Mission Delhi – Dharmender Kumar Verma, Kadipur Chowk
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
You might think of Gurgaon in the Greater Delhi Region, with its many malls and high-rises, as the Millenium City. But he calls it a jehennun: hell.
“That’s what it has become now,” asserts cab driver Dharmender Kumar Verma in a frustrated tone. He is chatting this noon on WhatsApp video from the isolation of his one-room home in Kadipur Chowk. “But it’s not my home!,” he exclaims. “It’s a rented room… I have to pay 2,800 rupees every month, but now I have no money and the landlord is hinting at me to vacate the place.”
Mr Verma, 31, has barely made any earnings since the coronavirus-triggered lockdown began in late March. Though now the restrictions on movement have eased considerably, “I rarely get customers.” He still spends most of the day lying on the bed in his “rented room”, looking up at the ceiling fan, thinking, “Where to go if I really have to move out of this place?”
This distress of his is duplicated hundreds of miles away in his village in Allahabad, UP, where lives his wife, Chhaya Devi, and their kids Sahil, Raunak and Shalu. Mr Verma has been unable to send any money to them. “Thankfully her neighbour gave her 1.5 quintal of gehu (wheat) that she got grounded into flour from an atta chakki (flour mill).”
Chhaya Devi daily makes aloo gravy to go with the rotis for the family—though getting potatoes too is a struggle these days. “My kids eat the aloo while she swallows down her roti with the gravy.”
There are relatives in the village but it is difficult to help others in the “mahamari (pandemic),” Mr Verma notes sombrely.
Looking sorrowful on the mobile phone screen, he talks of getting calls from his wife. “Sometimes I console her, and sometimes she consoles me, saying that she is managing to survive and that I must look after myself.”
In his weaker moments, Mr Verma, who has been working in Gurugram since 2006, toys with the idea of giving up on this city and returning to the village as soon as train services resume. “But there is absolutely no source of earning there.”
While Whatsapping pictures of his family, he confesses that his younger son’s shorts have got torn, “but we don’t have spare money to buy him new ones.”
At night, just before going to sleep, Mr Verma often thinks that “perhaps this mahamari will soon go away and we all will return to our former happy state, the way we were living some months ago.”
For now, though, he just got a rare customer through online booking and he gets ready to make the day’s first earning.
[This is the 319th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
A face in the pandemic