Mission Delhi – Mannu, Chelmsford Road
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Is that TGV? It exactly resembles that iconic high-speed intercity French train, the equivalent of our iconic Shatabdi Express. This likeness of the European super-fast (320 km/hr!) is painted on a Chelmsford Road pavement wall, near New Delhi railway station.
This afternoon, Mannu is sitting beside the TGV. This is hos biography, through the perspective of his train journeys.
“I have crossed 30, I think, and have travelled thrice in the trains. The last time I was in the train was in 2017, when I left my village in Assam for Delhi. The cost of the ticket was 390 rupees. I don’t remember the train’s name but it was a super-fast. I had a seat in the dabba, but no place to lie down to sleep. It took the train three days to reach Delhi. I was travelling alone, but I did talk with people sitting around me—“what’s your name, bhai,” “where are you headed to,” and similar baatein. Most of the travellers were going to Delhi to find work as a labourer, just like me. I remember eating subzi poori 3-4 times during the journey. Each time our train would stop at a station, those poori wale would crowd our window, outside on the platform. After arriving in Delhi, I started as a dish washer in wedding parties. I’m still a dish washer. These days there is no work, though. But I have money enough to eat well. For lunch today, I had one samosa, one bread pakora and one chai. I sleep in a ren basera (night shelter for the homeless). It is very close to Old Delhi railway station. I hear the sound of train engines at night.
“The second of my three train journeys was in a super-fast in 2000 when I went to Calcutta to find work as a labourer. It was the first time I had left Assam. That train journey was the same as the one to Delhi, but it was shorter and more comfortable. I left Calcutta after a year and returned home in a bus that runs especially for labour-log.
“My first trip in the train was as a child. It lasted less than a day. I was with my parents. Today I have no one in the world but my bhayya and bhabhi. They live in Assam. I haven’t talked to them since I left home. May be I will visit them in 2023. That will then be my fourth train journey.”
[This is the 505th portrait of Mission Delhi project]