Mission Delhi – Reham Ilahi, Ballimaran
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Seasoned machines clog up the space of the small room. Their owner is sitting in between. Dressed in a blue pathan suit and a mustard green topi, Reham Ilahi is finishing his lunch. In his early 70s, he takes off his dentures, and keeps them in the empty bowl.
His serene, well-fed face with a long white beard now gazes out into the street, here at Gali Qasim Jan, in Old Delhi’s Ballimaran. Turning towards the equipments in his chamber, he says “these are karahi (embroidery) machines… each machine has more than 300 parts, and I make one of those parts.” He points to a school stationary shop across the street: “My son’s business.” The frail figure smiles, shaking his head, and says in a low voice, as if talking to himself, “My son didn’t follow his father’s trade, the way I didn’t follow my father’s.”
Although this shop was founded by his “walid saheb,” Rahman Ilahi, way back in 1950, Reham Ilahi explains that his father used to do embroidery in this same space, aided by a karahi machine. He, on the other hand, helps make that same machine. The venerable man dives into his eventful past. “All parents want their children to establish themselves after their own way of living, but I wanted to do something different.” So, he went to “machine master” Ustad Hamid, in adjacent Lal Kuan, to launch himself into this career of “machine parts.” Absentmindedly playing with his mobile, which is hanging around his neck like an amulet, Mehboob Ilahi observes that “every work has its utaar-charaav (ups and downs)… I felt my father’s embroidery work was not giving as much earning as he deserved, so I chose an area that appeared to be more promising.”
Years late, this same approach was chosen by his son Muhammed Atesham , who opened his stationary shop 20 years ago. Coming over to give post-lunch chai to his father, Atesham talks of the greater viability of his business “considering that there are more than one school in the area.” Talking of his own two young children, he wonders “who knows what they will do… maybe they will settle abroad.” That indeed would be a serious rapture in the story of this family, as they has been living in Ballimaran for 300 years.
Nevertheless, this afternoon the world seems sturdy as Mehboob Ilahi lies down for a siesta. “Change comes so slowly that we don’t realise when halaat starts to change,” he says, before closing his eyes.
[This is the 483rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Man in change