Mission Delhi – Ashok, Somewhere in Delhi
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is late afternoon. He steps to the side of the busy street holding a glass of chai, sitting down on the low boundary wall of a cinema theater. “The chai is for 10 rupees, I’m left with 20 rupees..” This is all the money he has, he says.
Ashok introduces himself as a “dihari mazdoor,” a daily-wage labourer. “I have not yet found any work since morning.” Yesterday had turned out well comparatively, he observes. “I earned about 250 rupees.” Almost the entire amount however was exhausted in the lunch and dinner, as well as in many glasses of chai, he says. That is the reason he likes to work as “labour” in wedding banquets. “You don’t have to spend your money on khana.” Each time he lands an assignment for a “party,” Ashok point out, “I get khana for free.”
Explaining the nature of his work, Ashok says that he specialises in a variety of assignments, including hauling sacks of cement and similar construction material on his shoulders. “I can do every kind of hard work,” he says with quiet confidence. He is particularly skilled in “party ka kaam.” It entails being behind-the-scene worker at wedding receptions that are usually held in the so-called banquet halls. “I help lay the food tables, I arrange the chairs, I put chair-cover on each chair, and there can be hundreds of chairs–you have to do the job quickly… once the (food) counters open, then I have to wash the used plates nonstop.” Such an assignment typically lasts until the early hours of the morning “after which neend (sleep) still doesn’t come easily.”
Ashok has been a Delhiwale for 20 years, but he hasn’t returned even once to his native Kanpur. “I left my home…” He gives his reasons, and a short pause follows. “Like everybody else, I too have parents and brothers… I did not marry, time passed.”
Although the sky is extremely smoggy these days, a bit of pale gold sunshine suddenly cuts through the grey haze. Ashok looks up towards the light, and thoughtfully stares at it without blinking his eyes.
“Thekedar (contractor) asked me to show up for a (wedding) party in the evening… so there will be money.” He continues to sit, finishing the chai.
[This is the 564th portrait of Mission Delhi project]