Mission Delhi – Shyam Lal, Paharganj
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s only noontime, but even so. Construction labourer Shyam Lal has dozed off by the pavement.
How he can sleep at all is anyone’s guess, given all the raucous traffic on this Central Delhi street in Paharganj.
Soon he opens his eyes, declaring: “my stomach is empty.” He, however, doesn’t look like in distress. He is actually smiling softly. As an experienced hauler of bricks on his back, Mr Lal lets it be known that he skipped breakfast “because I haven’t gotten any work so far today.”
But he’s not despairing. He knows there will be breakfast tomorrow, because his regular work-assigning contractor is returning from out-of-town assignments. “Then I’ll have enough money for starting my day with nashta.”
Now in his 50s, Mr Lal has worked for decades in the capital, returning home to Bihar at least once every two months.
The gentleman thoughtfully runs his fingers over a purple design painted around his feet. “It’s from Sughadi’s kanyadaan,” he reveals—referring to his third daughter’s marriage that he arranged last week in his village. “Her husband works as a mazdoor in Calcutta… he is a good man, we think, and he says he’ll take good care of her food and health.”
Mr Lal now rises and stretches. Bidding a friendly adieu, he heads for an eatery whose friendly owner gives him lunch on credit.
[This is the 273rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
A man with an empty stomach