Home Sweet Home – Nizamuddin & Others, Jama Masjid
Housing on the pave.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
They literally live in the shadow of the Jama Masjid. Right under the Mughal-era monument’s west-facing wall, towards which the attendees inside the mosque offer their prayers.
This late night, the men are lying — head to feet, head to feet — on the pavement that runs along the mosque’s boundary wall. Only one man has his eyes wide open. He is sitting on a low wooden chest, staring expressionlessly at the road in front. “We are 200 people,” says Nizamuddin, 52. Dressed formally at this late hour in pants and full-sleeved shirt, he informs that “we are mazdoor”. The generic description doesn’t give justice to the specialised skills that distinguish these men. Nizamuddin agrees. “Some of us are beldar, some are raj mistri, some are carpenter, some are rang painter, some are plumber… I’m a rang painter.” As he chats on, elderly raj mistri Hamid and teenaged rang painter Farid, sleepily lying on either side of Nizamuddin, appear to listen to him now and then. Occasionally, headlights of passing bikes fall on their faces. Nizamuddin continues: “Some of us are from Bijnaur, some are from Moradabad, some are from Meerut… we are all UP wale.”
Daily wage labourers in many parts of the city tend to gather at select intersections to get assignments. Such places are colloquially referred to as “labour chowk”. For these men, the pavement on which they live is their labour chowk. “Contractors needing hands for building projects come here to hire us.”
Gesturing towards the many bags lining the pavement wall, Nizamudddin says they contain beddings and clothes. “No outsider touches our bags.” The wall is scrawled with mobile numbers of the men who live here. Nizamuddin talks of a “public nalka (tap)” nearby under which the men wash themselves, and their clothes.
It’s now midnight. Most shops have rolled down their shutters. Traffic has thinned. Rats the size of pigeons are out of their hiding holes. And the historic Jama Masjid is looming over like a giant seaside cliff.
Another way of seeing the Jama Masjid