Mission Delhi – Surinder, Pataudi House
One of the one per cent in 13 million.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Effortlessly stitching the sole of a slipper, he says, “Its side has torn off.” After finishing the job, Surinder, 24, cuts off the thick black thread with a knife-like thing that he calls raapi. The lady customer slips her feet into the sandal, looks satisfied, give him Rs 5 and walks off towards Sir Syed Ahmad Khan Road.
“I make around Rs 150 daily,” says Surinder. The Delhi Walla met him in Pataudi House, a tumbledown neighbourhood in Daryaganj, which was named after a once-grand mansion in the vicinity. In a pair of blue denims and a striped shirt, Surinder is sitting at his regular place on the roadside, next to an open drain. There’s no chair, but he does have a padded seat.
Before we can talk further, a burqa-clad lady hurriedly walks over to us and takes off her chappal. Its strap is broken. Surinder hammers a nail into it. The woman tries out the chappal, gives Rs 2 to Surinder and disappears towards Kuchha Dakhan Rai. The young man drops the coin into his wooden cash box, the top of which has a sticker of a bearded saint. “He is Guru Ravidas,” Surinder says. “He belongs to our community. He used to do our kind of work. We worship him.”
Surinder’s father was also a cobbler. In 2001, he died of tuberculosis. “Papa was in the hospital for two months. One afternoon he vomited out blood and before we could understand what was happening, he was dead.” He was cremated on the banks of the Yamuna, in Jamuna Bazaar.
For the first time in her life, Surinder’s mother had to leave home to make a living. She set up a fruit stall in Daryaganj. Another crisis soon surfaced. While living in a two-room house in Welcome Colony, east Delhi, they got new neighbours who gambled and ran a prostitution racket. “We were helpless. My sister couldn’t be left alone even during the day. So we sold the house for Rs 1.75 lakhs and bought another in Sunder Nagri, which is near Gagan Cinema, almost on the edge of Delhi.”
Feeling responsible as the new ‘family elder’, Surinder, the eldest of the four brothers, left school, asked his mother to stay at home and took up his father’s profession. “One faces problems. One has to take tough decisions.”
Then came another problem in Surinder’s life. He fell in love with Mamta, a girl whose house was on the same street as his. “She was dark and weightier than me. Her eyes were big, her hair was long and when she smiled, I felt very happy.” The lovers would go to Hanuman Temple in Preet Vihar, hang out in the ruins of Purana Quila, or walk around in Delhi Zoo. “I kissed her many times but did nothing more.” Three years later, they broke up. Surinder was so upset that he got a classic bleeding heart image tattooed on his left arm.
Besides this private sorrow, Surinder has no other reason to complain. All his brothers are earning. Pavan makes Rs 3,500 monthly at a saree showroom in Nai Sadak. Paras’s monthly salary is Rs 2, 500 at a shoe shop in Chandni Chowk. Vijay sells second-hand shoes near Red Fort every Sunday. All the money goes to the mother.
The family has all the necessary comforts: a television, a washing machine, a refrigerator and a ceiling fan. “But Mummy still cooks on the stove. We don’t have a gas range.”
However, it’s not the kitchen comfort for his mother that is presently driving Mr Surinder to work hard as he takes the 213 Blueline every morning for Daryaganj. “My sister, Rekha, is 18 and my dream is to marry her to a good boy,” he says.
What after the sister is married?
“What after my sister’s marriage…” he finds himself at a loss of words before suddenly shooting back, “Whatever the man up there in the sky will decide.”
[This is the 18th portrait of the Mission Delhi project]
Give me your shoe
Tattoo after the break-up
Fixing the flower
Fixing the sandal
Mr Surinder’s workstation
Sister’s marriage on the mind