Mission Delhi – Champa Devi, Ansari Road
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The pavement is cracked. Some of the tiles have loosened. A wooden bed is plonked along a portion of this damaged pavement. A roof has been improvised upon the bed with sheets of plastic and cardboard.
This contraption constitutes the permanent living arrangement of Champa Devi. This cold evening she is sitting quietly on the bed, here on Ansari Road. She is partly covered in a shawl and partly in a blanket. Towards her feet, a brown dog is curled up under another blanket. He is asleep. Ms Devi is staring at him, her eyes barely blinking. She herself is still. She calls this bed her ghar, her home, admitting in the next breath that “it does not look like a house, but what can I say.” She straightens her back and again becomes still.
“The dog lives with me,” she says. “I call him Jimiya.”
Ms Devi is not certain of her age. “I’m very old.” She spreads out her hands, pointing at the wrinkles as credible evidence of her advanced years. Gesturing towards the dog, she says, “But Jimiya is very young. He was the size of my hatheli (palm) when he appeared on the street a year ago.” The dog’s mother was nowhere to be seen, so Ms Devi started giving the pup “some food and some water” everyday. Within days he moved into her shelter, “and now he thinks it is his ghar.”
Ms Devi says that she mostly feeds Jimiya with bhaath. “I cannot work for a living, I’m too old, but people living in the area give me food to eat.” She lifts a blanket and mentions that “a babu gave me this kambal some days back… it is torn from here.” She rubs her fingers along one side of the blanket. Waving her arm around her, she proclaims, “I made this ghar myself from tukre-tukre.”
Just behind her bed is another, with a similar roof strung with a mosquito net. A much younger man is ensconced inside, reading a newspaper. “I do not know him,” says Ms Devi. In any case, the details of her past have grown dim, she says. Though she remembers that she arrived in Delhi “many, many years ago” from the town of Dhanbad. “All the people who belonged to me have gone away… my parents, my brothers, my sisters, my husband, my… I’m alone, in garmi and in sardi.” She again gazes upon Jimiya, growing silent. Jimiya continues to sleep. After some minutes, the dog opens his eyes, but remains motionless.
[This is the 472nd portrait of Mission Delhi project]