Streets filled with hidden delights, light funnelling through slices of sky that have escaped crowded rooftops and overhead cables making for abstract art. That was my lasting impression of Chandini Chowk. Paranthas and their whiff left me a few minutes later, as I wove my way through yet another gully. En route, I met a garbage collector and his cart. His smiling face stopped me and I clicked a picture as he posed with a grin. I asked him his name.
“I have no idea – that would be the first someone has actually asked me that,” he paused and then said, “nope – no clue.”
I walked on, enveloped by a sense of reality, by a sense of what life really is. Besides garbage collected from people homes and the roads, this man had inherited nothing. He did not even have a name, forget about kin. And yet, his smile reached his eyes, his joy at being alive complete. Ah, what a brand of freedom he seemed to have acquired! No possessions to guard, no ego to nurse, no expectations to fulfil, and no defeat to make him morose. Every day was a new one, and every day he opened his eyes – he won.
The vegetable sellers sat before me, giving me odd looks. I asked them how old Chandini Chowk was. “We have grown old here, and we will die here – this place has to be to least 400 hundred years old.” A number that seemed perfectly at place with this region. I took a few more pictures of my ever smiling subjects and moved on through the lanes.
Tea! I finally found a small room with a man sitting inside, making piping hot tea. His apparatus was fairly simple – basic at best. The rotund man sat inside and his friend was perched on a forgotten slab outside this little shop. Shutters were still down all around him and I could tell he was here to catch the early birds. A lady was seated nearby. I sat down next to her as she quickly adjusted her veil. Her name was Santosh. I asked her what she did for a living.
“I am his wife,” she said with a sigh, as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. Do we all feel like that about nursing a man in our already hectic lives? Taking care of his expectations, training him for the homes we try to set up, handling his ego and finally giving into his many moods. Yes, it seemed right to sigh. It seemed like a career. It seemed like social service. And all housewives, wives, partners seemed to reflect in her eyes.
Her husband, Babloo or Surender Kumar, seemed unfazed. He offered me tea and I was a tad bit disappointed when he whipped out a plastic cup to serve me instead of the earthen ware glass or kulhad that would have seemed more at ease here in the by lanes of Chandini Chowk. Still, I accepted and started to sip on the refreshing cuppa.
“Tell me your story,” I said.