City Life – Summer Refugees, Somewhere in Delhi
Life in the heat wave.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
White hot noon. The road is deserted, here in this summertime spot of the megapolis. A group of men is huddled under a pavement tree, along with two dogs. The space underneath the green foliage is submerged in shade.
The men have no home, one of them says. They collect street discards such as empty bottles etc., and hand them to a recycler. Humanely impossible to be directly under the sun in such extreme temperatures, they are waiting for the afternoon to pass, for less unbearable hours to return.
Speaking for everyone, one of the men says that they own no “property” except for the clothes they are wearing, and some cash in the pocket. “No family, no mobile, no ID,” he says. “We have only our name,” another one says, “and I have many names! The third man tilts his head, exclaiming in high-pitched English—“O my God!”
After a quick brainstorming, the men agree to let their identities be shared with the world, so that “something of us exist outside of us”—says one of them.
Mehboob is a portrait in black beard, black T-shirt, black pants. He is the one who joked of having many names. A Delhi native, he says he was born in a JJ Colony slum.
The solemn Rajesh Bhai is lying flat on the ground, face up. His shirt is pulled up to his chest. Pointing to the dogs, his lips break into a smile. “We feed these two more than we feed ourselves.” He is from Darbhanga in Bihar.
And why is Raju Topo wearing a cap in this horrid heat? He pulls it off, looking embarrassed, muttering, “my hair are like needles.” He is from Murshidabad in West Bengal.
The quiet Suresh is sitting partly withdrawn from the circle, as if he were an external observer to the goings-on, and not really a part of the group. He arrived minutes ago,, hauling a fresh collection of empty bottles from the streets, crammed within his pink sack. He politely declines to reveal his native place, silently shaking his head.
Oppressed by the heat, Bittoo Mishra takes off his shirt, revealing the word ‘Mard’ tattooed on his chest, in English. He says he is from Bihar but no longer remembers the village name.
Vishnu Kumar Soren is the sole English speaker; the rest were talking in Hindi. “Have you heard this song—Rehte ko ghar nahi…” He sings for a while; the lyrics talks of homelessness. Half a minute later, he stops, declaring—“I’m from Jharkhand state, Dhanbad district, Dhariyal Kheera.” He theatrically spreads his arms, exclaiming, “I love you all!”
One of the dogs suddenly raises his head, turning to a bowl of water.
Citizens in summer/strong>