Mission Delhi – Vipin, Gurgaon
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A doctor has his stethoscope, a painter his brush, a writer his iPhone.
And swaddled in an off-white head cloth and mud-covered T-shirt and shorts here in Gurgaon, Vipin has his, what he calls, “hook.”
It’s an iron rod bent into a hook at one end.
Vipin, a labourer, always carries two of these hooks.
“They are my astra (weapon),” he says, sitting down under a tree for a break, the hooks lying by his side.
In his early 30s, Vipin works in a troupe of labourers whose sole job is to empty trucks and rail coaches filled with cement bags bound for building sites. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years.”
He, along with a fellow labourer, lifts the heavy sacks one by one with his hooks and flings them into the air. The sacks are caught by another labourer who hauls them away on his back.
Vipin has never carried a sack on his back. Not once. “And those men have never done my work.”
Surely, carrying such hefty baggage on one’s back must be tougher. The man smiles sympathetically, the way people smile when confronted with abysmal ignorance, and says, “To lift hundreds of heavy borre (sacks) within minutes isn’t that easy.”
The other end of the hook, the one Vipin has to hold in his hands, is padded with thick layers of fabrics. “Otherwise the palms and fingers hurt.”
The man says he made these cushioned holders from his old clothes when they got torn and were too worn out for daily wear.
“Incidentally, these are not my hooks,” he says. “They belong to the thekedar (contractor)… he gave them to me when I first got the work and I’ll return them to him when I will give up this work.”
And when will that be?
The labourer doesn’t respond.
[This is the 174th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Arms and the man