Mission Delhi – Lalu, Mandi House
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The houses are vacant. An earthen chulha (stove) is dusted with ashes—somebody must have cooked here not long ago. But the lane is silent. It is like a village whose desperate residents staged an emergency exodus, leaving behind their possessions.
Relax, nobody has fled. The dwellers are labourers, migrants from Madhya Pradesh. It is late afternoon, and they are away at work. Improvised out of plastic, plywood and tin, these residences were staked out four months ago in one of the six small plazas that speckle the pedestrian-friendly circumference of Mandi House traffic roundabout.
The circle is in the middle of a makeover by New Delhi Municipal Council. A hubbub of theatres, music schools and art galleries, Mandi House bustle with artists. The renovation isn’t interfering with the bohemian spirit of the place; in fact, the lounging spots are looking livelier with tiled grounds and cobbled slopes. Mini amphitheaters have come up in some of the plazas. The labourers—both men and women—are raising similar amphitheaters in the rest of the plazas, too. (Which means their work sites are within a earshot of their current homes.)
One of the houses turns out to be inhabited. Inside a camp with yellow plastic roof, Mr Lalu is sitting cross-legged on the floor. He is staring at the mobile screen. “I’m studying online.”
Mr Lalu routinely shuttles with his family between his village and the National Capital Region. “Last time we were at a construction site in Gurgaon where we lived for a few months… there mummy used to make gas wali roti but it didn’t have the flavour of chulhe wali roti… now, mummy makes only chulhe wali roti.”
Checking the time on his mobile, Mr Lalu says that his parents and older brothers leave for work at 8am, return at 1 pm for an hour-long lunch, and finally are back home at 6.30. Stepping out of the camp, he walks towards the abstract sculpture that has been gracing the plaza for several years (see photo). Climbing upon mounds of cement and bricks, the young man, who dreams of joining the army, remarks that as soon as his parents’s current assignment ends, his village of the moment will also end.
[This is the 503rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
His fleeting address