City Life – Noor Muhammed & Nameless, Mathura Road Subway
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
They live together. Noor Muhammed is in his 60s. The nameless one is one year old. The first one is a human. The other is a cat. They pass their time together in a subway. Mr Muhammed sells masks and handkerchiefs in the underground. The nameless one has no known occupation.
“She walks here and there, but never ventures very far from me,” says Mr Muhammed. He goes silent. It is obvious that he wants to share something, but hesitates, as if conflicted about whether to disclose a secret or not. Finally, he says in a mumbling tone, “She has a very lazy nature. She sleeps most of the time.”
This afternoon, the subway is empty. It is tunnelled under the busy Mathura Road in central Delhi, but the sound of traffic is muffled, and can hardly be heard. On both sides of the passage, daylight seeps in through staircases. This subway is otherwise immersed in darkness, which would be very appealing in Delhi’s sweltering summer. But these days, the dimness is adding to the gloom of the cold dampness. Mr Muhammed is sitting on a corner chair — the handkerchiefs and masks are arranged on an upturned umbrella. The nameless one is ambling about the floor.
“Her mother dumped her not long after she was born. One morning, I heard her sobbing — meh-meh-meh — over there,” he points to a corner. A Bihar native, Mr Muhammed has been serving as the subway’s unofficial custodian since it opened in 2006. “I think she was hungry. I fed her a bowl of milk. Since that day, we are together… I never thought of naming her.”
Suddenly, a rush of footsteps. A group of young men enter the subway on their way to the other side. One of them pauses to gaze at the nameless one. He takes out his mobile phone and focuses the camera lens on her. The nameless one freezes, but does not show fear. Stilling into a statue, she gazes back at the young man, her eyes unblinking. The man takes a series of photos, and walks away. Only after a few moments, she stirs.
“She isn’t naughty,” Mr Muhammed says. “I give her milk. She drinks it without complaining. I buy her 250g of kaleji (liver) from the meat shop every day.”
About half an hour later, the nameless one is nowhere to be seen. Mr Muhammed is sitting cross-legged on his chair, his eyes closed. He appears to be asleep. The ramshackle chair beside him is empty, except for a blanket slumped upon… well, it’s the nameless one. She sleeps.