Mission Delhi – Rajkumar, South Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
At some point or another, everybody confronts — in their own way — the damage the pandemic is causing on their life. In his case, rickshaw puller Rajkumar can sum it up in two Hindi words—“Phase Gaye”, got stuck.
In his late 20s, Rajkumar just dropped a passenger in a south Delhi neighbourhood. “It was a local sawari (client)… I can’t be on the main road… but I’m able to work my way through the lanes.” He says the cops let him operate within the locality, but “they insist that I should wear a mask.”
And Rajkumar indeed is wearing a mask. “One good person was distributing dal chawal to some of us patri wallas (pavement dwellers) a few nights ago, and he gave me the mask along with the khana.”
The puller lives with a few other men on a pavement, not far from the upper crust neighbourhood where he now operates. This afternoon, the houses along this park-facing street are marooned in a comfy post-lunch silence. All the doors and windows are locked. The buzzing sound of an air conditioner is streaming out from one of the apartments.
Rajkumar says he is not a Delhi walla. “This is just the place where I work.” He says his home is a village in Shahjahanpur, UP. “My wife and my two children live there with my parents.” He would send them money every two weeks but hasn’t been able to do that since the lockdown began three weeks ago.
“I’m stuck… I want to go back home but I can’t.”
He now takes out a plastic water bottle from under the rickshaw’s passenger seat, as well as a bar of brown soap from his pocket, and starts washing his hands. “One passenger gave me the soap some days ago… he told me to wash my hands many times in the day.”
And now he adjusts the mask on his face somehow solemnly. He moves it towards the right part of his face, then adjust it again to cover the left side. He pulls it high up the nose, and then lowers it, and carefully ties the knot at the back of the head.
As he is about to pedal away, a window opens from an adjacent house and a woman’s face appears. “Bhayya, do you want peene ka paani (drinking water)?” she asks in a halting Hindi. Rajkumar folds his hands and shakes his head, indicating he isn’t thirsty. But he is looking moved, probably touched by this unexpected gesture of human-to-human camaraderie.
[This is the 292nd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Rickshaw puller’s lockdown