Mission Delhi – Khajani, Old Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His heart is pierced by Cupid’s arrow. And within the heart is inscribed ‘I Love You’.
This is a tattoo on Khajani’s right arm — his working arm, he points out, for “the labourer’s right arm is his greatest tool.”
This afternoon, Khajani is in an Old Delhi bylane, laying out a sewage pipe with two colleagues. He is sitting on a mound of upturned earth he helped dig from the street. Long ago his parents had already tattooed his right arm with the sacred ‘Om’, he says, showing the place on his flesh.
There’s another tattoo as well, and it says ‘R.K.’ It happens to be the initials of a special person, Khajani says, smiling. “R.K. is a shortcut for Rajkumari.“
Rajkumar is the name of his wife, explains Khajani. A native of Gurgaon district, his wife lives in the village with his parents and children. Laying out the history of this romantic tattoo, the middle-aged father of three summons up his past. “At that time I hadn’t moved out of the village” and worked on the family’s “very small” agricultural land. Fifteen days after his wedding to Rajkumari, Khajani found a job in a mithai shop in Ghaziabad “that paid me a monthly salary, more than I could hope to raise from my khet every season.” It was in Ghaziabad that he got both the tattoos next to each other on his arm—‘R.K.’ and ‘I love you’. “The tattoo were done in ten minutes… it didn’t hurt at all, it felt like a cheeti biting my arm.”
Now Khajani bends down his head, gives a knowing smile, and adds “before my marriage, I loved a woman… her name was Rajkumari too.” Khajani got the initial tatooed as a testament to the memory of that R.K. “I never met her again after my marriage.”
He confirms that Rajkumari, his wife, knows of the other Rajkumari. “She is aware that this tattoo is for the other Rajkumari, but she never objected.” Khajani asserts that today he has only one woman in his life— Rajkumari, his wife. In fact, “after Holi, I’m moving back to Gurgaon. Not to the village, but in Gurgaon city. I have found work in a mithai shop where I will make petha.” Khajani now stretches out his arm to be snapped.
[This is the 478th portrait of Mission Delhi project]