Mission Delhi – Om Kumar, Sector 14, Gurgaon
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He is 13, old enough to realise that “eating my favourite veg pizza is not wise these days”.
A typical pizza is expensive, Om Kumar explains, and his craze for it would be a drag on his “Papa’s” diminished resources. His father runs a tea stall in Gurgaon’s Sector 14 in the Greater Delhi Region. Chatting this afternoon on WhatsApp video, Mr Kumar, an 8th standard student, gives a bleak picture of his days in the family’s one-room apartment, as the current wave of the coronavirus pandemic is raging on with full blast in the world outside.
“My PC (desktop computer) stopped working five months ago. I had a tablet but the battery started having problems a month back. So now I’m attending online school classes on Papa’s mobile.”
The family only has one smartphone and it has to be shared between the tea stall owner and his two sons. Mr Kumar’s mother, Bheeba Devi, lives in their native village in Madhubani, Bihar.
If there had not been a pandemic, and if his father’s business had remained as stable and reasonably profitable as it was early last year, Mr Kumar might have purchased a new laptop. That would have been useful not only for his immediate studies but also for his long-term goal — his ambition is to become a cyber security expert.
But the world is in a dreadful shape, and we can’t take anything for granted any longer, says young Mr Kumar. He talks with the gravitas of a person mature beyond his years. Sometimes, when he would hang out at his father’s stall, “I would survey the ongoing situation by talking to customers, and through them I discovered that things are very bad, and that there is not much hope for better days.”
One month ago, exasperated by his younger brother Abhishek’s fondness for chhole kulche and momos, his father was obliged to tell them that he was facing a severe financial crunch, and that it would be “wiser not to spend money on fast food and just eat the meals cooked at home for cheap”.
The last time Mr Kumar had his beloved pizza was two years ago, he recalls, in a Pizza Hut outlet. The young man notes that his family has survived the precious year’s pandemic-ridden lockdown by digging into the father’s savings. This time there are no savings, he says.
Even so, Mr Kumar remains hopeful for his near and distant future. “Next year I will get a new laptop… and I’m sure I’ll become a cyber security expert, with a good job in my own Gurgaon.”
[This is the 399th portrait of Mission Delhi project]