Mission Delhi – Kesar Devi, Somewhere in Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
She gave it the finishing touch minutes back. She calls it kundi. This is her protective headgear. “Keeps the head safe from the load I carry,” Kesar Devi explains. She isn’t sure of the fabric but it seems to be of plastic. More of this material is lying nearby.
This sweltering afternoon the soft-spoken lady is stationed beside a wall of bricks, hauling these to a construction site, ten steps away, here in one of our city’s constantly altering colonies. At each round she carries a stack of dozen bricks on her head.
Kesar Devi’s relationship with kundi began as a young girl in her village in Jhansi, UP. “I would go to the well to fetch water twice a day, in the morning before the sunrise, and in the evening about the sunset. I would place the kundi on my head, and I would place the ghara on the kundi.”
Kesar Devi can make a kundi in two minutes flat, she says, maintaining that it is no big deal and that every single person in the “labour gang” —she means her colleagues—is an expert kundi maker.
All the members of Kesar Devi’s “gang” are from Jhansi. They stay together, regularly shifting their base in the capital region from one construction site to another. But “at night we cook separately.” In a sense the “gang” is like a mobile village with individual households—Kesar Devi agrees with the assessment. Her household, a camp improvised out of tin and tirpal, comprises of husband Bablu and a few things like “kapre-latte and bartan-vartan.”
At night the wife and husband prepare the meal together.
How does she manages to work in summertime heatwaves? Kesar Devi says: chalta hain.
The work shift starts at eight in the morning, with lunch break at 1pm, “after which we rest for an hour.” The shift ends at eight. Her three children live in the home district. Daughter Neha is with her husband in her “sasural,” and two sons stay alone at home. “They are big boys… Karan is in pandrahavi (15th) class, and Arjun is in…”
Wait a minute, ma’am! Did you name your boys after that blockbuster movie about two brothers re-uniting in their next birth? Kesar Devi nods.
She agrees to pose with her new kundi, urging to include colleague Meeta Devi in the portrait. See photo.
[This is the 539th portrait of Mission Delhi project]