Mission Delhi – Vishwanath, Kashmere Gate
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Vishwanath takes all the precautions he can to avoid being hurt. But accidents still happen, and some injuries are unavoidable.
The rickshaw puller’s leg is bandaged, though he insists it’s not a serious wound, pointing to the little band-aid strapped onto it. It happened a few nights ago.
“I had dropped off a customer, and was riding to the main road, when suddenly a dog appeared in front of the rickshaw.” Vishwanath instinctively steered the handle, causing the rickshaw to lose balance. “The rickshaw fell, I fell too, and I got a small chot (injury).”
This afternoon Vishwanath is sitting on the passenger’s seat in a north Delhi lane, waiting for customers, but also basking in the warmth of the winter sun. His face is covered in a mask and his head is topped with the kind of metal helmet labourers wear on construction sites.
“I have been wearing it for some months.” He picked it from a footpath. “This is to protect myself in case I meet a serious accident… like my rickshaw being hit by a speeding car.”
So far, he hasn’t encountered any horrid mishap.
A native of Kolkata, Vishwanath says he has no home in Delhi, not even a familiar street where he could retire every night to rest, like many other rickshaw pullers in the city. “I sleep on the footpath… any footpath, wherever I happen to be.”
Living alone (and being single) doesn’t make him feel lonely, he asserts. “I don’t have time to feel the absence of relatives in Delhi… I work during the day and that makes me so tired that I fall asleep almost the moment I lie down on the chaadar (the bed sheet he spreads on the pavement).”
Vishwanath says he has been living in Delhi long enough to have faith in its people. He talks of personally witnessing strangers coming to the aid of road accident victims, for instance. “I myself carried an injured man to the hospital for free, once.” Nevertheless, he feels “it’s better not to rely on others for your own well being.”
And then he has the blessings of his taveez, he says, reverently touching the amulet around his neck.
Vishwanath starts his working day at 9 am and is asleep by 11 pm latest. At night, he takes off his helmet and keeps it by the side of his pillow.
[This is the 382nd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The head that wears the helmet