Packed in a mud-stained handkerchief, the roti is broken into small pieces. With no sabzi or even a smidgen of pickle to go with it, these dry and crumbly remains are the breakfast for Ram Swaroop Sharma. I found him one morning lounging on the grassy grounds adjacent to Rajpath, the broad avenue that connects Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate.
Surrounded by leafy trees, Sharma, 45, looks like an Indian avatar of Henry David Thoreau, the American naturalist who celebrated a life devoid of materialism. “I’m living here for eight years,” he says in a low voice. Sharma is not a natural talker. He often raises his head and moves his lips as if about to speak… but the words don’t come. The eyes, however, say much more than his speech, animated by some seemingly chaotic feelings. When I ask how he makes a living, Sharma struggles to reply. Minutes pass, but no answer comes. “You sleep here every night?” A nod.“You are not scared of the insects and snakes here?” A shake of the head.“Well, where are you from?” “Rajasthan,” he speaks, finally.
What brought Sharma to Delhi? Why must he live under the open sky? Where does he get his rotis from? Why can’t he return home? Since he will not talk, it is difficult to gauge if this is a life of choice or of compulsion. But at this moment, Sharma owns all the essentials of life. His roti is in the handkerchief. His plastic water bottles are full. His clothes are stuffed in a bag. For reading, he has the old opinion pages of a daily.
Not far from where Sharma is sitting is the office of the Prime Minister of India. Behind him is the building of Udyog Bhawan, which houses the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. These establishments exist to improve the lives of millions of Indians like Sharma. However, Sharma himself appears to have transcended the boundary within which anybody has the power to affect his life.
If terrorists attack the Delhi Metro, if the price of arhar daal skyrockets further, if the government falls, or if India becomes the world’s richest superpower, Sharma will probably still be sitting here, unmoved and carefree. He is no longer connected to this world, or so it seems.