Delhiwale: Meet the mango man
Chicken curry, tawa rotis, a big juicy-looking mango, and a wide smile on his face.
Wait, there’s more to this paradise—the shade of the tree, and the empty lockdown-era road that appears as if it had been built for him alone.
And also the chirping of birds, hidden somewhere in the tree above.
It is afternoon and Birender is enjoying his home-made lunch. A fruit seller, his cart is parked on the roadside near IIT-Delhi. “Just taking a break.... after which I’ll go around the area.”
In his 50s, Birender lives in a one-room house in Sarojini Nagar, with wife, Kamla. “She’s the one who makes my lunch,” he says, scooping a piece of chicken with his mango-stained finger. The season’s fruit is lying partially peeled over his rotis. It’s Sundri, he says, referring to the mango’s specie. “The mango isn’t made by my wife,” he chuckles.
With so much grief and anxiety raging across the city these days, due to the coronavirus pandemic, one wonders at Birender’s cheeriness—he might as well be living in some alternative reality. The fruit man shrugs, suddenly looking sombre. “I don’t show my worries,” he says, lifting up the mango to pick up a roti under it. But he has his share of troubles too. His anxiety primarily comprises of the loans he took two years ago to arrange his daughter’s wedding in home town, Gaya, in Bihar. “I had to spent about ₹20 lakh... I am not done with the lenders yet.” And with the second surge in the pandemic, his daily earnings have plunged “even though people always need fruits.”
He owns some agricultural land in the village but it doesn’t yield much income. It’s tilled by people whom Birender calls bandhak—the daily wage labourers, he explains.
And then there’s an even bigger worry—the future of his son, who is pursuing graduation in Gaya. “What will become of him? Will he get any job, times are so bad... will he have to come to Delhi and be a fruit-seller like me?”
The question hangs in the air.
By now rotis are done with. The curry bowl is licked clean. Birender earnestly sets about eating his mango. As he realises that the camera lens is again focusing on him, he grins.