Home Sweet Home – Muhammed Mintullah, Hazrat Nizamuddin East
Dwellers in a posh neighbourhood.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The daughter of the last nawab of Rampur resides in this neighbourhood. Author Vikram Seth has an apartment here. A neighbouring flat belongs to former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah. A stone’s throw away is filmmaker Mira Nair’s apartment. Celebrated social theorist Ashis Nandy lives nearby. So does hotelier Aman Nath. Hazrat Nizamuddin East is also home to Muhammed Mintullah. A rickshaw puller in his 60s, he has been a resident of this central Delhi locality for 40 years.
“I always sleep on this same spot,” says Mr Mintullah, sitting on a pavement in the neighbourhood’s market, which primarily comprises of a cafe, a boutique, two salons, and a handful of groceries, one of which stocks imported cheese. Being midnight, the market is as dead as a graveyard. Mr Mintullah has parked his rickshaw in front of a shuttered dry-cleaning shop.
He says he can easily rent a room cheaply in nearby Sarai Kale Khan, but tries to save money “because my family in the village depends on my earnings.” That’s why everyday he goes out of the upscale neighbourhood for his two meals of 40 rupees dal-chawal, in an eatery under a flyover.
“I know all the madams and sahibs of the colony (sic),” Mr Mintullah remarks. A native of Saharsa in Bihar, he travels to his village once a year to meet his wife and four daughters. His only son is an embroider in Ludhiana, Punjab. The young man’s career isn’t going well since the first lockdown, Mr Mintullah reports, referring to the ongoing after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic. His own income has plummeted because of the same reasons. “Earlier I made 500 rupees daily, now not more than 200 rupees.”
By now, the neighbourhood’s few other rickshaw pullers have gathered about Mr Mintullah. One of them observes that Mr Mintullah’s life mirrors their lives. All the pullers sleep at night about this same space.
Agreeing that Nizamuddin East is home to “very rich people,” Mr Mintullah recognises the occasional generosity of the residents. They assisted him, and his fellow rickshaw pullers, with cash and food during the successive lockdowns. Shrugging his shoulders, he says that “the fact that some people sleep in AC houses and some don’t even have a hand fan is all about naseeb (fate).” Other pullers concur. The men agree to pose for a portrait, while a grey-haired woman in her home above the dry-cleaning shop silently watches them from the balcony. From left: Muhammed Mintullah, Kalim, Muhammed Kalam, Alam and Lalu.