Mission Delhi – Kamni, Hauz Khas Village
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Her husband makes yummy chicken curry. “But we haven’t had it for a long time,” says Kamni. Her reason is simple enough. “I no longer earn as much as I used to before the lockdown so we can’t afford maas-machhi.”
For 20 years, Kamni has been working as a housekeeper to scores of one-room pads in Hauz Khas Village, mostly rented by single people pursuing all sorts of occupations—some are documentary film makers, some are shop assistants, and a few are even musicians. She herself lives in the same village with her family, her home a walking distance from the places where she work.
Most of Kamni’s employers gave up their accommodations not long after the coronavirus-triggered lockdown started, because of job losses or severe salary cuts, leaving Kamni with less income.
“I used to be responsible for more than a dozen rooms… now just 3 or 4.”
It’s afternoon. She just finished the “jharoo-poocha” in the home of a “didi,” a woman living on the third floor of an apartment block that overlooks Hauz Khas’s 14th century monuments. Sitting on the staircase, Kamni shows the mehendi that she applied on her hands a few weeks ago. She says she isn’t sure of her age but “I’m the mother of two college-going kids.” She regrets that she hasn’t been able to get them new dresses or shoes due to the covid-era money crunch, but at least she isn’t worried about her own styling. “Corona could not affect my fashion,” she says, laughing. Covering her unmasked face with her henna-dyed hands, she says that each year she gets a pair of salwar suits stitched for herself from a tailor in nearby Yusuf Sarai. “That’s my only personal expense, and everything else gets into the education of children.”
Despite the pandemic’s capacity to inflict massive changes in people’s life, it hasn’t intruded into Kamini’s waking hour. She continues to get up at the unearthly hour of 4 in the morning—both in summer and winter—to head straight to a residential block whose roofs, corridors and staircases she has been in charge of cleaning for many years.
The only difference now is that her work day ends by noon rather than 2 pm, as it used to until March.
“These days I reach home early, yes, but it’s still my husband who makes lunch for the family.” Born in the hills of Pauri Garwhal in Uttarakhand, Kamni arrived in Delhi not long after marrying Chander Mohan, who adds to the household income by cleaning private cars in the village.
Leaning against the staircase’s railing, Kamini gradually grows somber—“So many people I were working for have left. Everyday I pass in front of those empty rooms.”
Kamini confesses that she doesn’t know the names of those former occupants, though she has worked for them for a long time. “I called them bhayya and didi…. I hope they are fine wherever they are.”
Meanwhile, her work for the day is done. She will walk home, or maybe sit idly in the bench outside for a while. “Around this time, before the lockdown, I would be so busy,” she mutters, as she turns to gaze upon an adjacent room down the corridor—its door is locked. “It had a bhayya, I worked for him too.”
[This is the 364th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Housekeeper of Hauz Khas