Mission Delhi – Sooraj, Central Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Sooraj is only a child, but the street dogs are nonetheless ganging up on him, snarling menacingly this early morn.
He’s not at all scared; and simply waves a wooden chabuk at them. The dogs retreat, slithering away. Sooraj, aged 12, collects empty plastic and glass bottles from Delhi’s streets. He may yet encounter more barking dogs, but, as he explains, “Street dogs bark at any ragpicker walking along with a large sack on his shoulder… they never bark at others, they think we are chor aur dakus (thieves and robbers)”.
The boy is talking in the tone of a grown-up. “Mummy and Pappa are beldar (daily wage labourers,) so I help them by earning a little,” he explains. Waving the chabuk at yet another growling dog, he says, “A tonga walla gave it to me for free.”
It’s so early the Sun hasn’t even risen: this central Delhi bazaar street is totally empty save for Sooraj, whose name happens to mean ‘Sun’ in Hindi. He does go to a sarkari (government) school “but only sometimes when I feel like it”.
His closely-knit family live on a footpath near the Red Fort. And every morning without fail Sooraj wake up at 4am, and shortly afterwards goes to collect bottles.
At the moment his huge green sack appears almost empty. His work can be slow.
“It’ll take 3 or 4 hours or even more,” he says, proceeding into a dark alley lying ahead.
[This is the 257th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
A child’s working life