Mission Delhi – Savita, Gurgaon
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us to self-exile within our house. This makes one finally appreciate what one always took for granted—ambling along the streets, shoving and pushing in the metro, pressing floor buttons without a fright in the office lift, or kissing the cheeks of random friends and acquaintances in evening cocktails.
But staying inside for long stretches has also made people feel the preciousness of something that they can still safely cherish—the humble window or balcony in the house.
To many, the window/balcony has grown to be a most risk-proof link to the world immediately outside the home. Instagram these days is filled up with window-side selfies. Some weeks ago, dance instructor Asavari Joshi, a Gurgaon dweller in the Greater Delhi Region, snapped a stunning picture of a barn owl perched outside her apartment window on the 21st floor. This week photographer Ram Rahman shared a portrait of Mr Budmash Khan, his cat, perched by a window at their apartment in Delhi’s Civil Lines.
And, dear home-bound reader, you must also consider the outdoorsy aspects in the life of Savita, a housekeeper who lives in a Gurgaon condo with a family of five. This spacious dwelling feels totally distanced from ground realities—it is on the 30th floor. The apartment has three bedrooms, but only two windows (!), and one of them doesn’t count for it’s in the so-called “store room” and opens to a boring view of the service staircase, aka the fire exit. The other window is in the “guest room” that remains screened off with a blind for safety reasons “because that is where chhoti sleeps,” Savita says, affectionately referring to the only child in the house whom she also calls Sam/Samairaa/ Shona.
The apartment compensates for the windows with three balconies. Two of them are moderately expansive and the third in the kitchen is very small. Savita calls it the utility balcony. “We use this one for drying the laundry and to keep our mops and buckets,” says one of the household members with whom Savita lives. Both ladies are chatting with The Delhi Walla on WhatsApp video, the pictures are taken through the mobile screen.
During the early minutes of the conversation, Savita is overcome with intense shyness; her every response is laced with blushes and smiles. She however quickly recovers her bearings and goes on to give a survey of the kitchen balcony—it faces residential towers exactly similar to the one from which she speaks. This balcony keeps the kitchen flooded with daylight, and the electric lamps aren’t needed until the sundown, Savita informs.
Since the lockdown began in late March, the regular gardener (the appropriately named Phool Chand) is no longer coming to the house to look after the balcony foliage. Savita has taken up his role instead. She crosses a room to the other balcony—currently occupied by a clothes drying stand—and shows the potted plants bearing pudina, ajwain, kari patta and tulsi respectively.
Keeping her arms on the balustrade, Savita silently stares into the air in front of her, and the earth below. “So green, so many trees,” she mutters. It’s dizzy to look at the great drop even through the phone screen but Savita says she isn’t afraid of heights.
In the winter, if it’s nicely sunny, she often prefers to have her lunch in the balcony, she says.
Responding to a query, Savita reveals that she hasn’t stepped out of the apartment since the pandemic hijacked the daily headlines. Which means her feet haven’t touched the ground for more than two months. This makes Savita like a modern-day Rapunzel stranded at the top of a tower. Especially because just like that fairy tale heroine, her hair are very long— cascading down “almost” to her knees.
Covering her face with her hand to shield a suddenly emerging smile, Savita admits she doesn’t miss stepping out of the apartment as she would often do in the BC (before corona) era. Indeed, her calm demeanour suggests a satisfactory compromise with this new quarantined style of living.
[This is the 329th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
A woman’s balconies