City Life – Ms Kashmiro & Harish Chander, Sadar Bazar
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
She sits down on the pavement, as people pass to and fro, here in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar in the Greater Delhi Region. Ms Kashmiro has a large bundle of raw papads with her. She starts to roast them one by one on her small stove with her bare hands. Her face shows no expressions. Her movements are slow. With a pink shawl draped about her blue sari, she seems too advanced in years to be working on such a busy street, while being saddled with so many belongings to handle at the same time.
“I work because I am alone.” Ms Kashmiro says in a mournful tone, explaining that her husband died when he was very young. So did her two sons. “One chhora died 16 years ago, the other chhora died 12 years ago.”
A scooter is parked adjacent to her. Its owner prepares to start the vehicle. Ms Kashmiro asks him, in Punjabi, to not accidentally bump the scooter into her stove. Within moments, the vacant place left by the scooter is taken over by a middle-aged man. He uninhibitedly, but politely, listens to the conversation, looking eager to wade into it at the earliest opportunity.
“I have been selling papad in this bazar for many years,” Ms Kashmiro says. The man remarks that he had, however, never seen her before. “I usually stay in the other side of the market,” she replies. Ms Kashmiro gives more details of her life. She lives in a rented room in Rajindra Park, and there are times when she isn’t able to earn enough money to pay the month’s rent. “But then good people, who think well of me, come to my aid.” Responding to a query, she says she must be 60. The man looks surprised, telling her that she looks older than that. Ms Kashmiro says matter-of-factly: “That is because I have lived with grief for so long.”
The man nods as if he understands what Ms Kashmiro is trying to convey. He says, “Who isn’t sad… I’m also in grief.” Introducing himself as Harish Chander, he says he had been working for many years in a Sadar Bazar shop but lost his job following the coronavirus pandemic. “The buisness had gone down…. so… I’m now khaali (idle).” After a prolonged pause, he adds, “My wife died in May this year… she was tested positive for corona.” Ms Kashmiro nods her head, murmuring, “Hum sab dukhi hain (we all are sad).” She continues to roast the papads. The man walks away after sometime.