Mission Delhi – Kabeer, Chitli Qabar Chowk
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Footstep sounds. At once blood rushes up his brains. He jumps off the bed, flees the room, rockets through the tiny sehan, locking himself into the bathroom, ears straining to identify the sound—seems to be a feminine voice. Some “khala” must have come to meet “Ammi.” Locked within, he spends very many minutes gazing at his face in the toilet mirror, thinking about random things, fearing somebody might call out for him to greet the guest. Footstep sounds again, receding. The visitor is gone. Kabeer opens the bathroom door. Normalcy returns.
This is how this young man spent his years, at the home in Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar Chowk. “I wouldn’t meet anybody, I wouldn’t talk, I was awkward,” he says, frequently uttering the word to describe himself.
This afternoon, though, Kabeer declares “I’m no longer awkward.” He has succeeded in getting the better of his debilitating shyness, the true trauma of which is familiar to only those who have been through it. Kabeer’s career choice played a part in his brave struggle. A man so scared of people that he would literally run away from their very “aahat” now helps rehabilitate their frozen shoulders, arthritic knees, flat feet, tennis elbows, forward neck. This year he completed his bachelor’s degree in physiotherapy.
Kabeer partly links his long-standing “shyness and under-confidence” to his being a middle child. “Abba’s favourite is my eldest bhai, ammi’s favourite is my youngest bhai.” At school, the “chup-chaap” student was a “timepass target” for classroom bullies, and nicknamed “alien” for keeping to himself. Kabeer later enrolled in a four-and-a-half-year graduation in physiotherapy “because I secretly wanted to be a famous footballer, and the closest to that dream was to be a physiotherapist for some famous football team, treating their sports injuries.”
The profession has scooted him out of his ancestral Old Delhi. Kabeer commutes throughout Delhi hospitals, and in Gurgaon too, picking up “home visits” as well. “I often work with elderly people, many of them desperately wanting to have someone to talk to… I realise that to talk with them is a part of their overall healing.” Naturally, Kabeer’s therapy has worked both ways. While he eases people’s body pains and spasms, they are easing him of his “awkwardness.”
Agreeing for a photo portrait, Kabeer puts on his white “lab coat,” steps out of the house, claiming his spot in the crowded Chitli Qabar Chowk, looking confident.
[This is the 541st portrait of Mission Delhi project]