Mission Delhi – Ram Bahadur, Jangpura
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Bhagwan Ram is embedded in the very fabric of this food hawker’s life. Let’s start with his name—Ram Bahadur, meaning Ram the brave. He sells Ram Laddu, those yummy deep-fried moong dal pakodis garnished with grated radish and sour-green chutney.
And Ram Bahadur’s son’s name is Ram Khiladi, meaning Ram the player.
And when Ram Bahadur stops to greet familiar faces on the streets, he instinctively breaks into that warm friendly greeting of “Ram-Ram”. Just the way others might say namaste or hello.
“I also say Ram-Ram when I have to say bye-bye,” Ram Bahadur clarifies.
As a hawker, he walks about the city alleys the whole day long with his food basket. This evening he has stopped by a Jangpura by-lane in central Delhi; the straw basket is perched on a kind of padded cap placed on his head. He calls it topi. “It’s to balance the basket and also to keep the head safe from injuries,” he says.
Ram Bahadur now places the basket carefully on the bamboo stand he had under his arm, and shows the topi, explaining that he himself sewed it with pieces of discarded clothes. It’s wrapped in plastic to keep it safe from dust.
This kind of cap is used by many hawkers like him, he says.
“Nobody showed me how to make it.” Just as nobody told him to greet with Ram-Ram? He laughs.
In his early 40s, Ram Bahadur arrived in the capital from his village in Badaun, UP, as a small boy aged ten. “A relative was already selling Ram Laddus here.” Pausing for a while, as if trying to recall a distant memory, Ram Bahadur confesses “that perhaps he must have taught me how to make such a topi.”
Mr Bahdur’s son in the village is of the age at which he himself left home for Delhi. “I hope Ram Khiladi never have to learn to make this kind of mazdoor ki topi (labourer’s cap).”
The kid is studying in the village school, he informs, hoping “one day he becomes a bada admi (big man) with Ramji’s kripa (blessing).”
[This is the 279th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
A Ram in the crowd