Mission Delhi – Anil Kumar Shah, Indira Colony, Gurgaon
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He had never imagined he would see such a day. “Calling Papa and Mummy in the village to send me urgent money filled me with sadness…. At my age, the son is supposed to give to the father, and not the father to give to the son.”
But things have turned upside down for most of us and Anil Kumar Shah, sadly, is no exception.
Talking on WhatsApp video, this Gurgaon gardener in the Greater Delhi Region is puzzled by the circumstances. “I left the village to make a better living in the big city, and yet I have to depend on my father for survival.”
His father is in his early 70s and looks after a small farming land in Bihar’s Motihari district. Mr Shah tries his best to make savings, but almost everything he earns is usually spent in the daily living of his own family in the so-called Millenium City. He lives with his wife, Vibha Devi, and little sons, Ayush and Aryan, in a small one-room dwelling in Indira Colony. The photos were taken through the phone screen that connected them to The Delhi Walla.
In his late 20s, Mr Shah looks after the private gardens of half a dozen residences in Sushant Lok. But he was recently unable to work for almost a month, because of the lockdown imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, with a relative ease in the restriction of his movements, he has been able to go out and return to “duty.”
The one month in which he had to stay at home was a trauma. “We exhausted our money,” he says. He thought of returning to the village but his wife persuaded him otherwise. There were no trains or buses, and informal transportation might have put the safety of the kids at risk. Ultimately, Mr Shah was forced to call his father for help, who sent them 5,000 rupees through complicated means — the details of which were difficult to understand over the phone chat.
There was another reason for Mr Shah to stay on rather than to risk the long journey home. His father informed him on phone that those who managed to return were sent for a two-week quarantine in the village school. “Who knows what food they would have given us in the school, or if they would have given us anything at all… my region is very poor… that’s why we have to live and work so far.”
Even so, one craves for love and shelter that only a home can offer in times of distress. Mr Shah has been in the Delhi region for almost a decade, it is his home. But the city failed him, he feels. He says he closely followed in the news the fate of the labourers stranded without work and food in the cities they were working in, following the lockdown. “The city is not ours.”
The house in Indira Colony is also feeling like a burden. “The landlord is demanding the full rent of 5,000 rupees.”
Once the lockdown eases further and trains start running to full capacity again, Mr Shah is strongly toying with the idea to go back to the village with his family.
[This is the 306th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
City without hope