Mission Delhi – Lal Babu, On the Road
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s freezing at the moment, around 8.30 pm. “You should see the roads at midnight, when it’s totally foggy,” mutters auto rickshaw driver Lal Babu, on his way to drop a passenger in Connaught Place. He says he will stay on the road for a few more hours before going back to his rented quarter in Mahipalpur.
Responding to a request, Mr Babu, who is in his 40s, agrees to share his impressions about what his family must be doing back home, in his village in Bihar.
“Shrimati Sheetal Devi must be having her dinner. She is my wife. In the village, the day ends earlier than in the city — and the night comes earlier too. She starts cooking the meal by 6, with the help of Babita, her younger sister. Babita’s husband passed away two months after her wedding so my wife called her to our home. This way she gets to be with her sister, and Babita also finds a distraction from her loss. About an hour later, at 7 pm, both sisters serve food to Amma, my mother. These days it’s very cold and she stays in her room—we have two rooms, our house is of bricks. After Amma is finished with her dinner, Shrimati Sheetal Devi serves food to Siddhartha and Gautam, my two sons. Siddhartha is 14 and Gautam is 10. The kids eat in the other room, where there is TV. And only then do Shrimati Sheetal Devi and Babita sit down in the kitchen for dinner. Earlier we had no kitchen in our home. The food was cooked outside, in a yard. My father was a farmer. I made a good decision to come to Delhi some 20 years ago. I earned enough to convert our kuchha house into a pukka makan, and later we also built the kitchen. Some years ago, during my annual trip home, I bought a washing machine and now Shrimati Sheetal Devi doesn’t have to wash clothes by hands. Our whole family is asleep by ten. If you happened to be in my village right now, you would feel the darkness and silence so complete that you can never experience the same in Delhi.”
Mr Babu last saw his family during the dushera. His wife and children have never visited him in Delhi. “The travel would be too expensive. Besides, I share my room with another driver,” he says, as the auto nears its destination.
[This is the 393rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]