Mission Delhi – Ajay, South Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
At first sight, he looks like a case study: How to sip a cooling drink in this summer of coronavirus pandemic? After all, one is obliged to wear a mask in public spaces these days.
Ajay doesn’t take off the face wear, but only pulls it down so that it slips under the chin, and then he starts sucking in the fresh coconut water through the plastic straw.
It’s early evening and he is enjoying the nourishment on a south Delhi pavement. “I have no money to buy nariyal pani,” Ajay clarifies, gesturing towards his apparently empty pants pockets. Pointing to two masked men beside him, he says that “they are my friends and they are treating me to it.”
Ajay says he does not have “extra money” to spend on masks either. He received this one from “some good people who were distributing free food to rickshaw wale, one evening.”
Very slender in appearance, the young man is in his mid-20s. He used to be a rickshaw puller until a couple of months ago, “and then my world broke apart (he uses the Hindi word titar-bitar),” Ajay says with a spreading smile, as if confiding a joke. “I fell ill… it was jaundice… had to return the rickshaw to the rickshaw maalik (owner).”
Ajay had it only on rent, he explains, and had to pay a weekly commission to the owner from his earnings.
He recovered from the illness just a few weeks before “everyone started to talk about coronavirus.” The ensuing lockdown made it impossible for him to get back to his old work routine.
A native of Bhopal, in Madhya Pradesh, Ajay admits he feels trapped these days. “I can’t even return home.” (But he says this in a cheery tone).
One of the two masked men shakes his head, muttering that “gharib admi (poor men) have to face problems in every turn of life.”
Ajay says he stays in a one-room dwelling nearby, but hasn’t been able to pay the rent for three months now. “All the money I have goes to the calming of my hunger,” he says wryly, with a chuckle. He fears he might have to vacate the room. He looks towards his masked friends, as if expecting some reassuring response.
After finishing the juice, he covers his face again with the mask, but lets his nose lay uncovered.
[This is the 305th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The art of sipping… in the era of face masks