Mission Delhi – Monu, Somewhere in Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This sight, so rare. A citizen not holding the customary mobile, but a book.
Monu is reading, while awaiting his rickshaw’s next customer. So it had seemed a moment back. He is actually recovering from a knee fracture. This afternoon, he is perched on the rickshaw’s passenger seat.
“I cannot ride my rickshaw for some days,” he says matter-of-factly, closing the paperback in hand, using his finger as a substitute bookmark.
A time was when Monu, a compulsive reader, preferred fiction over non-fiction. “I would read lots of novels, especially of Premchand ji and Reema Bharti ji.” Each time he mentions a writer, he suffixes the name with the respectful ‘ji.’ Lately, he is drawn into history, though the book- of-the-day happens to be on religion. “Reading history helps… you get to know about temples, tombs, society.”
Suddenly a loud cry is heard. A man is angrily running on the busy road, hurling out expletives into the smoggy air. Monu smiles, spontaneously breaking from Hindi to English: “Our incredible India!”
Some people grow into a life of reading because of influences within the family. Some others wade into it instinctively, without being nudged by anybody. Monu belongs to the latter category. “During my school days, I would read storybooks to pass my time.” His childhood was spent in a UP village near Moradabad. “My mother died when I was very young… I had to drop out of the school at aathvi (class 8)… father died some 10 years ago.” Monu has been a rickshaw puller in the city for 20 years. He resides on this same pave, sleeping at night by the grey footpath wall.
Routinely spending a portion of his earnings on buying books, Monu picks them up at the Sunday market for used books at Mahila Haat. He keeps his “small” library collection—along with his clothes, and a few other possessions—in a “peti.” Every morning before leaving for the day’s work, he hides the “peti” in a neighbourhood park.
As soon as the knee fracture heals, Monu will again start plying the rickshaw. “I will then read mostly at night, over there,” he says, gesturing towards a pavement spot under the adjacent street lamp.
[This is the 563rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]