Mission Delhi – Leo, East of Kailash and DLF Phase II
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Change isn’t easy. Though Leo may not articulate it in words. At least no words any human being can understand.
He is a dog. A brownish-white Lhasa Apso.
He recently shifted house, from East of Kailash in south Delhi to DLF Phase II in Gurgaon, just a few miles further south.
“The move unsettled his life,” admits Nikunj Kewalramani. In his early 30s, he is Leo’s friend as well as his guardian. “I bought him from a breeder five years ago, in Rohini. He was just two months old.” Mr Kewalramani is talking on WhatsApp from the isolation of his apartment in the Millenium City. Before the coronavirus lockdown halted the rituals of his life, he would daily commute to his office in west Delhi’s Kirti Nagar, where he works in a software company.
Leo’s current and former localities are much coveted addresses in the Delhi region, but they have very different characters. East of Kailash is cushioned in the genteel colony-style life of bungalows—Leo spent almost all his life in one of them, on the first floor of what used to be Mr Kewalramani’s family-owned house. DLF Phase II is a universe of high-rises, though here too Leo resides on the rented first floor of a bungalow—its terrace looks to the futuristic towers of Cyberhub business complex.
Mr Kewalramani, who describes himself as a “colony guy”, strongly feels this change in the environment. So does the rest of his family—wife, brother and parents. And probably Leo, too.
The little puppy definitely misses Chameli, a street dog in East of Kailash. Mr Kewalramani recalls how he would daily walk Leo to the nearby Yamuna Park in their Delhi neighbourhood. “On the way we would pass by a play-school whose guard had semi-officially adopted Chameli.” During their first encounter, Leo immediately started making cooing sounds, and won her heart. They both would cuddle together, and Chameli would accompany Leo until the end of the street, before turning back to her more dependable friend, the guard at the play-school.
Now it’s been more than two months since Leo left his old life in Delhi — the family shifted in January. The world around has been changing (courtesy, Corona) but Leo hasn’t been able to forget Chameli.
Introducing the pup through the mobile phone screen that connects him to The Delhi Walla, Mr Kewalramani calls out to him, saying, “Leo dekh (see), Chameli!” Almost immediately , Leo’s ears pop out and his eyes widen. His head excitedly turns around but suddenly he plops it down, looking downcast, probably realising that Chameli isn’t around after all.
In the early days at his new Gurugram house, Mr Kewalramani says, Leo seemed confused and would go from one room to another, as if looking for something. He started feeling at home only after the familiar beds, couches and other furniture were eventually brought in from the old house.
But Chameli’s absence continues to be felt. Mr Kewalramani is determined to take Leo for a brief trip to East of Kailash so that he can meet his friend. “Of course, that will happen only after coronavirus,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.
Meanwhile Leo is atop a double bed, silently sniffing about a laptop, occupied in thoughts only he knows.
[This is the 293rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]