Mission Delhi – Raj Kumar, Sadar Bazar
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One feels a nip in the air. There is a shift in the season, and soon it will be time to take out the warm woollens from the trunk. Raj Kumar, too, will shift his business from selling lemonade to aloo tikki.
“That’s what I always do… I sell thandi cheez (cold thing) in the summer, and garam cheez (hot thing) in the winter.”
The middle-aged man’s cart has been here in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar, in the Greater Delhi Region, for 30 years. This summer has been exceptionally tough for him — and not only because of the coronavirus-triggered lockdown, when he was forced to stay at home for scores of weeks.
“Bobby died,” he says. Father of four, Mr Kumar’s older of the two sons passed away shortly before Holi. “He was ill for many years… we spent a lakh on his treatment, but….” Here he shakes his head, the way people do when they accept defeat after putting up a valiant fight. Even though it has been months since the loss, “sometimes his mother suddenly starts to cry.”
Asked about his late son’s age, Mr Kumar looks preoccupied, as if calculating complicated figures in his mind, before saying, “20.”
The lemonade seller goes into some detail in describing the portrait of Bobby, framed and hung next to the entrance door of their house, nearby, in “Saat number galli.” He says, “We immersed his ashes in the Garh Ganga river.”
Stabbing a small block of ice with a strong knife, Mr Kumar drops a few chunks into the earthen pot filled with lemonade. “As time passes, the sadness begins to go away. I work, I get busy, and suddenly I would remember again that my jawan beta (youthful son) is no more.”
Looking thoughtful, Mr Kumar says that “perhaps it is more bearable if a parent loses a child when the child is still young .. but Bobby was a paala hua bachcha, we raised him into a young man.”
Now, a bearded sadhu arrives and gestures towards the pot—it is temptingly ringed with fresh green lemons. Mr Kumar smiles faintly, fills up a glass with the lemonade, and wordlessly hands it to the sadhu, for free.
[This is the 374th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Living with grief