Mission Delhi – Sikander, Sadar Bazaar, Gurgaon
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Alexander the Great — whose Hindi name would be Sikander — set on to conquer the world. But Sikander, the dholak seller, is more humble. He just want to conquer his fate.
“I have come from a khandaan of dholak wallas… my father sold dholak, his father sold dholak, and his father sold dholak too. But I want to break this cycle… the dholak hasn’t made us rich… I want to do something else instead of walking along the streets, crying out for people to buy these dholaks.”
It’s a cold afternoon and Sikander is wading through the Sadar Bazaar crowd in Gurgaon in the Greater Delhi Region. He has two dholaks hanging from his neck. At times, he screams his lungs out to make himself heard in the street blabber—“Dholak le lo.” And in between the cries, he taps his fingers on one of the dholaks to produce a soft music, reminiscent of some old Hindi film song. The melodious tune is so soft (perhaps intentionally, because dholak can otherwise be so loud) that it seems to come from far away.
“Because all my life I’ve been selling dholak,” he says, responding to a compliment on his effortless skill with the instrument. The family traditionally made dholaks at home but Sikander gets them from a wholesaler. A native of Moradabad, UP, he has been in the so-called Millennium City for a couple of years. “I came here hoping I would get the chance to find some other work.” He could have become a construction worker “but how can these hands that play dholak handle bricks and cement?”
A few more minutes of chat with the dholak seller make it clear that, while he does want to switch to some other career, he just doesn’t know to which one. “I’m illiterate,” he remarks.
Showing his dholaks, he says he has already sold two since morning. Now a passerby stops by to examine one of them. The potential buyer looks fascinated, and himself plays the dholak for a few moments but is visibly outraged by the price Sikander gives him — 490 rupees for it. The transaction falls through.
Sikander has two young sons in the village. “If not me, perhaps they will set into something new,” he mutters.
Meanwhile, he imparts that they already know how to play dholak.
[This is the 384th portrait of Mission Delhi project]