Mission Delhi – Shyam Lal, Kaka Nagar Garden
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Gardener Shyam Lal, a fan of arhar dal, is thankful he’s getting wholesome meals. That wasn’t always the case.
He’s now opened his lunch box here in a small public garden in Central Delhi’s Kaka Nagar that he’s tended for some 40 years. “Today I’m getting rotis and aloo matar. But when I was growing up, a nutritious meal was pure luxury,” he recalls. His voice trails off as he savors the luncheon prepared by his daughter-in-law. But then Mr Lal resumes his verbal journey into times past.
“We were very poor.”
Growing up in a UP village, his mother was almost always obliged to cook a combination of lentils (mostly the yellow arhar) and rice just about every day.
The only sabzi Mr Lal remembers eating was the starchy potato. “We rarely had any leafy vegetables.” Mr Lal’s mother died of a snake bite, but by that time his wife was already settled in the house. She too was obliged to rustle out a monotonous meal of lentils and rice daily. As a result, Mr Lal’s most beloved dish has ended up being the arhar dal. “It reminds me of my mother and my early days of marriage.”
His wife lives in the village to take care of his ailing aged father. He himself lives with his son’s family, the son is a labourer. Yesterday, Mr Lal ate the sort of meal that was beyond reach during his youth—matar paneer. “I’m grateful to prabhu (God) for the turn in my circumstances.”
After finishing today’s tasty repast, he carefully closes his lunch box and resumes working in the garden that he’s nurtured so carefully over the years.
[This is the 203rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]