Mission Delhi – Chumki Sen, Sector 50, Gurgaon
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Why oh why did she get a house overlooking the main road, she feels, ten years after moving into it. At least she would have been spared the direct proximity to the seemingly continuous wail of ambulance sirens.
This is one of the many dismal thoughts claiming Chumki Sen’s mind during these dark days of coronavirus pandemic. Ms Sen, 51, formerly a media professional, lives with her husband, daughter and mother in a ninth floor apartment in Gurgaon’s Sector 50 in the Greater Delhi Region. Her long balcony looks to a park that is “like any manicured garden of any Gurgaon (apartment) society.” The dining room window is more revealing, for it shows the world outside the gated residential complex.
At this time in the evening, Mr Sen can only see a few cars speeding down the road. “Until some days ago I could see snack vendors standing on the roadside.” They would mostly be serving the construction labourers, in their yellow helmets, working in the high-rises being built just across the road. “But the construction has (temporarily) stopped. The labourers have disappeared. The food vendors too have gone… to where, I don’t know.”
Around this time last year, as the country was struggling with an unprecedented lockdown, Ms Sen recalls that this same road would be teeming with people having potlis (bundles) on their heads and walking silently in great numbers, each family with its children. “It was a time of migration… all those people, I guess, were returning to their villages.”
This time, the pandemic has crossed the road and entered Ms Sen’s immediate universe. “We have an app on our mobile on which we get notified each time an apartment in our society gets quarantined… the app is beeping a lot these days.” Ms Sen’s upstairs and downstairs neighbours are among the latest to have caught the virus. “I feel it’s waiting to crawl into my home. My mom says she’s scared. But I feel empty. I’m resigned to the fact that it will come to us too.”
At the moment, though, Ms Sen’s 78-year-old mother, Shyamali, is knitting a sweater for her 11-year-old granddaughter, Maya, who is badgering Ms Sen to allow her to have Maggi noodles, while her husband, Dhruba, is crunching “C-data” (Covid data!) between office work. Ms Sen herself has just finished watering the plants in her balcony.
Her world may be on the edge, but for now it remains the stuff dreams are made of—these days.
[This is the 404th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Her year of the pandemic