City Life – People of a Desolate Patch, Near National Science Centre
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Here’s a fine example of how an urban expanse that looks desolate can be lush with life.
At first glance, there’s not much going on around here. Tucked away between the National Science Centre and the Old Fort, the grassy grounds seem almost deserted — right here in the heart of Delhi.
But, as usual, the human condition offers far more than meets the eye. There’s only one bus line here, featuring an erratic service. But under the bus shelter, somebody’s found refuge. He’s snoozing.
Nearby, The Delhi Walla spies a guy sitting cross-legged plugged into Wi-Fi. Is it his day off? Another person nearby is blankly gazing at the unceasing traffic on the adjacent Bhairon Marg.
At length I fall into conversation with channa vendor Jaggu Chowdhury who has made these grounds his home.
He says flatly: “Most of the men here are beggars. When they’re not working they turn up and sit chup-chaap (silently).”
He reminisces with me. Nowadays, he sells the channa that he carefully cooks on a makeshift stove. But years ago, his life felt dire. Mr Chowdhury says he tried to kill himself at one point because of a village land dispute.
We wander around a bit more, encountering yet another entrepreneur.
Babu’s 30-year-old cutting stall is regarded as a local landmark, consisting of a table, chair and broken mirror. “My clients are passersby and of course beggars,” he explains, smoking a beedi while waiting for customers.
A young man walking with a dog turns up out of nowhere. He approaches a little black goat tethered to a bin. He unties the animal, and picks her up in his arms in a warm embrace.
Introducing himself as Pinku, he explains: “I’m a beggar, this is my goat and I’m now going to feed her some grass!”
Life, it seems, does move along on these water-parched lawns. Far removed from the very obvious and insensate traffic all around, this is one of the many unexpected spaces in a city that never tires of springing a surprise.
Land of invisible lives