Mission Delhi – Rupkesh Kumar, Central Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It was a brief sleep, and a deep sleep. And a rare occurrence, for Rupkesh Kumar, 53, never sleeps during the day. But this late afternoon he had a splitting headache. After quickly finishing dal-roti in an eatery, he parked his auto on the roadside, swallowed down a pain-killer, and sprawled his exhausted body along the passenger’s seat.
“I instantly fell asleep.”
He woke up 15 minutes later and discovered “my wallet was no longer in my shirt pocket.” The shirt pocket too had gone. “The thief slashed it with a blade, I think.” Mr Kumar unbuttons the shirt and shows the remnants of the pocket. The “haadsa (tragedy)” took place some minutes ago, here along this central Delhi road. Still in shock, Mr Kumar is talking like a person who just got injured but is too dazed at the moment to feel the pain. He shows his other pocket. “He tried to cut this one too but couldn’t… It has my mobile.”
Mr Kumar’s wallet had 370 rupees—“the money I’d made since the morning.” The amount isn’t substantial, he concedes, but “even the loss of a single hard-earned rupee hits hard.” Mr Kumar works daily from sunrise to sundown. It is 5 pm. Perhaps he may prefer to stay on the road for a few more hours to compensate for the stolen cash. “This isn’t my auto. I drive it on rent and have to return it to the owner everyday by 6 latest.” He fears he will not be able to pay this day’s rent—280 rupees. “That will add up as debt,” he rues, absentmindedly running his fingers over the part of the shirt that had the lost pocket.
Such a thing has never happened before in Mr Kumar’s 28-year-old career as a Delhi auto driver. He buttons up the shirt. “I’ll have to now return the auto (to the owner in Kalyanpuri) for the day.” He later plans to call his wife and daughters in Meerut to “share the news.” Suddenly Mr Kumar becomes intensely hyperactive, opening up a drawer beside the auto’s steering handle. He seems to be searching for something, his hands are fumbling all over. “This morning I had no idea that… the day began normally…” He gradually slows down, closes the drawer, starts the auto and drives away.
[This is the 436th portrait of Mission Delhi project]