Mission Delhi – Puranchand, Hazrat Nizamuddin East
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The neighbourhood is very posh, very quiet. Only occasional bird sounds waft through the hushed air. The residences on either side of the lane project a confidence as secured as a castle with moat.
Then Puranchand steps in.
“Chickwale, chickwale,” his shrill, raspy voice drowns out a bird’s twittering. The grey-haired man looks around, and repeats his call.
In his 60s, Puranchand sells chicks, the slatted bamboo screens that so subtly sieve the daylight streaming inside the house through doors and windows. A few of the street vendor’s chicks are rolled up on his shoulder, and others are stacked in his bag. Puranchand walks the whole day long in central Delhi localities. One day he might be in Defence Colony. The next day it could be Bhogal. This afternoon he is in Hazrat Nizamuddin East, some distance away from filmmaker Mira Nair’s apartment.
“I used to sell cane chairs and mooras when I was young,” he says, recalling how easily he would pedal a heavy cart loaded with furniture for long hours daily. But as he grew old, and his body became frail—he says—he gave up the cart and started hawking the chicks. That was about eight years ago. Living in distant Paharganj, he commutes to this part of the city by bus. “I have a DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) pass.” Puranchand doesn’t need to work out of compulsion, he points out. He lives with his two sons, both of them have jobs, and they repeatedly urge him to retire and enjoy life at home.
“But what will I do within the house,” he asks. “For how long can one stare at the wall or watch TV?” He pauses to recollect his thoughts. “The moment you stop being active, you start to catch all kinds of illnesses.” Besides, his working life has helped fill his years with so much variety, he feels. “I started as a book-binder… worked in that line for 16 years.” There were hardships along the way but he confronted them, he says. For instance, “my mother died when I was eight.”
Puranchand now looks around and, again loudly proclaims in his street-hawker-voice: “Chickwale, chickwale.”
No window opens. He walks ahead.
[This is the 427th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The chik walla