City Life – Aunty’s Tree Stall, Golf Course Road, Gurgaon
Life under a dead tree.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Aunty has been working under this Kikar tree, here on Gurgaon’s Golf Links Road, for 15 years. Her real name is Salma Begum but barely anyone knows it. To the juice seller who operates next to her tea stall, to the local holy man who visits her daily, to the car puncture repairer down the road, and also to her regular customers, she is simply Aunty.
“When I first came here, there were no buildings, nothing, and the tree was full of leaves,” she says.
The Kikar was leafy until recently. “Two years ago, water supply people were digging the ground and they accidentally cut off its roots,” reveals Aunty, “and soon all the leaves fell and the tree dried up.”
In some ways, Aunty’s life is intimately connected to the tree. The plastic awning that serves as a roof to her stall is tied to one of its branches. She also has a small pantry attached to the tree, rustled out of random things she has picked up over the years from the roadside: car seats, empty sacks, plastic sheets and broken power cables.
While making the chai, Aunty wonders “if a dead tree can be made alive again.”
Later she throws fistfuls of grains on the ground and almost immediately a dozen pigeons land for the banquet.
Looking up at the Kikar, Aunty says, “I spend the whole day under the tree but I go back to my jhuggi (slum) at night… it’s just behind the drain.”
Aunty lives with her husband, who works in the Metro, and two children, two dogs and a six-year-old goat. “I have her since she was a baby.”
Three days ago there was a strong wind, the lady informs, and all the trees were swaying wildly and half of the Neem tree over there fell off.”
What if Aunty’s tree also falls down?
A car mechanic comes over and assures the woman that “sookha per girta nahi (a dry try usually doesn’t fall).”
She is anyway not unduly bothered. “If the tree falls, it will fall, I will build another stall under some other tree.” After staying silent for a moment as if in deep reflection, she says, “Dekho bhai (look brother), when the tree is green, it’s another sight… and when it’s is gone, you do feel bad.”
Now Aunty’s dogs are circling around her. Patting one of them, she says, “But we have to surrender to God’s will and keep living.”