Mission Delhi – Muhammed Zafar, Chitli Qabar
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
You rarely see him talk. His silent face expresses enigma, and thoughts difficult to decipher. He must be an introvert, ill-at-ease with communication.
That’s a total misconception about the man. He talks to goats, to sheep. “I can understand what they say by gazing at their face,” he says in a flat tone, as if he were stating something as obvious as the fact that water is wet and sky is blue.
Muhammed Zafar is a meat shop owner, and at 65 is the oldest working meat shop man in Chitli Qabar Bazar. This evening, in a full-sleeve pale orange shirt, chequered lungi and snow-white hair, he is sitting at his small shop, quiet as always, watching the life of the street—an unending procession of humans, cats, dogs and occasional goats. The shop is inhabited by a handsome black animal called Menda, currently supping on a salad of melons, papaya, and dry fruit. In a moment, the animal will have buffalo’s milk, says Zafar. Turning to look at the animal, he says that the animal was purchased from Pathankot in Jammu & Kashmir and will, hopefully, be sold at a “nice price” in the near future. “For now, we are raising him with care and love.” Bending his head, Zafar makes an eye contact with the animal and says that he can find out by the way the animal looks at him if he is hungry, or happy, or sad, or unwell. “I touch an animal’s body, and I can find out if he is suffering from an ache.”
This intimacy with animals comes from the fact that Zafar has been working in the family shop since his early childhood. He also feels that his relationship with animals is embedded in his genes. “My father did the same work, so did my father’s father, so did his father.”
This line of continuity is showing signs of strains. One of his four sons chose to shift from the meat trade, and opened an AC repair shop. “It hurts me… the wisdom we have acquired from forefathers cannot be taken lightly.”
Along time, the nature of a typical meat shop in Old Delhi has changed. Earlier, the animal would be slaughtered in the shop, but now that is mostly done at the industrial-scale slaughterhouse in Delhi’s outskirts, in Ghazipur. Even so, Old Delhi streets are full of chicken hawkers selling live chickens.
This shop, that initially looked small, has a dark chamber within. A few white sheep are huddled there. Zafar gets up and stands beside them, invoking sheep and goats of his past. “We always name our animals.” And he names a few who are no longer alive: “Raftar, Sultan, Rocky, Shooter, Juggi, Dawood, Saddam, Manya, Jaljala, Barood, Shera…”
[This is the 535th portrait of Mission Delhi project]