Mission Delhi – Islamuddin, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
With a thick needle and a thicker strap of plastic, he is sewing a… what is it? It looks like a baby’s mattress.
“I’m making a pillow,” says Mr Islamuddin. A beggar in central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, he is sitting atop a pavement clothes stall. The kiosk has shut down for the day. It is almost midnight, and this stall often doubles up as his bed. “This will be my new pillow,” Mr Islamuddin mutters, explaining that it is actually a used car seat given to him by a friendly cab driver this afternoon. “I covered the seat in an empty rice bora (sack) and now I’m stitching it… it will be a good support for my head while I’m sleeping.”
In his late 50s, Mr Islamuddin has been living on Delhi’s streets for eight years. He does not mind the lack of a house, he says, as much as his persistent loneliness. “Look at my age, I have no one to share my days with… no wife, no sons… when I feel sad or unwell, I have no one to go to.” He admits, however, that he does find a level of companionship with the area’s fellow beggars.
Even so, Mr Islamuddin reveals that “technically”, he is not alone in the world. “I have two brothers, and two sisters — the sisters are married and live in their own houses. The brothers, too, have their own wife and children… my parents are expired (sic).” His family owns a small portion of agricultural land, he says. “We are from Bharatpur in Rajasthan.”
Mr Islamuddin’s life could have resembled that of his brothers, but everything changed one morning, long ago. He recalls, “I was riding on the back of a friend’s motorcycle, holding some heavy boxes. He was riding fast. While crossing a bridge, the motorcycle hit a car and we fell along with the motorcycle on a dry canal below us.” His left leg was severally injured. “Doctors had to amputate my leg.”
The following months passed in a daze. Mr Islamuddin couldn’t work in the fields, so he couldn’t help with the family earning. “My brothers found it difficult to support me… I later moved to Dilli.”
Finally, the pillow is ready. Mr Islamuddin gazes at it with contended expressions on his face. “Maybe I’ll now see better dreams at night.” He picks up his crutches, and gets up from the stall, holding the pillow with one hand. “I’ll try to find dinner… and then I’ll sleep.”
[This is the 471st portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The pillow maker