Mission Delhi – Shyamdev, Daryaganj
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
For 40 years, he had been a rickshaw puller. Then at 65, as he was finding it increasingly difficult to bear the strains of the physically demanding job, his body started giving him hints to quit the profession. The aches in his limbs were growing more intense. He gave up the rickshaw six months ago.
But Shyamdev hasn’t retired from work. He went to Chawri Bazar, shelled out 2,500 rupees for a weighing machine, and started sitting on a Daryaganj pavement, charging passers-by for “weight checks”. He earns about a hundred rupees daily, less than his earnings as a rickshaw puller. “But my expenses aren’t much,” he says. Shyamdev sleeps at night in a ren basera, a shelter for the homeless. “I eat simple food, and only rarely I smoke.”
Shyamdev’s bonds to his village in Saharsa, Bihar, are no longer strong enough to warrant a return. “My wife is long gone, and so is one of my children… I have two sons who work in Delhi but I stay alone.” He explains that total retirement isn’t an option for him. “But keeping in mind the growing weakness of my body, I chose this new profession… Here I just have to sit and wait for customers.”
On this humid afternoon, Shyamdev is fanning himself quietly with a hand-fan, his face at eye-level with the legs of the passers-by. “I don’t ask people to pay me any particular amount for weight check. Some give me a two rupee coin, some give me a five rupee coin, some even give me ten rupees.” Keeping the fan down, he intently looks down on the pavement tiles. “I have seen difficult circumstances, and also easy circumstances. I have suffered great losses… These days, I have stopped thinking of the future.”
He again starts fanning himself. The glass dial of his wristwatch gives a blinding glare each time it catches the sun. “I don’t have a mobile… but this watch has been with me for ten years… I purchased it during my travels in Punjab… I like to travel… I’ll soon leave for a few days to Haridwar.”
Following a thoughtful pause, Shyamdev says: “I have a few friends, but I’m alone in the world. Now I only earn for two reasons—to have food daily, and to travel whenever and wherever I want to.”
Some minutes later, Shaymdev is seen sitting at his usual place, but in the company of two men. They are smoking.
[This is the 558th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Portraits of a life