Mission Delhi – Kalu, Central Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His face is almost invisible, under the huge load of goat fodder he is carrying on his head. All that you see are glimpses of his glinting eyes and flashes of his nose and lips. The young man is dressed in a green shirt and black shorts printed with the words “Tik Tok”. He’s walking along a Central Delhi alley.
“These are leaves from the gular trees,” he says, introducing himself as Kalu. His voice seems to be coming out of the green bundle, as one cannot see his mouth.
Kalu is in his late teens. A labourer, he says he does whatever assignment comes his way. “Right now I’m transporting fodder from a supplier to a stall in the bazaar,” he informs. Kalu has never been to a school. He frees his right arm and flicks his palm, in synchronization with his speech. “Mummy Papa gone.”
Kalu was very small when his parents passed away, he says. Without being prompted, he discloses that he is not from some far off part of the country, but from this very city. “I was born in Delhi.” His half-hidden lips spread into a very visible smile, revealing his paan-stained teeth.
So who does he live with?
Kalu’s eyes continue to sparkle as he shakes his head. The bundle is almost like a mini-jungle in itself, and moves with him. He explains that he is alone in the duniya, the world.
He sleeps on the footpath nearby, outside the closed shutters of a motor pump shop. “Many other laborers sleep there.”
And who cooks his meals?
He again shakes his head, more vigorously. “I have nobody, I myself look after my food.” He doesn’t cook, because he explains he has no stove. “I eat outside, in the dhabas.”
Kalu says he doesn’t feel alone though. He has many friends who are like his brothers and sisters. “When I fall ill they look after me…. once they even took me to a doctor.”
Besides, he doesn’t find time to feel lonely. In his free time he watches movies and movie songs on his mobile, though right now it’s not with him. He has left it in his bag, a bag he keeps safe in the custody of one of his friends, close to where he sleeps at night.
While Kalu’s days are hectic, he does avail himself a few hours of rest in the afternoon. These days he spends it watching film bits starring Shah Rukh Khan on YouTube. “He is better than Salman (Khan),” Kalu observes. “Shah Rukh dances better, though he doesn’t have as much muscle as Salman.” The boy is talking of both the superstars very casually, and uses only their first names, as if he were on intimate terms with them.
But now Kalu politely asks to be excused. He quickly wants to complete his assignment so that he can rush to the dhaba he patronizes for his breakfast—bun with butter, and a glass of doodh chai.
He walks away, his face hidden under his load. It’s a surreal sight.
[This is the 343rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
A head that wears the forest