Mission Delhi – Muhammed Shamsher Alam, Pataudi House
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He is preparing mutton curry. “Some more minutes,” mutters Muhammed Shamsher Alam. The dish will be shared between six folks. All the labourers live and work together. “We do the loading and unloading of malwa (rubble), and go (for assignments) across Dilli—Gurgawa—Ghaziabad… the work can fall in any place, from wherever our thekedar (contractor) gets the phone call.” The men’s “ashiyana (address)” though is steady—this footpath in Old Delhi’s Pataudi House.
The cooking pan is placed on a gas burner. Shamsher slowly lands his arms on either side of his waist. His elbows jut out, as he stands by the burner, gazing intently at the pan. The lid is rattling, slightly. “I chopped some lehsun and some pyaz for the gravy.” A heap of papery onion peels is lying beside the gas burner, close to a couple of thalis.
By now, the immediate air has become one with the dish’s spicy scent. “When you are far from your family, you automatically learn to make khana for yourself,” Shamsher says, lightly smiling. In his early 20s, he arrived in the capital a few years back. His wife and two children live at the village in Bihar’s Katihar. His memories of home food are complicated. “My mummy died when I was itna sa.” He indicates with his right arm that he was then as tall as his legs are now. “I have no yaadein (remembrance) of her cooking.” His father remarried and “my new mummy would make nice khana for us. My wife is also a good cook.”
Shamsher doesn’t cook everyday. The friends take turns for the task “and when we are too exhausted from work, we eat in the hotel (eatery).” Of course, many times during the week, they only eat “bazar ka khana,” whatever “item” is available near their worksite of the day.
Shamsher lifts the lid. The rich aroma rushes out fast, and furiously. “Done,” he says. He keeps the pan on the floor. Next, he packs the gas burner carefully within a plastic sack. Rotis shall be sourced from the “hotel,” he says. Later at night, the dinner will comprise of the same curry. The morning after, Shamsher and his colleagues will start afresh, as always, with chai and biskut.
[This is the 520th portrait of Mission Delhi project]