Mission Delhi – Naeem, Chawri Bazar
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
Crickets are singing. The water is lapping by the shore.
This is the lake isle of Innisfree. The dependable Wikipedia locates it in Ireland. While the aforementioned description is gathered from a WB Yeats poem that famously immortalised Innisfree as a place where “peace comes dropping slow.”
But this evening the island has temporarily shifted to Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazar. It has made this shift solely for labourer Naeem.
Here’s his currently tranquil world. It’s the 5pm rush hour. The traffic jam is looking hopeless. Nothing is moving on the road. The scooters, the bikes, and the carts are standing still. Only the pavements are rippling along with the steady flow of pedestrians. Every (unmasked) face in the crowd is looking stressed, but Naeem’s (his mask is pulled down to his chin). He is lying on the narrow space separating the road from the footpath; his slim figure is slumped between two poles. It doesn’t look like a comfortable posture, but Naeem’s expressions are surprisingly serene. His eyes are closed.
“I’m free right now,” he smiles, opening his eyes. A “mazdoor” in the market’s bustling wedding card trade, Naeem transports “shaadi wale cards” from printing presses to retail shops. He makes dozens of rounds everyday on foot along the alleys, carrying the “load” on his back. The opportunities of idleness come to him occasionally, he says, and lasts for only a few minutes between the assignments. “So then I lie down and rest.” This way of “aaram (rest)” makes him so calm “that all my tensions leave me… my mind becomes khali (empty).” Not even the Chawri Bazar chaos then intrudes into this resourceful mindfulness. The traffic, the incessant blowing of bike horns, the dust, the smog, the cries of the vendors—all of these pass by him like a breeze. “Because this is ghar,” Naeem explains, pointing out that the entire market is like his home. “I work here. I sleep here.”
In his 30s, Naeem arrived in Delhi 20 years ago, and started working in Chawri Bazar when he was still a child. “Papa looks after our little agricultural land (in the village in Bahraich, UP).” He chose to make a career in Chawri Bazar even though his wife and two children are in the village because “there is more money in laboury (sic) than in kheti (farming). The money I earn everyday in Dilli is ₹200 more than what I would have earned everyday as a farmer in Bahraich.”
By now, the traffic has started to move. Naeem again closes his eyes.
[This is the 447th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The lake isle of Chawri