Mission Delhi – Ramesh Kumar, Chitli Qabar Chowk
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Mobile phone has become as necessary as oxygen. Everybody seems to need it. Not Ramesh Kumar. Even though, he says, he earns enough money as a rickshaw puller to afford one.
“I spend my nights on the patri,” he explains, referring to the footpath. And if you sleep on the patri, he says, you get to know all the bad things that happen at night in this city. For instance, “there’s no guarantee you will wake up in the morning with your samaan (things) still by your side.” Indeed, Mr Kumar had “3-4” mobiles stolen in the past while asleep. “And now I don’t keep it at all.”
This morning, the rickshaw puller has parked his rickshaw on a street-side in Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar Chowk, close to where he sleeps. Wearing pants and a baniyan, he is leisurely perched on the passenger’s seat, smoking a beedi. In his mid-20s, Mr Kumar declares his indifference to the city. “I’m from Ayodhya, the land of Bhagwan Ram. I don’t belong to Dilli.” He doesn’t really need a phone “because a mobile helps you stay connected to your family and I’m anyway mostly with my family.” He tends to be more often in Ayodhya than Delhi. “I spend a few weeks in Delhi, and then a few months in my village.” There Mr Kumar helps his father cultivate the small agricultural land the family owns “which doesn’t yield enough, and that’s why I have to be (regularly) in Dilli to earn.” The arrangement has been in place for 11 years.
Very many folks in the city pass their spare time, and even survive the loneliness, by watching videos on mobile. Mr Kumar doesn’t get any spare time, he says, shaking his head. “Riding a rickshaw is painful. Your arms and legs hurt by the day’s end.” At night, after dinner, he parks the rickshaw beside a paan shop and lies down on the pavement. “I’m so exhausted by then that I have no taakat (energy) for anything.” He pauses, and adds: “Sometimes a begana kutta (stray dog) sleeps by my side, sometimes a charsi (addict) opens the bag I use as a pillow… but I sleep deep, and I have nothing precious worth stealing—except my life.” Here he smiles, “And my life is precious only to my family.”
Turning to look at his smouldering beedi, he says—“my mobile is my beedi.”
[This is the 421st portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Man without mobile