Mission Delhi – Sanjay Kumar, Central Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
On this muggy morning he is sitting on his haunches, across the street from a crowded central Delhi chai stall, silently watching the passersby go about their lives. He’s dressed in colors — purple shirt and green chappals. His hair is combed neatly. In fact, one can spot a pink comb tucked into his shirt’s pocket.
A blue handbag is placed beside him.
“It has my auzaar (tools),” says Sanjay Kumar. He introduces himself as a palledar, a carpenter available on hire.
“It’s my first day after many weeks,” says Mr Kumar. He explains that sitting on a public place is his way to advertise his services—he patiently waits for potential customers to approach him. They might be needing a repair job, or want to quickly rustle out something from plywood. “I also do laboury (sic)…. I’m a majdoor too,” he explains.
Mr Kumar says he had been ill for some time. “I had fever. My body was aching. I was having difficulties with latrine.”
Has he been suffering from the virus of all headlines this year?
Mr Kumar shrugs but stays silent. His face is covered in a white gamcha.
“It was ordinary fever. I’m fine now, no longer weaker… that’s why I decided to resume working.”
Mr Kumar lives on the pavement. A native of Agra, in UP, he says he primarily took care of himself on his own while he was ill. “All my saathi (companions) left for home during the lockdown…. I didn’t go… they shall return soon, I think.” There is a small group of rickshaw pullers living on the same side of the road as him, and they would often ask him during his illness if he needed anything.
He didn’t ask anybody for any monetary assistance though. “I have enough money to go by… in fact I can continue to survive for a month at least without earning any additional money.” He explains that he was able to make savings because he isn’t responsible for anybody. “I’m unmarried.” As for his parents, he says, they live in the village and are taken care of by their other son.
The first thing Mr Kumar did after recovering from the fever was to get a soap and wash all his clothes in a public toilet. “I then got them ironed and only then I felt ready to work.” Mr Kumar says he keeps his belongings—packed inside a bag—with the toilet attendant when he himself is away at work during the day. He shall be wearing this set of clothes for 3-4 days after which he will change for another pair of shirt-pants.
Explaining the need of a comb in the shirt’s pocket, he seems to smile—at least that’s suggested by his suddenly expanding face and eyes. He emphasises the need to look “proper so that the customer may trust you enough to bring you to their house or shop for assignments.”
Meanwhile, it’s been half an hour since Mr Kumar has been sitting here. “Somebody will come to give me work sooner or later,” he says, while watching the crowd go by. A few minutes later he is seen with his face uncovered, helping himself to a glass of creamy chai.
[This is the 361st portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Life after fever