Mission Delhi – Ravindra Kumar, Central Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
The evening is feeling like night. It is prematurely dark. The air is icy. The street is empty. Everyone appears to be sheltering at home. Even the community dogs have vanished. But this lean lad at the milk booth is standing alert behind the counter. The kiosk’s closing time is 10pm. He will retire to his bed not before 11pm. The bed in question consists of a single chatai (mat) that will be spread out on the milk booth’s floor, along with a single blanket. On most nights, while waiting for the sleep to take over his senses, he says, he tends to think of his “mummy” in the village, and of his warm, comfortable bed at home, and the very many blankets there.
“But I fall asleep soon, even though it is so cold nowadays,” says Ravindra Kumar. In his early 20s, he started as a milk booth attendant in this upscale central Delhi neighbourhood a month ago, after arriving in the city from Alwar, Rajasthan. With a colleague away on holidays, he is managing the establishment alone. “I sometimes make my [night-time] bed down there,” he says, pointing to the cramped space where customers queue up for the token-operated toned doodh.
The one convenient aspect about Mr Kumar’s previous job in a delivery company’s warehouse was that it was closer to his village. But then, the company shut that warehouse down and he was out of work. Thanks to some strings pulled by a contact of his brother (who works in an automobile plant in Rajasthan), he got the present assignment. “But my dream job…” – Mr Kumar trails off shyly. With some nudging, he longingly talks of the extremely rare possibility of him getting a job, any job, in a government organisation – any organisation. “Maybe, if I find something in the railways…”
Talking of his daily life, the young man says he cooks his own meals. It is too expensive to eat outside, he remarks. “Eating out means spending 200 rupees daily on khana.”
Yesterday, he made aloo subzi and roti. Tonight’s menu might stay the same. Checking the day’s entries that he has scrawled on the pages of the milk booth’s account register, he murmurs consolingly that “this extreme cold will last for a few days more, and then things will become better.”
[This is the 461st portrait of Mission Delhi project]