Mission Delhi – Shanti Devi, Hauz Khas Village
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Many people, including the gardeners of the adjacent Deer Park, are addicted to her ginger-flavoured chai. Indeed, Shanti Devi’s tea is one of the best things about Hauz Khas Village.
Perhaps in her 70s, the quiet woman runs a tea stall in south Delhi’s most stylish district; her cart stands next to its entrance while she lives in one of the shanties that line the village on its southern side, a no-go area for shoppers.
Popularly known as ‘Amma’, Ms Devi has not been seen since a year. Her regular patrons are not worried for her. She frequently goes to her native village in Bihar handing over the cart’s business to a distant relative – only to reappear after a few months.
One rain-drenched September evening The Delhi Walla approaches the young man stationed at Ms Devi’s cart. He says:
“She is no longer in this world.”
“It happened last year.”
“She was ill.”
“She was aged and she had a drinking problem.”
There is something calming about the idea of an elderly woman making gallons of chai during the day and downing whiskey at night.
Ms Devi served tea in plastic cups and she napped beside her cart every afternoon. She spoke Hindi in a soft sing-song voice. She was a beloved of the labourers working on the village’s many construction sites. She would reheat their homemade meals on her kerosene stove for free.
Making her living in one of Delhi’s most competitive markets where even new and innovative restaurants rarely manage to last beyond a season, Ms Devi, who started her stall 20 years ago, had become her locality’s living landmark.
Now she is history.
[This is the 77th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Gone for ever