Home Sweet Home – House of Labourers, Ansari Road
So open, yet secretive.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The doors are locked, their wood rotting. The window jaalis are cobwebbed. The balconies are blocked with bricks. The weather-beaten building must be empty inside.
Yet, it shelters very many people. Outside.
Those people are nowhere to be seen this late afternoon but their residences are as visible as daylight. Their possessions—all the essential stuff that makes up a house—are laid out in a great display across the length of this building, on the footpath, here in central Delhi’s Ansari Road. One of the doors is clipped with a string on which are hanging shorts, pants, a pithu bag, and a hand bag, which has a white banian (vest) coming out of it. A sheet of plywood is plonked against the door. It is the size of a single bed, and perhaps is used by its owner to spread out on the ground at night as a bed.
The building faces a motor workshop. A middle-aged mechanic, his clothes greased in black, wearily says, “Majdoor (labourers) live by this pavement… this is their home.” Currently, the labourers are away at work and are likely to return only by sunset, he says, slipping under the car he is repairing.
Looking at these open-air living spaces feels like entering a gated apartment complex without permission. The limited variety of domestic things arranged across the building’s exterior repeats itself in quick successions—individual clotheslines with bags and kitchen utensils. It is a bit similar to seeing a Gurugram residential high-rise, with its hundreds of flats duplicating each other’s lifestyle, though here the fellow citizens don’t have the luxury of roofs and rooms.
The kitchen in each living quarter comprises spice boxes and cooking oil bottles arranged about tiny gas cylinders with single-burner stoves. The metal dinner plates lie on the ground, as if the evening’s table had already been laid out. Chakla-belan (rolling-pin and board) to make rotis are shoved into rusting bins.
A few places have overstuffed suitcases. A few doors have helmets hanging from them.
The board at one end of the building terms the area an “authorised parking” with a disclaimer at the bottom, saying—“No responsibility of loosing parts like cash, bag, mobile phone etc.”
A residential complex