City Life – Kesar’s Mango Pickles, Under the Metro Tracks, Gurgaon
The family life.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Monsoon has arrived. The rain’s finally falling. Such bad luck. Kesar was depending on the afternoon to stay sunny. Now, the plan has gone haywire. The pickles might be ruined. They had to be kept under the sun for the whole day. Without wasting a moment, she quickly pulls the folding bed covered with dozens of sliced ‘kachi amiya’ (unripened mangoes) back into the house.
Kesar’s house is a small shack under the Metro tracks here in Gurugram’s IFFCO Chowk. It’s a contraption of several plastic sheets, including one with Mickey Mouse prints.
“We’ve been here for 10 years,” says the 50-something woman nonchalantly. Known as Mummy, her large family consists of sons, daughters, dog Moti, along with a few more men and women “who have no parents.” One of them includes Ashok Kumar, a young sombre-looking man with prematurely greying hair who refuses to talk, saying, “I’m a shoonya (zero).” Another man has a pierced heart tattooed on his chest along with the name Jyoti, who “is my wife but doesn’t live with me”.
The clan makes a living by selling balloons, footballs and toy helicopters at traffic lights. At the moment, they have taken shelter on a patch of ground directly under the Metro tracks, the only dry place.
“Our life barely survives from one day to another… roz gaddha khodo aur paani nikalo (dig the pit daily and draw out the water),” says the brooding Mr Kumar, finally condescending to utter a few words. He has been living with Kesar’s family since past few years “because Mummy has a big heart and has given me a home despite my crippled legs”.
Kesar looks on indifferently, and lights up a beedi to smoke. “There’s nothing to do until the rain lasts,” she says in her thick authoritative voice, looking far away at pedestrians and bikers who have huddled under the shelter of a foot-over bridge.
Some of the kids in the family have taken off their clothes and are dancing under the rain. Meanwhile, one of the younger women is serving the lunch, a simple dish of rice and yellow dal.
Expressing concerns over her homemade pickle-in-progress, Kesar fears that the “achaar needed some more sun.”
The talk veers towards pickle-making and all the women concede that “Mummy” makes the best aam achaar. “It’s no big deal,” Kesar shrugs her shoulders. “If you are making achaar out of 19 kg of amiya, then you have to use five kg of mustard oil,” she says.
But now the rain is falling even faster. Kesar keeps the ‘thali’ aside and walks into the shack. She returns shaking her head. Looking dejected, she glumly declares that “rain water is dripping through the roof and falling upon the achar”.
Almost all the grown-ups concernedly turn their gaze towards the unceasing rain. Kesar lights up a new beedi and starts smoking, deep in thought, like an office boss with a rich experience in crisis management.
Season’s pickles and a woman’s world