City Life – Urmila & Jeetu, Patel Nagar
Portrait of a marriage.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s noon, and they are directly exposed to the heatwave. She is standing barefoot on a mound of dug-up earth. He is in the ditch below. They are talking in low voices to each other. Labourers Urmila and Jeetu are working on a central Delhi footpath, just the two of them. “We always work together… he is my husband,” says Urmila. Jeetu explains that they get assignments through a contractor.
But it must be severely challenging to work in such an adverse weather.
Jeetu considers the supposition for a moment, and gazes towards his wife, as if she might have something to say. “No, we are fine,” she replies with a slight shrug.
The couple are from Jhansi district in UP. Curiously, a great many labourers that this reporter has met across various construction sites across the Delhi region happen to be from Jhansi. Jeetu lowers his eyes, as if mulling this trend specific to his home district, and shakes his head, which appears to be the equivalent of “No comment.” Urmila says that “Jhansi is a good place, and God has been kind to us.” They even have a tractor, they say. But that is not for farming, clarifies Jeetu. “Our land is just one beegha, and is cultivated by my father and elder brother… We rent out our tractor to brick kiln owners (to transport bricks).”
The couple describes their village with all its expected scenery of khet, trees, a Shiv mandir, and a nearby stream. Why give up all that for the dust and chaos of Delhi? “Because good work is available only in big cities,” Jeetu argues, looking exasperated.
This morning, husband and wife woke up at 4 at their one-room house in Patel Nagar, which they have taken up on rent. “I prepared our breakfast and our lunch (for the afternoon),” she says. “I watched TV,” he says. This is their daily routine. Urmila says that Jeetu additionally does a part of her share of the “labour” on the “site.”
Moments later, they pose for a portrait.