Mission Delhi – Devki, Hazrat Nizamuddin East
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This role, to her, is both familiar and strange. Familiar, because being a working woman is by no means a novel experience. She has been “working, working, working” all her adult life, mostly administering her home in Lakshmi Nagar. Strange, because only recently did she start to step out everyday into the big wide world as the family’s sole breadwinner.
Devki is the new face of an old landmark. She succeeds husband, Radhe Shyam, as an ironing service provider in the capital’s upscale Hazrat Nizamuddin East. He had been managing the household laundry of a part of the neighbourhood for more than a decade—his stall under a khirni tree in the C block park comprised of a table and a sooty-black iron. He died of a heart attack in April, leaving behind three children and Devki, who is 45.
“One moment he was fine, the next moment he was no more,” says Devki. This sweltering afternoon, clad in a pink kurta and an orange salwar, she is standing on the exact spot where her husband would stand. A rad awning is blocking the unforgiving sun. The stall is unchanged except for the new gas-fuelled iron. The husband’s coal-fired press was so huge that it looked like a mini steam engine. “Its handle would get hot very quickly and burn my hands,” she says, showing the blisters on her fingers.
Meanwhile, Devki’s older son is quietly watching her speak, his gaze full of protective love. “He wants to be by his mummy’s side these days,” she explains. Atul recently cleared his 12th standard and is aiming for an university education. Daughter Parul, a Master’s student in history, is simultaneously building a career in nursing. The youngest, Anmol, is a school student.
The days following Radhe Shyam’s death passed in a blur of shock and grief. “I would cry all the time.” Realising that she must help the children get on with life, she eventually took up the husband’s profession in July. The longtime patrons showed solidarity by staying loyal to the establishment. Devki irons about 100 clothes daily. The work is demanding and her shoulders start aching by the day’s end, but it is helping her to come to terms with the great loss. “When I’m here I’ve less khali (spare) time to think of my grief… at home, I still sometimes cry.”
The stall was founded by Radhe Shyam’s grandfather, Nanhe Ram, 60 years ago. It later passed to his widowed mother, Draupadi, who ironed the clothes here for 30 years. Radhe Shyam took over in 2010.
Devki leaves her house every morning at 9, after preparing lunch for the family. She returns 12 hours later. Her daughter keeps the night meal ready.
[This is the 419th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The new Iron Lady