Mission Delhi - Rani, Connaught Place

Mission Delhi – Rani, Connaught Place

Mission Delhi - Rani, Connaught Place

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The woman clad in a sari is among the regular faces of N-Block, Outer Circle, Connaught Place. No matter how unbearable the weather, Rani is sighted everyday, sitting on the floor of the colonial-era colonnade, a white chaadar spread by her side, with dozens of jhumke, or ear-danglers, on display.

This afternoon, the discomfort of late June’s high temperature is worsened by the pre-monsoon’s high humidity. The colonnade though is lined with air-conditioned showrooms and cafés, and people behind the glass walls look at ease. Now, a person walking along the corridor slows down to gaze at the jhumke. Rani greets her with a smile. The smile is fleeting and restrained, yet it exudes such transparent sincerity that the person instinctively responds back with a smile.

Whatever, there are long gaps when no Connaught Place stroller pauses to examine the jhumke, obliging Rani to sit patiently through those idle intervals. Her mind stays astir with thoughts though, she remarks. “I think of the same things,” she says softly, almost murmuring. “I think of my late husband, I think of my late son, I think of my little grandchildren, and of my zimmedari of raising them at this age…”

Rani’s husband, Kamta Prasad, succumbed to covid. Her elder son, Rajesh, too is no more. Her household in Dwarka comprises of her daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, and her other son Rakesh who, like his departed father, works as a “beldar.”

The loss of the husband wasn’t the only transformative change that covid brought to Rani. For 30 years, she had been selling fruit in Connaught Place, but “on returning after the (covid-triggered) lockdowns, I realised that most people were avoiding the outside food, and I wasn’t managing to sell as much fruit as I used to sell.” One afternoon during that uncertain period, Rani noticed a jhumke vendor in Janpath market. “Unlike the fruit, those jhumke would not rot if I could not sell them in time. I talked to the vendor, discussed with him the advantages and disadvantages of his trade, enquired about his supplier walla…”

Cupping her chin with her hand, Rani thoughtfully answers a query on her smile with which she always welcomes the jhumke shoppers. “I think of my husband and my son, and I feel sad, I have tension… but I have to work, I have to earn, and when I smile, my heart feels light.”

[This is the 583rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]