Mission Delhi – Dhanam, Pragati Maidan
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The most endearing aspect about the picturesque foot-over bridges that fan out from Pragati Maidan metro station are not those bridges. But a cheery snack vendor who runs a kiosk underneath the bridges, on the broad pavement, beside the traffc light, below a spindly Ashoka tree.
Dressed in a purple sari with fluorescent green flower prints, the vendor says she has two names. “In Dilli, my name is Daman; in Chennai, my name is Dhanam,” she discloses. These names correspond to her bonds with two cities separated by miles, cultures, and languages.
Speaking in fluent Hindi, Dhanam says she is from Tamil Nadu capital, and is either 50 or 60. “Occasionally a rare Tamilian passing by stops to ask if I too can be a Tamilian.” The two then get sentimental, she says, and start chattering in Tamil. Dhanam considers both Tamil and Hindi as her languages “though we speak Tamil at home.” Her husband, Mani, a beldar (labourer), is the only one in the family to be born in Tamil Nadu. Her four children, like her, are Delhi-born. Waving towards a far-off rail bridge, she says her house is somewhere over there.
Momentarily silenced by the rumble of a metro train, Dhanam recalls her parents who arrived from Chennai and made a home in Delhi. “They are gone but we haven’t lost contact with Chennai… we go there every year during Shivratri to meet our relatives.”
Now two middle-aged ladies in salwar suits pass by, chatting in Punjabi. Dhanam doesn’t understand this language, she says, playfully touching her ears in mock-apology.
The intersection of Tamil and Hindi weaves the texture of her daily life. “My daughter Priya brings me lunch every afternoon… today she got Hindi khana.” Which means the food of Delhi, she explains—this day it was aloo baingan with rotis. Once a week the family rustles out “Tamil khana,” which tends to be sambhar and rice, she says, her laughter roaring through the area.
Dhanam and her stall seem so rooted to the area’s infrastructural landscape that she appears to have been here for decades. But these bridges are recent, and so is Dhanam’s stall. “I washed dishes in kothis but had to discontinue due to knee pain.”
Even so, her working life remains hectic. Dhanam arrives every morning at 6 and leaves 11 hours later.
Relief comes at home when she watches night shows on (Chennai based) Jaya TV. This sets her talking of her favroite Tamil movie icons, starting with MGR. “He died many years ago… I also like Sridevi—hamari heroine from Chennai… she too has died.”
[This is the 482nd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Of two names and two cities