Mission Delhi – Mangey Ram, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Mark the scene carefully. You rarely see it these days. Here’s the low table. It’s covered with a mat. Six small glass bottles are arranged on the top, each filled with a solution of different colour.
This is masseur Mangey Ram’s mobile stall. He roams about the Ghalib Street in central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, silently offering his services to passersby. Sometimes he’s sighted massaging the bare back of haleem cook Mustakeem. Sometimes he unrolls the mat on the pavement, and is seen treating a client’s tired limbs with a selection of his relaxing oils. Each potion, he says, has a unique characteristic.
One early morning the moody Mr Ram, after having finished massaging the knees of vendor Abul Hasan, condescends to identify the various oils in his bottles. “This bottle has jaitoon, this bottle has amla, this bottle has ratan oil that gives thandak, this one has sarson, and this bottle has noorani tel, which is good for knee pain.”
That Mr Ram agrees to talk at all is something to be grateful about. He otherwise remains stubbornly quiet. If one approaches him with queries, he responds with an offended gaze. Even now he deigns to share only the bare essentials of his life. Speaking expressionlessly, like a head of state indifferently reading out a long speech without showing a dot of emotion, he says: “Mother died, father died, wife died… father had some other occupation… No, I never feel lonely.”
He does open up about his early days as a street masseur. “At that time there were many maalish wale.” Mr Ram briefly describes the years-ago ambiance of this same Ghalib Street—the lane that ends with poet Ghalib’s tomb—as a place teeming with masseurs. “You would see men spread out on chatais in front of Ghalib’s mazaar, each being massaged by a maalish walla.” Mr Ram’s face suddenly breaks into a cynical laughter. “All those maalish wale have gone… there was never much money in it.” Pointing to the table, he says he bought it years ago from Muzaffarnagar in UP.
Mr Ram works from late evening to early morning—this part of the historic district remains crowded throughout the night. “In the day, I sleep.” Indeed, half an hour after this chat, the street masseur is seen lying sprawled on the pavement, just outside the walls of Ghalib’s mausoleum. His eyes are closed.
[This is the 435th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The street masseur