City Life – Sonam’s Musician, Vaishali
Recreating known strangers.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In your life too, there must be people you don’t personally know but whom you would often spot in the BC (before corona) era.
An ATM guard. A fruit seller. A beggar.
On daily seeing these unknown yet familiar faces —during our commute, somewhere in our street — what impression do they leave on us? What do we take away from them? And how to remember?
Sonam Pandey, a 22-year-old Master’s student in Hindi Literature, just finished immortalizing a man she knew — in a painting. The drawing looks like one of those watercolors sold by street artists in the touristic quarters of Paris—the typical evening sight of a musician serenading on a bridge, below a faintly glowing lamp.
Except that this is Vaishali, in Ghaziabad. Where the aforementioned musician would station himself on the pedestrian footbridge, every day, outside the metro station.
“I would often see him while exiting the station, playing his harmonium,” says Ms Pandey on WhatsApp video, from her home in Brij Vihar, near Vaishali.
Actually, that gentleman is named Pradeep (his pictures by The Delhi Walla are from a year ago). About 30, he would sit on the footbridge to play bhajans and Hindi film songs, while occasional passersby would drop a coin or two on his instrument. A native of Hardoi in UP, Pradeep was crippled since birth and used a special wheelchair to go about. During the day, especially in summer months, he would avoid the bridge (it has no roof to protect him from the harsh sun) and would rather lounge or sleep under a tree beneath. He lived in a homeless shelter that didn’t allow people to spend the day hours inside. Pradeep would say that he had no family, pointedly mentioning that he never felt alone “because I live with four friends, who are crippled like me.”
But where is he now? The metro service has resumed on the Blue Line—Vaishali is the route’s starting point—and he still isn’t anywhere to be seen. Ms Pandey reports she hasn’t spotted him since the first coronavirus-triggered lockdown began, in late March.
The young woman often turns to drawing when feeling low. Last Saturday, while wondering about the footbridge musician’s whereabouts, she recreated him on her drawing paper in one hour flat.
“Maybe he has gone to some other place,” she suggests, hopefully.
Until the musician eventually comes back, one of the places where he can be found is in her dream-like painting. In some ways, a perfect shelter.
The pandemic-era remembrances