Mission Delhi – Shivnath Verma, Daryaganj
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Young people get restless in villages as soon as they realise life is elsewhere. They leave their homes, move to big cities full of rumoured possibilities, and build a new life.
This is the way of the world.
Shivnath Verma, too, moved to Delhi three years ago from his village in Pratapgarh, UP. But his hair is grey, his forehead is creased with lines, his figure frail. This afternoon he’s selling channas from a small plastic tub, here in a central Delhi lane in Daryaganj.
What might his age be?
Mr Verma moves to the side of the lane crowded with pedestrians. He takes out a purple cloth pouch tucked in a hidden pocket of his track pants, and shows a laminated card. That’s his government-issued identity, his Aadhaar card, which says he was born in 1956.
“You can calculate my age from this card,” he says solemnly.
Usually, 65-year-old men prefer to stay at or near their home, wherever that may be. Mr Verma not only left his village—for the first time—but he left on his own too. “I live alone near the dhobhi ghat, in Kalyan Puri.”
He eats in the dhabas and sleeps on the footpath, he says.
“I helped raise my two brothers. They live with their families in the village. I never married.”
Mr Verma willingly explains his reasons for leaving the house at such an advanced age, but feels that the details are too private, and requests them not be shared with the world.
At one point during this tête-à-tête, a passerby stops and purchases a sachet of channa for ₹10. Each packet carries a fistful of these snacks. Every morning Mr Verma buys dozens of sachets from a shopkeeper, which he hawks in the city lanes. Each new day he walks in a different locality. “I make about ₹200 daily.”
Mr Verma hasn’t made any friend in the city. “I don’t know anybody well.” Tucking back into his pants the pouch he sewed himself, he mutters in a low voice that “Dilli doesn’t have a shortage of thieves.”
He now walks away, his arms holding the tub as if he were carrying a tray of finger food in a banquet. It is actually hanging from his neck by an elastic string. Mr Verma starts his workday in the afternoon, and returns to his footpath by 7 in the evening.
[This is the 414th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
An uncommon man