when the Agra police arrived to arrest me. I was charged with the attempted murder of a man in that city. Since then I have lived in three jails–three and a half years at a prison in Agra, then about thirty months at a prison in Etawah and finally at Dasna Jail in Ghaziabad.”
Ghaziabad is across the border from Delhi.
“I was given a kind government lawyer in Dasna. He helped arrange the court summons of the very man whom I was supposed to have tried to murder. That man examined me carefully in the court and testified that I was not the person who had fired at him with a gun. The judge ordered my immediate release.”
Mr Saleem is stone-faced. The blank expression does not betray any feeling of hurt or anger. He says he has not seen his family since his arrest and that he is leaving for Bhuj this very afternoon.
“Ala Hazrat Express will leave at two from Old Delhi railway station.” Showing me a temporary blue tattoo on his left arm (see photo 2 below), he says, “I have no money for the rail ticket. The jail authorities got this sign tattooed on my arm and told me that I just have to show this to the ticket collector and he would let me be in the train for free.”
Soon it is time for the asr prayer. Mr Saleem gets up to perform his Islamic obligations. An hour or so passes in quietude. On leaving the mosque, I find Mr Salim sitting alone in the courtyard. I check the watch. It is more than two. His home-bound train must have already left Delhi.
[This is the 119th portrait of Mission Delhi project]