City Life – The 40 Kashmiris of Old Delhi, Turkman Gate Bazaar
Home away from home.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
They are like migratory birds who make permanent, if makeshift, nests in a faraway land.
A group of 40 Kashmiri men live in a corner at Old Delhi’s Turkman Gate Bazaar. They are from Dolegam, a village near Banihal, and have been here for three decades.
They work as daily-wage labourers, hauling load on their reris (wooden trolleys). Their customers could be anyone — from wholesale dealers to shopkeepers or homeowners wanting to move a sofa from the first floor of their apartment to the fourth.
The Delhi Walla meets them late one night. Some are sleeping on the pavement. The rest are awake, sitting on the trolleys, watching the crowded street.
Kashmir has made a place for itself in the Old Quarter. Matia Mahal and Urdu Bazaar are dotted with a dozen Kashmiri eateries. In the morning, a few tea stalls also serve ‘noon’ chai and lavasa roti, the Kashmiri breakfast.
In the winter, a number of Kashmiri families leave for Delhi and check into hotels surrounding Jama Masjid. However, this band of Kashmiri men remain in Delhi the whole year round.
“We do go to our village twice or thrice a year depending on the state of our finances,” says Abdul Hameed, who seems the least shy in the group. “We have no work there… we barely have any land for farming.”
The congested street is cloaked with the golden glow of street lamps. Some of the light is falling on these men, making them look like figures in a renaissance painting.
There is no certainty of income for them. “One day, I may earn as much as ₹400 and one day it may be nothing at all… depends on the availability of work,” says Abdul Hameed.
The most that they expect to earn in a month, he says, is ₹10,000. Even so, they send money to their families each month without fail, even if they have to borrow from each other.
These days Kashmir is in the grip of violence. Do these men worry about their families, especially their children?
“Our areas are away from the turmoil,” says Abdul Hameed. “We are strict about the education of our children. We don’t want them to become like us.”
If the future of their children turns out to be different, this little Kashmir enclave will vanish. For now, young men keep coming from the villages. We meet the youngest, Muhammed Shareef, 22. He is too shy to speak.
The community of men