Mission Delhi – Sikander Nath, New Railway Road
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
The man in the black hat is walking silently along the roadside, and yet he is attracting a great amount of notice. Heads are turning towards him almost instinctively. May be it is the peculiarity of his walking style. His arms, legs, and neck are moving jerkily in short mechanical movements. While the cane in his hand appears to have a life of its own—at one moment whirring into a blur, then slowing down, and picking up velocity yet again. The man’s painted face is frozen into a wide smile.
Sikander Nath is a joker—that is the word he uses to describe himself. “My business is to make public laugh… today I’m being Charlie Chaplin.” In his spare time outside of assignments, Mr Nath walks through parts of the city, performing comic acts on the way, and accepting whatever cash people give him for the entertainment. In fact, this is exactly what he is doing today in Gurgaon’s New Railway Road in the Greater Delhi Region. This afternoon, a long traffic jam has clogged up the dusty road, and the “public”—stuck up inside stationary cars and buses—is looking fascinated as Mr Nath carries on with his act.
“It is my khandani pesha (hereditary profession),” he says. “My father worked as a joker, my grandfather worked as a joker.” Like Mr Nath, they too have been Chaplin mimics. The family’s repertoire, however, is varied. “We have been Laila Majnu… my dada used to be Jaani Dushman, and also Kroor Singh… I’ve played Motu Patlu in children’s birthday parties.”
Expressing satisfaction with his profession, Mr Nath does not expect his children, two sons and one daughter, to continue with the family legacy. “They are in school, they are studying, they will not work as a joker… they will do something else.”
He thinks for a few moments and says, “They will educate themselves, they will find other work, they will earn good salaries… may be they will work in wedding bands, may be they will play the dhol.”
Mr Nath now goes back to his work. He starts performing a Chaplin-style mime without uttering a single word. It is like watching a silent movie. Wading into the stranded traffic, he crosses the road, a frozen smile plastered on his painted face.
[This is the 459th portrait of Mission Delhi project]