Mission Delhi – Raj Kumar, Sadar Bazar
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Everything changes. The change barely becomes old when it changes again to something newer. Winter too is changing to summer, again.
Raj Kumar’s eldest son died two years ago. Much has happened since then in the world. His life has remained the same, except that Bobby isn’t here. “I have accepted (his passing)… when I think of him, I can still be calm… but my wife still cries on a mere mention of his name,” he says.
In his 60s, Mr Kumar operates a snack cart in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar. His speciality changes with the season. In summer, he sells shikanji and jal jeera. In winter, he makes aloo tikki as well as vegetable momos. The cyclic alteration in his work has been a balm to his great loss, he suggests through his conversation, which basically consists of patiently responding to a series of intimate questions. Until a year ago he felt that “the dukh (grief) inside you does not dim, even though you start smiling again.”
Today, his feelings still are same, but by now his great grief has become a fabric of daily life. He is no longer amazed by it, he implies.
In early 2020, the coronavirus pandemic arrived with the approaching summer, not long after Mr Kumar had shifted from aloo tikki to jal jeera. He was forced to stop working in the consequent lockdowns. Around that time the son passed away, following a long illness unrelated to the virus. Mr Kumar lives in Rajiv Nagar, where his wife and three children — two daughters and a son — help him every morning with the preliminary cooking of his cart specialities.
“When you work, your mind tends to distract…. I think that has helped my wife, too.”
Now two young women stop, and ask for a plate of tikki each. Mr Kumar smiles faintly at the customers in a gesture of welcome, and focuses his attention on the huge tawa on his cart. With a long spatula, he deftly pushes two partially cooked potato patties from the rim of the tawa to the center where the oil is bubbling. A lot of hissing sound follows as the patties trembles in the oil and turns brown. The crispy smell spreads around the cart. The tikkis are served within two minutes of placing the order.
“Soon the cold season will completely be gone, I have already started keeping the jal jeera,” he says, waving his arm towards the large earthen pot covered with a red cloth. He now shrugs his shoulders, and smiles.
[This is the 467th portrait of Mission Delhi project]