Mission Delhi - Shabana, Central Delhi

Mission Delhi – Shabana, Central Delhi

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Walking snail-like along a sleepy passage lined with residences, she repeatedly turns to make sure the young boy and the little girl are keeping behind her. “My children,” she says. A huge sack on her head and a cardboard carton on her left shoulder, Shabana spends her day picking up discards from the city’s roadsides. At day’s end, she sells the collection to a recycler.

This afternoon, Shabana is working the streets of an affluent Delhi locality. She is familiar with the place. “We live nearby, beside a bus stop… our home is just a roadside, so we cannot leave the children alone… I have to always carry them with me to work.” Mother of three, her youngest child however is with the husband today. He is a daily-wage labourer, she says, but has been unable to go out to work for some weeks, waiting for an injured foot to heal. This has temporarily made Shabana the family’s sole bread-winner, though with no dilution of her household chores—that includes preparing the day’s three meals, collecting the wood for fuel, bathing the children, and washing the laundry.

Shabana usually makes the day’s first round with her younger two children; while the eldest attends the area’s government-run school. “This morning he didn’t want to go to the school.” The bunking boy looks on shyly, excessively conscious on being the subject of conversation. Suddenly, the little girl beside him runs towards the middle of the road. He at once jumps after her, lifts up the yelling sister with both his arms, bringing her back to the footpath.

Moments later, they intently watch a scene unfolding across the street: a woman has craned her head out of a car window, and is loudly scolding the person who was knocking at the window: “You look fit. You have arms and legs. Not nice to beg. Why don’t you work as a mazdoor?”

Some dozen steps later, Shabana stops. She frees her arms by placing the sack and carton on the pavement, and walks into a deserted yard, looking for discards (see right photo). On coming out (empty-handed), she lifts the sack and carton, and walks ahead, calling out to her son and daughter: “Arre aa, jaldi aa.”

[This is the 576th portrait of Mission Delhi project]