Mission Delhi – Arman, Sadar Bazar
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Despite living without a house in a tough city like Delhi, despite having to brave every day the dangerous times of the coronavirus pandemic, fruit seller Arman makes sure to have beauty in his life.
In the form of pink bougainvilleas.
This morning, bunches of the papery scentless flowers are artfully decked up on the mangoes piled up on his cart, here in central Delhi’s Sadar Bazar.
“The decoration was my own idea,” says Arman, flashing a disarming smile that makes him so endearing that one would immediately want to shake his hands (but for coronavirus). Arman is as stylish as his cart—a white scarf, the gamcha, is flung about his tight fitting shirt. His hair falls over his forehead, making a prominent curl on one side. His moustache is impeccably trimmed. “I shave daily,” he says.
In his early 20s, Arman has been a Delhiwalla for a decade. His family, comprising his mother and siblings, live in the village in Bahraich, UP. He sleeps on the patri, pavement, in the company of other hawkers like him—they all are from the same district.
It is the monsoon season and one never knows when it might start to rain at night, while asleep, so Arman recently bought a new tirpal, waterproof canvass sheet, for 2000 rupees from Sadar Bazar. “I put it up at night upon my stretch of the pavement… sometimes the rainwater wets the gadda (mattress)… but that doesn’t disturb my geheri neend (deep sleep).”
Arman returns to his pavement only by 10 pm. He has a quick dinner in a dhaba nearby, after which he goes to sleep. His night is not very long, to say the least. A mere couple of hours. At midnight he wakes up and boards an auto for Azadpur wholesale vegetable market to get a fresh stock of fruits for the next day’s sales. Last night he got langra mangoes from Benares. He returned to the patri by 4 am, cleaned his cart, arranged it with mangoes and was ready to start the day.
That’s his daily routine.
This morning, after having a breakfast of kebab and parathas, he pulled his cart by a bougainvillea shrub, plucked off a few flowers and arranged them daintily upon the green mangoes. “A beautiful sight makes one feel good“ he explains.
Now Arman holds a few tufts of these bougainvilleas in his hands, and shyly starts to talk of his girlfriend who lives near Gonda town. “We have known each other for five years… our villagers are about an hour away from each other.” The couple chat daily on phone but Arman can’t predict with any confidence the future of their relationship.
“It’s not that I use only the bougainvilleas for my cart,” he points out later. “it could be anything… yesterday I used leaves of Ashoka and Paakad (trees)…. day before I had used roses.”
At some point later in the day, Arman will inevitably feel sleepy. “Because I rest so little at night.” And so, when there’s not much crowd and no hope of customers, usually in the late afternoon, he will simply park his cart by a pavement, plop his head among the unsold mangoes, and close his eyes for a while—he says.
[This is the 346th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Mango man’s bougainvilleas