Mission Delhi – Liyakat Ali, Central Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
These days you rarely see hand fans. Most of them, anyway, tend to be of plastic. But this hand fan is so distinct that you might like to have it as drawing room decoration. It’s entirely made of cloth. The fabric is square, pinkish, and enhanced by a red border. Little patches of pink and red are arranged alternately around the fan. In the centre is tucked a tiny swirl of yellow.
Sadly, the fan is not for sale.
“I made it myself,” says Liyakat Ali in a tone without ego. An elderly beggar in a central Delhi locality, he is sitting this evening on the street-side, perched on an empty rice sack laid on the dusty ground. It’s hot, there’s no breeze, and he’s fanning himself with this very fan. “I made the punkah during the pehla (first) lockdown.”
Mr Ali had then gone back to his UP village in Ferozabad, “the district famous for making glass bangles”. While working on the punkah at home, he didn’t benefit from any relative’s help, simply because “I’ve lost my home.” His wife died 40 years ago, he says.
At this point, Mr Ali’s long-time friend Om Veer, who earns his living by measuring bodyweight of passersby, and who always sits beside him with his weighing machine, joins the conversation and says, “My wife, too, is dead.”
Fanning towards his friend, Mr Ali casually narrates that “my home was over after I married off my three daughters. One died soon after, but two are alive.” In the next sentence, he returns to the fan, saying that “I used bits of clothes lying here and there in the house to sew the punkah.”
The finished work looks as neat as if it had been made by the rehearsed hands of a tailor. Was Mr Ali one at some stage of his life? He shakes his head.
Meanwhile, Om Veer, the man with the weighing machine, is looking at the fan with renewed admiration. Mr Ali tells him reassuringly, “If you want, I’ll make one for you in the agla (next) lockdown.”
Soon it will be dark. Mr Ali will head for dinner in an eatery, after which he will settle down at his regular night-time spot on another footpath, nearby. There he will fan himself to sleep.
[This is the 416th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
His summer accessory