Mission Delhi – Pankaj Kumar Manji, Lodhi Road
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Perhaps the most picturesque walking track in the entire Delhi region is the tree-lined Lodhi Road. The walk begins from Safdarjung’s Tomb, goes past the Lodhi Gardens, past the red brick wall of Delhi Golf Club, and ends at the blue-domed Sabz Burj, close to Humayun’s Tomb. A most convenient aspect of Lodhi Road is its broad sidewalks.
These days, the central Delhi avenue is undergoing an ambitious makeover. Installations representing bikers and joggers have been put up in front of the India Habitat Center (still wrapped in shroud-like covers). The sidewalk is getting new tiles. This humid afternoon, Pankaj Kumar Manji in blue denim pants and full-sleeved shirt is laying a series of tiles along a straight line. These tiles are of a different texture than the rest of the sidewalk varieties. “These are for blind people,” he says.
Pankaj Kumar looks as young as a high school student, but is in his mid-20s. Four months ago he married Preeti, who lives with his parents in the village in Bihar. Holding a trowel, he points to his colleagues, saying that “some are head masons like me, some are masons, and some are helpers.” He himself began his career in the “labour line” as a helper. Over the years, he has lived across the National Capital Region, from Gurgaon to Greater Noida, his address constantly shifting with the next assignment. Currently he is residing with a colleague in a single-room apartment in nearby Lodhi Colony. “I earn enough for my family and I to live comfortably, and I also manage to save some amount every month for my future.”
Pankaj Kumar plans to make a leap—he calls it tarakki—to a position “where I can start a small construction group that will supply labourers for building projects.” He gives himself 6-7 years to realise his ambition. “The important thing is to earn and save money…. only then, maybe…” It will not be easy, he admits. “One must work very, very hard to rise in life.” He pauses for a moment. “I have to be hopeful.”
Agreeing to be snapped, Pankaj Kumar politely suggests his portrait to be taken with his “equally hardworking” colleagues. See the photo. From left—Govind, Ravi, Pankaj Kumar, Pintu, Niwas Kumar, and Kanhaiya Lal.
[This is the 504th portrait of Mission Delhi project]