City Home – Roommates in Ruin, Galli Chooriwallan
Roomies, a portrait.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
So dark, so musty. It’s like a cave. As the eyes adjust to the dimness, this mysterious world exudes even more mystery. The jagged walls—unpainted, bare— are of long-ago lakhori. These hefty columns—hewed out of stones. The floor—all sand.
“It’s Badarpur sand,” clarifies one of the men.
This is the extraordinary residence of a bunch of men who haul construction material on wooden carts. Their home is without doubt the remnants of a haveli, here in Old Delhi’s Galli Chooriwallan. But it’s just an old ruin, they mumble, dismissing it as a “purana khandahar” owned by a local builder. The place has partly the look of a godown. Sacks of Badarpur sand are stacked into a corner. The doorway is flanked by red brick stacks. While the rugged walls double up as giant wardrobes. Shirts, pants, lungis and gamchas are hanging from the hooks. Bags and bundles, too. There’s also a rusty metal almirah. At night, the men spread bed sheets on the sandy floor.
Right now though it is midday. (Though it could as well be midnight. There’s no window, it’s always this dark here.) The men got done with their lunch minutes ago—the meals and chai either come from Sharma’s or from Suleman’s—and are indulging in a brief break. Ashok, one of the roommates, is excitedly talking of Mumbai (sea, Amitabh Bachchan, etc.) where he had recently gone for holidays.
All the roomies are from Budaun in UP—except for Muhammed Shaidul, from Muzaffarpur, Bihar, and Dinesh, from Gurugram. Smoking a beedi, young Shaidul patters on about his favroite festival Diwali. An older colleague interrupts him. This man solemnly explains, speaking slowly, as if clarifying to a contestant the terms of a game: “the Muslim among us join Hindu bhai for pooja-patakhe on Diwali, and the Hindu among us join Muslim bhai for Iftari during the Ramzan.” Some nod.
Now, chop chop, time to get back to work, one of the men claps. All get up. Responding to a request, they pause and huddle in their favourite lounging spot for a portrait. From left: Dinesh Singh Chauhan, Shubhnesh, Naseeruddin, Ram Singh Yadav (eldest at 40), Chowdhury Devendra Kumar (aka DK), Ashok Kumar Gupta, Muhammed Aqil, Sanjeev Maheshwari, Muhammed Shaidul (youngest at 18).