Mission Delhi – Masooban, Chelmsford Road
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A turbaned artist is beating the nagada. Another is playing the shehnai. Both performers are directing their music straight into Masooban’s ear. Their solo audience remains unimpressed, however, and continues to be in deep sleep. This is understandable. The musicians are merely part of a long mural painted on a roadside wall, here in central Delhi’s Chelmsford Road. While Masooban is a man in flesh, blood and sweat. This hot afternoon he has escaped into a brief nap on his rickshaw, which is parked beside the painted wall.
“When one sleeps, one sees dreams,” he says haltingly, on waking up after a few minutes. “But dreams are usually ajeeb (weird), difficult to understand, and the ones I see are… not good.”
In his 60s, Masooban feels that life’s urgent realities make no allowance for stuff like dreams and ambitions. Besides, he says, he is too advanced in years to harbour hopes any longer for a superior tomorrow. He notes that his 40 long hardworking years in Delhi have failed to cushion him with enough money to afford even a small room on rent. Neither is this rickshaw his. It belongs to a contractor who rents out these three-wheelers to the area’s very many rickshaw pullers.
“At night, I sleep on a Sadar Bazar footpath.”
With almost no material possessions with him, and without any friend in the megapolis, Masooban finds it hard to connect to Delhi. “I’m alone here.” Most of his monthly earnings go to his family in Bihar. “The eldest of my (four) sons is suffering from an illness.. two others are studying….. the second eldest finds work now and then, but the money he brings home from those assignments is little.” He points out that he often talks to his wife on mobile. Indeed, apart from the phone, the only other material thing he owns in Delhi is a HMT wrist watch.
Masooban is surprised at the suggestion that a mobile can double up as a watch. He gazes at the large white dial shining on his wrist, mumbling “I had bought it in the village many years ago.”
Now, a young man appears, and asks Masooban for directions to a bus stop, referring to him respectfully as “uncle-ji.” Masooban replies with an equally respectful “Babuji.”
Some minutes later, he pedals away in search of customers.
[This is the 496th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The family of a woman