Mission Delhi – Vishal Kumar, Mathura Road
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His midday meal is always like a moveable feast, each day in a different setting. Vishal Kumar is lunching today here on Mathura Road. Yesterday he had his lunch in distant Anand Vihar. The day before he lunched in Moti Bagh. There is no knowing the site of tomorrow’s lunch. “Depends on the sawari (passenger) I’ll get,” he says, tearing a piece of roti as gently as a sensitive man might pluck a rose.
An auto driver, Mr Kumar never eats “bahar ka khana”, the outside food, not even any light snack. He rides his auto across the city from morning to evening, and during these long hours of exhaustive work, he eats only once, which is the lunch. It’s always home-made.
Every morning at 6, while he’s still asleep (and so are the kids Arjun and Adisha), his wife, Rekha, quietly starts her day with the chores of dawn. And that principally involves cooking the lunch. “Rekha prepares the food for all of us in one go so that she doesn’t have to cook again in the day,” explains Mr Kumar. Today’s menu is sukhe aloo, channa-urad mixed dal, and rotis. “Sometimes Rekha keeps four rotis, sometimes she keeps five rotis.”
As is the case with the wives of most auto drivers, Mr Kumar points out, “my wife too constantly worries for me the whole time I’m out… particularly these days when it’s raining so hard and so often.” She calls him numerous times on mobile to assuage her anxieties, and repeatedly asks the same two questions. The first is: “Khana kha liya (had your food)?” This query naturally ends with the lunch. The other most frequent question remains — “Abhi kahan par ho (where are you right now)?”
Mr Kumar never enquires into his wife’s lunch plans and eats whatever she gives him for the day. “When there is a festival or a birthday, she cooks rajma chawal, my favourite.”
One evening two weeks ago, he casually expressed a craving for this dish. Without giving him any hint, Rekha left a bowl of rajma beans to soak in water overnight and the next day’s lunch was a pleasant surprise. “Rekha works so hard,” Mr Kumar observes.
By now, the meal is done. He drinks water from a bottle, carefully puts back the empty metallic lunch boxes inside the red thermos, and prepares to resume his business. Mr Kumar will return home to his family in Rohini by 9 in the night.
[This is the 431st portrait of Mission Delhi project]
His meal on wheels