Mission Delhi – Ram Sewak, Near Turkman Gate
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Ram Sewak’s shoeshine establishment is so small that he can lay out all his tools on the footpath, carefully arrange them in order, and then pack them back into his bag—in five minutes flat.
This morning, the gentleman is waiting for customers on an Old Delhi pavement near Turkman Gate. He is sitting barefoot, his pink flip-flops lying beside him. A closer inspection reveals this isn’t just another ordinary shoeshine stall. There’s this beautiful wood rack stacked with no less than five shoe brushes, while its lower shelf houses various types of shoe polishes.
You don’t commonly see such a rack.
“It’s called peti,” says Mr Sewak, who’s had the rack with him since moving to Delhi some 15 years ago from Kasganj in UP. His father, also a shoeshine, gave him the peti for his new life in the Capital.
“I boarded the train all by myself and lived alone for some years,” says the 38-year-old cobbler. But now he has his own family: his wife Kallo, their two children, and his “saali” Asha, whose passport-sized photo is stuck on the peti.
“My children playfully pasted it,” he explains. The peti is also decked with glamorous photos of a woman who appears to be a film actor. Mr Sewak doesn’t really know who she is. “I found her photos scattered on the footpath in Lajpat Nagar.” The man has no taste for movies in any event. He’s never been to any “picture hall” in Delhi. The only film he ever saw was in his hometown—the 1971 blockbuster Mera Gaon Mera Desh. He now hums a song from that film while waiting for customers (“Kurta hai neela, rang pagdi ka peela”).
Time passes. No luck.
The cobbler packs up his tools and walks away carrying his peti.
[This is the 222nd portrait of Mission Delhi project]