Mission Delhi – Muhammed Sabir, Near Ashram
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is an afternoon in the heatwave. The road doesn’t have much traffic. A man is riding a cart. The cart is loaded with long, seemingly heavy iron rods. The iron rods are scalding-hot to touch. The rods are longer than the cart and their ends are tied with a red ribbon as a caution to the traffic behind. The man now stops to pedal. He gets off his seat and starts to drag the cart with the full force of his body.
Stopping under a tree for a brief reprieve, he takes out a water bottle. The bottle is wrapped in a thick towel. He gulps down mouthfuls of water, some of which spill out onto his throat.
“I’m transporting this load to India Gate,” says Muhammed Sabir, breathing hard. Wearing a baseball cap as a sunshade, he started half an hour ago from Ashram. “Will take me two hours to reach.”
Having lived in the city for about a decade, Mr Sabir says he is a labourer, and is used to doing this kind of work. “I am out on the road when it is very cold, and I am out on the road when it is very hot.” He says that he is paid 200 rupees for carrying one quintal of load from source to destination — distances may vary though with each assignment. Turning towards the rods, he informs that they weigh about 3 quintals.
In his mid-20s, Mr Sabir earns about 20,000 rupees every month. “I spend about 5,000 rupees on my dal-roti.” He sends the rest of the money to his parents in the village in Kishanganj, Bihar.
On being asked where he gets the strength to do such physically demanding work in such hostile weather, he looks nonplussed, and says: “I had two mathis and chai in the morning.”
It’s about 1 and he hasn’t had lunch yet.
“I’ll have it after delivering the maal (load).” He says he will search for a “reri wala” to get some dal chawal or roti subzi. “And then I’ll ride back to Ashram.” At the day’s end, he will head to Bhogal, where he shares a room with fellow labourers.
Returning to his seat, Mr Sabir explains that he had earlier gotten down to drag the cart instead of continuing to pedal it “because there was a charai (climb) on that stretch.” He resumes his journey, and again becomes a part of the traffic.
[This is the 493rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Working in the heatwave