Mission Delhi - Yaseen Salmani, Fasil Road

Mission Delhi – Yaseen Salmani, Fasil Road

Mission Delhi - Yaseen Salmani, Fasil Road

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Old Delhi has the word ‘old’ married to it but is constantly being rejuvenated with the new. Three months back, young Vipin Pande arrived from Allahabad, got his life’s first job as a guard, after which he took up an apartment with three others in Galli Ganna Mishra.

Similarly, six months ago, the middle-aged Yaseen Salmani made a start by arriving in Old Delhi. A “hajamat wala (barber)”, he is currently sharing a friend’s rented house near Delite Cinema. Things aren’t going easy for our new citizen, as he awaits customers at his street-side establishment, on Fasil Road, close to Delite. Perched idly on the customer’s chair, Yaseen is solemnly looking at his face in the small mirror nailed to a building’s back-wall. His grey hair are dyed black, and while he shaves others, he himself keeps a beard. He smiles at the irony, nodding his head. With slow gestures, he takes out cash from his pants pocket and starts to count, his lips moving soundlessly. Moments later, he is looking disappointed and amused. “It’s 4pm, I have been here since 7am, and have earned only 140 rupees.”

Yaseen’s pavement stall is just a week old. On arriving in Delhi late last year, he began with a mobile reri (stall). He would walk everyday from morning to night with his peti, the tin box filled with shaving things. The barber would trundle across the lengths of the Walled City’s galli-kuche “from Lal Quila to Jama Masjid, from Chawri Bazar to Sadar Bazar… I’d cover ten kilometres daily, stopping wherever anybody needed a quick shave.” A severe leg injury ended the mobility. A sympathetic trader helped him find this location for the stall.

Despite struggling with his new venture, Yaseen is a veteran, and has seen “some success.” In his 50s, he had set firm roots in Mumbai, running a barber shop in Null Bazar. That 20-year-long spell ended when “I had to go back home to care for my ailing mother.” He stayed in the village in Bahraich, UP, for four years. The long absence from Null Bazar erased all traces of his business there, making it pointless to return to Mumbai, he says. Besides, his own series of surgeries in a private hospital saddled him with a debt of one lakh rupees.

Eventually, an acquaintance in the village who sells fruits in Old Delhi nudged him to make a fresh launch in a new place. In fact, it is at his place that Yaseen is putting up for now, “because I cannot pay the rent and support the children in the village at the same time.” The supportive friend also bought Yaseen his peti (2,000 rupees). The gentleman tilts his head, chuckling nervously. “I’m in debt from head to toes.” He now falls silent, again examining his face in the mirror.

Minutes pass.

A man arrives for a shave.

[This is the 540th portrait of Mission Delhi project]