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Delhiwale: The iron man of Nizamuddin East

Behind the crisp cuffs and collars of C-Block residents is a 5.5kg charcoal press commandeered by Radhey Shyam

delhi Updated: Nov 30, 2017 10:35 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times
Delhiwale,Dilliwale,Nizamuddin East
Radhey Shyam lords over C Block, which is home to writers, politicians, retired bureaucrats, artists, journalists and other social influencers. (Mayank Austen Soofi / HT Photo)

He is the iron man of Nizamuddin East. Actually there are six of them in this central Delhi neighbourhood. Radhey Shyam lords over C Block, which is home to writers, politicians, retired bureaucrats, artists, journalists and other social influencers.

“I get customers from C17 to C45,” Mr Shyam tells us, referring to nearby apartments. Picking up a crumpled blue shirt, he modestly says, “I iron more than 100 clothes daily.”

Mr Shyam commutes daily from his home in east Delhi’s Lakshmi Nagar. He reaches Nizamuddin East at 9 in the morning and leaves after sunset.

Of course, he isn’t a rarity. At least one ironing man can be spotted outside every residential high-rise in the city. Sprawling neighbourhoods such as Nizamuddin East have many such laundry establishments, each with its own turf of bungalows and flats.

These makeshift shacks often double up as social clubs for people working in the area — we often spot cooks and drivers. Shyam himself moonlights as a freelance driver for many of his customers.

His post in C Block lies at the east end of a community park, under a khirni tree. It is just a table but still it’s a grand sight — thanks to Shyam’s sooty charcoal press that looks as stately as a steam engine. “It’s of brass and it weighs 5.5kg,” he says, adding, “I had bought it from Khari Baoli (in Old Delhi).”

Lifting up the black beauty, Shyam runs it unhurriedly over a shirt’s sleeve. “I will give you a Rs 100 if you can hold the (iron’s) wooden handle for one full minute,” he dares.

The handle is burning hot, even though it is wrapped with a handkerchief.

The other heritage-worthy thing about Shyam’s ironing service is his bloodline. His widowed mother spent 30 years ironing the clothes at this very spot. It was her father-in-law, Nanhe Ram, who had set up this business here some 60 years ago. They are all dead. Shyam’s mother, Draupadi, died in 2010. The longtime residents of the surrounding homes remember her as Amma.

It is a miracle that in a furiously changing Nizamuddin East where nearly all the original bungalows have been razed to give way to multi-storey apartments, this old make-do shed has managed to survive. But it too shall wither. Shyam, who is often assisted by his brother, says, “I have three children. They will work in AC (air-conditioned) offices. This iron will go away with me.”

First Published: Nov 30, 2017 10:34 IST