Mission Delhi – Arman, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
The mask hawker isn’t pushy at all. He quietly follows a passerby, and upon catching the attention, politely asks if the person would be interested in buying a mask. He never badgers, whatever be the response.
Among the city’s mask sellers, Arman is a veteran. Like most of them, he has been hawking masks since the coronavirus pandemic weaved into the fabric of our life.
Arman is 12.
“I want to join the army when I grow up,” he says. Agreeing to a brief chit-chat this cold evening, he sits outside a shuttered storefront, here in central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti. Arman lives in the neighbourhood. “Papa isn’t well, so he stays at home. Ammi works in a kothi (bungalow),” he informs matter-of-factly, but his voice is full of urgency and cheer, like a happy, excitable kid in a garden imploring his parents to let him play for a few more minutes. Arman’s world comprises four siblings. The two sisters divide their time between school and home. He also goes to school, and so does his brother – but they both also spend a part of their day selling masks. Arman confines himself within the Basti, while his brother goes about in nearby Bhogal.
The seventh standard student gives a breakdown of his daily life: “I get up at seven. Ammi gives me a nashta of chai and roti. I study for one hour and 30 minutes. I step out of the house only after lunch at 1pm, and then I sell the masks, which Ammi gets from the supplier. I go back home by seven in the evening. After finishing my dinner, I play games on Ammi’s mobile.”
The Basti remains crowded due to its many shrines and monuments, and Arman often finds the lanes teeming with visitors. Boys of his age are often led protectively by their guardians. Arman realises his life is different from theirs. “We have problems at home. My brother and I want to help Ammi as much as we can. Our Ammi works very hard.”
It’s almost 7pm. Arman poses for a portrait, but only after carefully adjusting the mask on his face. Then he gets up to leave for home. Ammi’s dinner awaits.
[This is the 451st portrait of Mission Delhi project]