Mission Delhi – Raj Singh, Chuna Mandi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
You might not easily spot this graceful gent amid the hubbub of the traffic intersection. But once you do, then it is difficult to be distracted by anybody else.
Raj Singh has a magnetic personality. A locksmith, he has been running his trade in the city for 35 years. But his stall in Chuna Mandi came into existence only two years ago. “Because I’m now old and I cannot walk along the streets as easily as I used to do.” In his 60s, Mr Singh’s rough-edged voice is cracking with friendliness. His smile is as infectious as it is fleeting — it gets instantly lost beneath the lush forest of his beard, which is as white as snow. This afternoon, his turban, too, is of the same colour.
“My ancestors, too, dealt with metals,” he explains. “But they used to make hathyaar, such as swords, during the age of our Sikh Gurus.”
Mr Singh is sitting on his haunches in a corner of the intersection. This is his stall, it’s very bare. A large board is illustrated with hand-drawn locks and keys. At the bottom, it is scrawled ‘Sardarji taley wale’. Mr Singh is the “Sardarji”, he asserts.
While his life is irrevocably entrenched in Delhi, he isn’t from our city. Mr Singh does daily “up-down” on the “Meerut shuttle” train from nearby Modi Nagar town. “We are from Pakistani Punjab. After the batwara (Partition), we first settled in Patiala, and then we moved to Modi Nagar.” He prefers the long commute (two hours one way) rather than shift to Delhi “because my Mummy, Papa, wife, sons and grandchildren are contended with Modi Nagar.”
All his three sons are lock makers like him, and two of them travel with him to Delhi every day. Turning towards a young man in an orange turban, he says, “Gurjeet Singh works with me… Pradeep Singh sits in Galli No. 3, and Satnam Singh works in Modi Nagar.” His grandchildren are destined for “better occupations because this work gives nothing”.
Now, a scooterist stops by and places an order for a “duplicate chaabi”. Mr Singh and his two sons will return to their distant home by 9pm.
[This is the 473rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The man with all the keys