Mission Delhi – Muhammed Saif, Central Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
I’m resting—the thought has taken over Muhammed Saif. At this time of the afternoon, he would be hauling large amounts of construction material on the hand-pulled cart along this central Delhi bazaar. But here’s a surprise respite. His next assignment is after a few minutes, so he has taken advantage of the situation by lying on his bed. The ceiling fan is providing a needful breeze.
“I’m letting my body rest,” he says. In his 30s, Mr Saif is in a check lungi and a T-shirt, his red flip-flops by his bed. His bed is a thin mattress on the floor. The room is dusty. One side is covered with piles of bricks that will have to be carried onto a construction site at some point. There’s a shovel too, which belongs to one of the many colleagues he shares this living space with. It is connected to an additional room whose entry is from another side.
Having recently returned, following the lifting of the lockdown, from his village in Katihar, Bihar, Mr Saif’s talk naturally starts to hover around his family. “I’ll never want my children to live in the city.” To him, the city is strictly a place to earn paisa. “Otherwise there’s nothing much here,” he says while letting his arms flail around, suggesting that Delhi is pressing him on all sides. “The city gives paseena (sweat).”
By the city, he explains, he doesn’t mean Delhi alone, but all the cities. Mr Saif has been in the Capital for a year. He spent the previous 10 years as a labourer in Chandigarh.
He has no tender ideas about his village either. Some people there might have airy houses with courtyards, trees and milk-giving buffaloes, he concedes, but not him. “We don’t own any agricultural land… my house was earlier made of mud, and now the walls are of baas and the roof is of tin.”
Gazing through the open door—the only source of fresh air since there are no windows in the room—he observes that “my home in the village and this room in Dilli are not very different… sukoon (relief) comes only when you earn a good amount of money.”
He considers his sukoon to be idyllic if he makes ₹700 by the day’s end.
Now Mr Saif lifts himself slightly, rests his head under his right hand and stays silent.
[This is the 415th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
His definition of the city