Mission Delhi – Dharmendera Diwakar, Sector 49
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He is the ironing man, and generally addressed by his profession rather than by his name. “Many people call me press wale bhayya,” says Dharmendera Diwakar.
His profession is not taking good care of him these days. “I would daily iron about 300 pieces of clothing before the (coronavirus-triggered) lockdown, but now… yesterday for instance, I ironed 35.”
In his early 30s, Mr Diwakar is chatting on WhatsApp video from his workplace—which consist of two tables and two irons, on the ground floor of a housing society tower in Gurgaon’s Sector 49 in the Greater Delhi Region. The society has a multitude of multi-storey towers, and Mr Diwakar’s customers are spread among two of such towers. The other ironing men are similarly spread in other towers.
Mr Diwakar’s business has plummeted down because most of his customers rarely step out of their house these days, so they don’t feel the need to get their dresses ironed, he explains. “Another reason is that people are scared that they might get coronavirus from me.” With barely any earnings, Mr Diwakar’s debt to the local grocer is piling up. He’s also finding it tough to pay for the school fee of his three daughters—a helpful “didi” in the other tower, however, purchased a new smartphone for his kids so that they do not miss their online classes (occasionally longtime clients give him emergency cash).
It was in this context that last night, at his one-room home in Bhondsi village, nearby, Mr Diwakar sat down with his wife, Roshni, for a brainstorming session on how to manage in the coming months. The couple eventually devised a “plan B”—Mr Diwakar would offer to his regular customers his services as a car washer.
“This morning I rang many of the houses, and before anybody could say that there are no clothes to be ironed I asked them if they would let me wash their cars daily.”
Mr Diwakar has already got two car washing assignments. Staring into the phone screen, he says, “I cannot break my spirit under any circumstances.”
Later in the night, on reaching home, he poses with the entire family for a photo shoot. Everyone’s smiling.
[This is the 368th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The iron man of Sector 49