Mission Delhi – Rajinder Kumar, Rithoj Village
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Dust was everywhere—across the bed, on the small TV, around the flower vase, upon the plastic chairs, and over the many gods and goddesses too. All was “uthal-puthal (upside down).”
After a period of two months, astrologer Rajinder Kumar had dared to open his tiny consultation chamber in the multi-storey Apna Bazar market building in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar in the Greater Delhi Region— inside, it was all cobwebby. “I’d gone a few days ago, after the easing of the lockdown,” he says on WhatsApp video from his home, in Rithoj village in Gurgaon district.
In the BC (before corona) era, Mr Kumar would drive his “small car” to his chamber four times a week to meet his shishyas (customers), who would consult him on their life and future. He calls the cabin-like space his “kuti”, hut.
This dimly lit room is so small and so filled up with objects (including many idols of gods) that there is virtually no place to even stand properly. Mr Kumar would sit on the bed; the visitors would sit on the chairs. He describes the chamber wistfully as his isolation cell for “I would be alone there during long stretches of time, thinking and brooding and being silent.” And he would not meet visitors from 2 to 4 pm.
“My kuti is la place where I feel secluded from the world.”
Perhaps that’s why he personally did not have to adjust vastly to the routine of self-isolation that we all are forced to adopt due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Kumar certainly isn’t living alone however—he shares this village house with his wife and two sons, and the elder son’s family. But this afternoon the room in which he is sitting is intensely exuding its character as his exclusive domain. The astrologer shows the place through the phone screen that connects him to The Delhi Walla. The walls are hung with calendars of gods, and an alcove is home to a small shrine, beside which sits a TV, currently switched to a news channel.
Despite his aptitude to ekant (solitude) and ekagrata (concentration), Mr Kumar confesses of the great sadness he had felt on reaching his kuti after such a long gap. “There was barely anyone in the market. All shops were shuttered. Dust and garbage were everywhere. No sounds, no happiness. Everything was dead and depressing.”
On entering the chamber, he profoundly missed the reassuring hum of the bazar sound that would stream in continually—it was like a sign to him that the world outside was brimming with life. That day Mr Kumar cleaned the entire place, and thoroughly wiped the dust off the gods with a special cloth. After which “I sat down on the bed in front of Ganesha and prayed that India and the world soon get rid of the pandemic and people can live happily and with honesty.”
For the time, he isn’t sure when he will get back to his “kuti”, which might again turn dusty and cobwebby.
[This is the 310th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Astrologer in isolation