Mission Delhi – Rajesh, Mathura Road
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Isn’t Rajesh a man’s name? Rajesh shrugs her shoulders. “My parents named me Rajesh, I don’t know why,” she says sombrely, admitting in a surprised tone that she never thought of asking them the reason.
This afternoon Rajesh is assigned by her contractor for a repairing job in central Delhi’s Mathura Road. A labourer, she is helping renovate a damaged road divider. The lady always works with her husband in a two-member team. The stubbornly silent Mani Ram is carefully laying out the cement along the surface of the cracked divider, while Rajesh is bringing the cement to him from a pile kept on one side of the divider. She first fills the cement into a giant tray, pours a mug of water into it, and mixes the two into paste. Then she lifts the tray to her head, and walks towards the husband. The couple’s two children—Nandini and Kana—are standing idle near them. It’s afternoon and the sun is uncomfortably warm. The traffic is moderately busy.
Rajesh waves towards a child sitting on a pavement across the road. “She’s Ruby, my other daughter.” There are six kids; the other three are in their UP village in Jhansi. “They live with my husband’s parents,” she says, as she hands over the cement tray to Mani Ram. He isn’t uttering a word.
The couple lives under a flyover, nearby. They divide their year between Delhi and their village. “In Jhansi, each of us earns ₹200 daily for an assignment, and in Delhi it is ₹100 more for the same work.”
Glancing towards son Kana, Rajesh shakes her head, saying that he hasn’t been enrolled in school yet. Same with Nandini and Ruby. Only her eldest child, a 10-year-old girl back home in the village, goes to school. “She has learnt to make rotis and helps her grandmother with the meals.”
Meanwhile, little Nandini is trying to open a packet of biscuits.
She blushes uncontrollably when asked about her favourite mithai, and offers the biscuits to her father. And now, a surprise. Mani Ram finally breaks his enigmatic silence, telling the girl, “it’s for you, beta.”
The family is likely to stay at the road divider until the day’s end.
[This is the 438th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The family of woman