Mission Delhi – Ranjeet, Nehru Place
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
Such tall multi-storeys. Such a crowd of busy pedestrians. And he is sitting cross-legged on the ground, with his little basket in front of him. His statue-like stillness is accentuating the fast life around him. Like a hand immersed motionless in a stream that dynamically feels the shock and animation of the stream’s fast-flowing water.
Ranjeet has been selling coconut slices in the commercial plaza of Nehru Place for more than 20 years. He seems frail and far too advanced in years for such demanding work. “I’m do kam assi,” he says, implying that he is two years short of 80.
Many people on reaching this age exile themselves irreversibly into a deeply secluded existence—they stay at home and read the newspaper from first page to last, watch TV in the afternoon, and stalk their grandchildren on Facebook. “But I have to arrange the marriage of my two girls, I will have to continue working,” Ranjeet mutters, seemingly shocked at the idea of retirement. He fondly talks of his daughters. “Kavita is in 12th standard, Babli is in 11th.” He attributes the yawning age gap between himself and his children to his late marriage to Srimati Chandravati, “so the children are reaching a marriageable age just when I’ve become too old.” He contentedly informs that he his eldest daughter, Poonam, is already married and well-settled with her family. The other two live in the village in Aligarh with their mother.
Ranjeet believes that his daily earnings (about ₹300) as a vendor will help him save enough money to meet the expenses needed for his daughters’ weddings “in some years”. Looking about the Nehru Place office buildings, he says he keeps shifting his location throughout the plaza during the day. He gets fresh coconuts every morning from a vegetable mandi in Old Delhi, where he lives. He has no room of his own, he says, and sleeps at night in the mandi. He commutes daily from the Walled City on bus.
As he continues to chat, Ranjeet reveals that he also has a son, who lives with his family in the home district but in a separate house.
Rearranging the coconuts, the elderly gent talks of a young man who approached him one day recently with a camera. “He made a video of me and promised that it would change my life.”
His life hasn’t changed, he observes.
Some hours later, Ranjeet is spotted at a different site in Nehru Place. He has that same basket of coconuts but now it is accompanied with a basket containing peanut chikkis.
[This is the 446th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The coconut man of Nehru Place