City Moment – The Henna Couple, Central Delhi
The memorable instant.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Oblivious to the evening rush hour, Rekha is applying henna on Bhagwan Das’ hand on a central Delhi pavement, her eyes barely blinking.
Mr Das is lying slumped across the ground, as if it were his bed, fanning himself and his wife with a hand-held punkah (fan).
Rekha’s hands are already decked up with the dye in a roughly drawn floral design, though she still has to wash off the paste. “The longer you keep the paste, the stronger the colours will be” she says.
Although Rekha is in her late 40s and Mr Das in his mid 50s, they have been living together as a married couple for eight years only. “My first wife died,” he says. She politely declines to talk of her first husband.
Mr Das is a dishwasher in “parties”. Rekha spends part of the day walking along the avenues, begging for money.
“We earn enough to have food every day,” she says.
Finally, her task is done. Mr Das gazes upon his hands. He says that henna keeps the hands cool in the hot weather. “It also increases mohabbat (romance),” she adds without a smile, matter-of-factly. He turns his head to look at her, muttering, “My love for you flows from deep inside my jigar (heart).”
Rekha makes no response.
But who applied henna on her hands?
She grins for the first time in the conversation.
“My man did,” Rekha says. It’s a tender moment.
Portrait of a companionship