Mission Delhi – Ms Phoolwati, Connaught Place
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
She’s a living landmark of Connaught Place. The colonial-era commercial district has seen rapid transformation over the recent decades, and very few longtime institutions have managed to survive. But fruit seller Ms Phoolwati, 60, is seen everyday at the same spot on the KG Marg pavement for forty years. She sits still and quiet, with such a calm composure that the mere act of buying an apple or a guava from her might turn out soothing, or meditative.
This afternoon, as always, Ms Phoolwati is sitting motionless amid her fruit baskets. The shoe repair man behind her is lying sprawled on his pavement stall, asleep. A pedestrian has paused by her stall while reading a newspaper, as if suddenly coming across a news of great importance. It is a rare moment on the road behind: there is almost no traffic. The scene is like a photograph until a man in the far background appears, trying to leap over the tall metal fence on the road divider.
Ms Phoolwati is facing a new high-rise whose construction finished during the pandemic. The immediate landscape includes an old tree that fell by the wayside some months ago. So much has changed, she observes. Before the coronavirus reshaped our world, her stall teemed with the area’s office-goers. “Since the pandemic, I only sell half of what I used to sell,” she mutters, agreeing with the assumption that perhaps many of her previous customers are working remotely from their home.
Anyhow, Ms Phoolwati commutes daily from her home in Khichdipur, renting an auto to carry all her day’s fruit. Her day begins at 4, and two hours later she is in the wholesale Azadpur Subzi Mandi to buy fresh vegetables. She sets up her stall by ten. She returns home 12 hours later. Ms Phoolwati lives with her retired husband, her two sons reside nearby with their families. “In the morning, my chhoti bahu (younger daughter-in-law) prepares the lunch for me. In the evening, my badi bahu (elder daughter-in-law) prepares the dinner for me and my husband.”
Despite her advanced years, the fruit seller hasn’t considered retiring from work “because it’s important to earn money as long as one can.”
In the following ten minutes, no customer arrives. Ms Phoolwati remains as still as a statue. And what goes on in her mind, during such spare moments? “Kya kahe (what to say),” she smiles faintly. She now shows her hands. They justify her name—the palms are tattooed with tiny phool, or flowers.
[This is the 457th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
A living landmark for 40 years