Mission Delhi – Rajesh Tiwari, Matia Mahal
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Life has changed for so many of us with the coronavirus pandemic. But for at least a few others, its rhythms continue to be the same.
Rajesh Tiwari, 49, still wakes up at four in the morning sharp, at his home in Sonia Vihar. And so does his wife, Sunita, who quickly serves him piping hot chai with a plate of biscuits.
Mr Tiwari leaves home at half past four, riding on his bicycle, covering a distance of 10 kilometers in one hour, and reaching Gandhi Nagar market in central Delhi. There he stacks up his bicycle carrier with bundles of morning dailies from a newspaper distributor, and pedals the short distance to Old Delhi where he delivers the print editions to hundreds of households.
“I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” says Mr Tiwari, stopping his cycle in an alley near Matia Mahal. It is mid-morning and the street is mildly crowded. Hawkers are everywhere—some are selling fruits, others are selling masks, a new entry in the street merchandise. Almost every person is in mask, including Mr Tiwari. There is no knowing if he has a moustache or not.
“My work routine has remained the same,” he says, lowering his eyes towards his gloved arms, stained with black stains. “Newsprint marks,” explains Mr Tiwari.
He confesses that the first month of the corona-triggered lockdown was tough for him as “I couldn’t leave my home.” There was no income. His job as a newspaper vendor supports his household comprising of wife and two sons, he points out.
Mr Tiwari managed to return to work “some weeks ago”, and “since then it’s all the same for me again.”
But everything is not the same, he admits while mulling on a query. “Earlier, I would deliver newspapers to about 300 houses, but now it has come down to 200.” He ascribes this to customers who were panicked about the virus and decided to block access to some of the products coming from outside the home.
Living in Delhi since the early 1990s—he is from a village in Sitapur, UP—Mr Tiwari feels that he “had never seen such a situation before.. everyone is scared…. so many people are out of work.”
He believes himself lucky to still be able to carry on with his vocation and bringing home about ten thousand rupees every month.
Now a masked passer-by stops, and asks for a Hindi daily. Mr Tiwari quickly concludes the transaction and pedals away to the next home he has to deliver —“I roll the akhbar, tie it with a rubber band and toss it up into the balcony.”
He will return home at 10 am.
[This is the 315th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The evening portrait of a ‘labour’