Mission Delhi – Shiraz Muhammad, Central Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The walker can have many uses. Shiraz Muhammad discovered it not long after acquiring one for himself, following a leg injury.
“You cover the walker with a cloth, sit down under it and you will be protected from the rain,” he says — though this morning he is protecting himself from a resentfully strong sun.
Mr Muhammed is seated on a central Delhi pavement. He indicates his “current status” is being a beggar. “I have nobody in this world,” he says. He suggests—rhetorically—to go through his I-card. “My father’s name: khali (empty); my mother’s name: khali; my place of birth: khali.”
Mr Muhammed doesn’t have any idea of his age but says he cannot be more than 40.
He pauses to gather his thoughts. “From top to bottom I’m a lawaris (orphan).” He says it in a bland tone.
His life used to be far superior to his present, he points out. “I worked as a waiter in Ludhiana (Punjab). This is where I was hit by a car, last year, and hurt my leg.”
It’s more than a mere hurt. The great part of the left leg is not only bandaged but encased in a metallic casing. “Doctors fitted it…. there is a steel rod inside my leg,” he says in awe.
Mr Muhammed came all the way from Ludhiana to Delhi, believing that “as the country’s capital, it would have better facilities for a quick recovery.”
He got the walker not long after getting his leg treated in a “sarkari aspatal (government hospital).” A stranger donated it, he says. And “before the lockdown my legs would be dressed after ever few weeks by nurses in the aspatal, with fresh patti (bandage), for free.” Mr Muhammed has not visited the hospital since the coronavirus pandemic has started — he is indeed acting very responsibly since the first lockdown and, unlike most people on the street, he has his mouth covered with mask.
These days, he says, he buys new “patti” after every two weeks for 120 rupees from a chemist shop, and does the bandaging himself.
Mr Muhammed plans to follow his current profession until his leg fully recovers. “Doctor says my leg will heal faster if I walk more.” But he hardly employs the walker to walk, which, he now feels, will serve more as an umbrella as monsoon takes over the city. At night, it becomes his shelter. “I sleep over there across the road… with my top body under the walker that I cover with a chaddar(sheet).”
It’s about ten and the air is getting extremely humid. Mr Muhammed hasn’t had breakfast yet. Soon, a passerby drops a 20-rupee note by his side. He silently nods his head in acknowledgment. Not long after he is joined by another man who sits besides him, and reads aloud the headlines on India-China border dispute from the day’s newspaper.
[This is the 334th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The story behind the walker