City Home – House for Four, Hazrat Nizamuddin East
Home sweet home.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The small cooking gas cylinder is limply hanging down the wall, as casually as a cotton gamcha from a wardrobe hook. A chequered gamcha is hung similarly, in fact. There’s also a few pants and shirts, as well as a pithu bag.
It is a dimly lit one-room home, and quite extraordinary. The entire floor is piled up with metal pipes, the kind used in construction. The house itself is improvised inside a van.
“We live here,” says one of the men in a matter-of-fact tone. The four roommates are labourers, and are stationed today in a monument-facing part of tony Hazrat Nizamuddin East, across the road from the book-lined apartment of sociologist Ashis Nandy. The van is parked by a construction site, the dusty plot is barricaded with blue-painted metal sheets. A bungalow was recently razed down; a building is fast coming up on its place. This team of four appear to be separate from a much larger group of labourers assigned to the site. Natives of Sonbhadra in UP, the men claim no fixed address in the city, and happen to live wherever they happen to work for the moment, thus constantly shuttling from location to location. “We were in Gurgaon just before,” another of the men informs, referring to a Gurgaon locality (“Shyla”) impossible to trace on Google map. Over the last couple of years, the men have resided in various localities across the Delhi region, yet they aren’t familiar with the megapolis. “We stay in one place for a very brief time before moving to the next place,” one of them says. The colleagues are in their 20s, except for one gent who is “much older.” Somewhat shy, he politely rebuffs the attempts at conversation by repeatedly turning his head away, faintly smiling.
The men call their van “Tata,” and explain that it belongs to their contractor who helps them get the assignments. At this hour in the morning, their kitchen things are placed on the pavement, atop a few construction equipments. The men jointly cook their meals. (Last night’s dinner comprised tamatar gobhi, aloo bharta and rotis.)
One of the most striking objects inside the van is a pair of boots (see photo carefully). As a shared possession of the four men, the mud-stained footwear, crusted with the earth of several construction sites, mutely exudes the enigma of a museum exhibit. Towards the ceiling of the van, tightly tied to a supporting beam, is another object equally haunting—a toothbrush.
Graciously acceding to a request, the men pose for the camera. From left: Ajay, Panwar, Rajinder and Mata Sharan.