Mission Delhi - Praveen Lal, Connaught Place

Mission Delhi – Praveen Lal, Connaught Place

Mission Delhi - Praveen Lal, Connaught Place

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Many of us in this city can trace our roots to a village. Praveen Lal is no different. The shoeshine man lives with his wife and four kids in west Delhi’s Dwarka, “but my true home is my village.”

In his late 20s, Mr Lal left his ancestral land more than a decade ago “but I’m still connected to it and go back every year to do my share of work in the family’s farm fields.”

His parents and siblings live in Biawar, a rural hamlet near Ajmer, in Rajasthan. This morning Mr Lal is sitting on the dusty floor of Connaught Place, softly calling out to passersby to get their shoes polished. No one is stopping.

“We have a pond in our village, where I learnt swimming as a child… it continues to be full of water, clean water, and even today men in the village go there for a dubki (dip) — you instantly feel fresh.”

Though there is always the option for a quick bath under the handpump that almost each household has, he confirms.

Mr Lal’s village is ringed by low hills and “the area has all sorts of trees, but I don’t remember having fruit trees from which we could have had guavas or ber for free.”

Sometimes, here in Delhi, Mr Lal closes his eyes and thinks of Biawar. “The first image I always see is of our mandir.” The white marble Ramdevji Maharaj temple stands at the top of a hill to reach which “you have to climb more than 500 steps.” On stepping inside, Mr Lal immediately sits down on the temple floor to recover his depleted energy. “It’s a meethi thakaan (sweet exhaustion)… resting in the mandir is more peaceful than sleeping on your own bed.”

Mr Lal and his family visit the village every year during holi. Now, swinging his head on both sides of the colonial-era colonnade, he mutters that “it’s difficult to imagine that a place like my village is in the same world in which Delhi is… they both have nothing in common.”

[This is the 417th portrait of Mission Delhi project]