Mission Delhi – Pappu, Central Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He’s shining brightly.
Pappu is wearing trousers whose bright shade is difficult to determine—is it some sort of brown or mustard color, or brownish-mustard, or something else entirely. Doesn’t matter. The pants are very attractive but they are outshone by his fluorescent orange shirt printed with the title of a Hindi film rap song—Apna time ayega (My time will come). The sleeves have “TikTok TikTok” running along their length.
“These are new clothes, I bought them just yesterday,” he says, blushing. The only old thing he’s wearing is his check gamcha, that he has stylishly knotted about his pants like a loose belt.
Pappu is a daily-wage labourer and this morning he is walking through a central Delhi market, on his way to a building contractor who owes him 4,000 rupees.
“And there’s another person in Gurgaon who has to pay me 5,000 for the work I did some months ago. I’ll have to go there later this week.”
In the pre-corona days too, builders and contractors would occasionally delay paying their workforce, Pappu informs. “But this tendency has recently started to become more common.” He blames it on the extraordinary situation triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. “There is less money in the market, halaat (conditions) are not good, and contractors don’t have much cash at hand.”
Whatever, he is refusing to be patient any longer—“I’ll soon be leaving for home.” Pappu reveals his plan with a big smile, referring to his native place in Madhya Pradesh. In his late 20s, he has been in Delhi for about a decade “but it’s tough to find work these days… so I’m going back to my village.”
Pappu’s family includes his father, and his brother and sister-in-law. “I got the new clothes because I want to look nice when I meet my people.”
He shopped for them the day before in Sadar Bazar. “The pants came for 200 rupees and the shirt was more expensive, at 250.” The last time he had bought new pants-shirt was two months ago “but they are in tattered condition… I was using them as my work clothes.”
Pappu doesn’t plan to spoil the new dress, and is putting it on just for today “for masti (fun)”. He will wear them next only for his journey home though he isn’t sure of the exact date of the return. “It will be as soon as I get all my dues.” He plans to stay in the village for the next few months, working in his family’s agricultural field. “We get enough produce from our land to feed ourselves well.”
If so, why has he been living in smoggy Delhi, working as a labourer and sleeping on the pavement?
Pappu’s face becomes somber, maybe he is gathering his thoughts. “A family can live for generations in the same village, following the same line of work… but if even just one family member goes to a city for work, then other younger people in the family get the opportunity to do something else.”
But now Pappu really has to hurry to meet the contractor. He excuses himself and merges into the street crowd ahead, his dress keeping him identifiable for a long time.
[This is the 348th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Life through clothes