Mission Delhi – Saddam, Central Delhi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s such a deathly cold evening that the mere sight of steaming hot gajar halwa (carrot pudding), here in this central Delhi market, brings instant relief.
Only later does the attention shift to the boy manning the cart. His face is hidden behind a mask but his eyes—so huge—seem to speak for his entire being. In such a chilly hour, he ought to be snuggled inside a cushy quilt at home, with one of his parents perhaps serving him a bowl of this very same halwa.
“My mummy is dead, my papa is ill,” he says matter-of-factly.
Saddam says he is 18. He arrived in the Delhi region “many years ago” from his village in Bahraich, UP, where his father still lives. He works for a sweet seller in Noida, in neighbouring UP, and sells the freshly made gulab jamun and carrot halwa on the street every evening from 5 to 8. He gets ₹5,000 monthly, he says.
Responding to queries, Saddam replies that he lives by himself in a small room in Noida given to him by his employer. “I have an elder brother, he lives and works in Karkardooma.” That’s in east Delhi, a few miles away from his address. The brothers rarely meet. But Saddam does have friends, he says, “I meet them when I have time.”
Usually, Saddam’s street vending is confined to a few Noida sectors but today his employer sent him across the interstate border to this Delhi market. “It took me two hours to cycle here,” he says. The cart is fitted with a bicycle. After finding a spot to park his stall, Saddam went on to lit the stove to reheat the desserts.
Gazing towards the halwa platter, he says he can barely recall his mother. “If mummy ever cooked gajar halwa for me, I don’t remember it.”
On the possibility of having dreams for the future, he stays silent, smiles shyly and shakes his head.
Now a female beggar gets up from the footpath nearby, and silently hands over a ₹10 note gesturing towards the halwa. Saddam deftly picks out a disposable bowl, fills it with a ladle of halwa, and gets his first transaction of the evening done.
[This is the 385th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
When carrot halwa memories don’t exist