Mission Delhi – Som Nath, Nehru Place
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Parked on the side of the road, an auto rickshaw driver and his green-and-yellow rickshaw are waiting for customers.
This used to be one of the most ordinary sights of our city, but recently the table has turned and the most ordinary has become extraordinary—no thank you, coronavirus!
After a considerable easing of the lockdown restrictions, the city is sprouting back to action, like a dead man regaining life. Every mundane hint of activity has something magical, and so it is with Som Nath and his auto rickshaw. One change has to be noticed though: his driver’s uniform no longer comprise of just grey shirt and grey pants—but also of a mask.
“It’s my second day of leaving home to work again,” says the middle-aged Mr Nath. He has been on the spot here in south Delhi’s Nehru Place for about half an hour. “I’m not getting many customers.” One of the reasons is that he is agreeing to board one single person only for each ride, not two (forget three) even if they belong to the same household. “Every auto driver is following the same rule,” he shrugs his shoulders.
For two months, Mr Nath stayed cooped up with his wife, Mala, and two sons at their home in Sangam Vihar. His older son is a mechanic and the younger is in tenth standard. There were no earnings during that time but “at least I got cheap rations of atta and dal.” Buying fresh vegetables was not always possible due to their high prices, he notes.
During the course of the conversation, Mr Nath remarks that scores of daily wage labourers have been emptying the cities to go back to their villages during the lockdown. His circumstances were not as desperate. “And anyway, I have almost nothing to support myself in my village… we don’t even have a little landholding.”
He moved out from his village in Pratapgarh, UP, twenty years ago.
About ten minutes pass and no customers approach Mr Nath’s rickshaw. It’s a blinding hot afternoon and the temperature is hovering around mid-40s.
“I do feel scared of catching the virus from infected customers,” he confesses to a query. The driver takes precautions, however. He rarely removes his mask except to drink water. And he rubs his palms vigorously with hand sanitizer every time he finishes a transaction with a customer.
“But I try not to be tensed. Everyone is passing through this same problem.”
Now another auto rickshaw stops by the pavement. Its driver steps out. He too is in a mask.
[This is the 311th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
An auto driver in Nehru Place