A surge-era portrait
He is 60, he says, though he looks older in his black-rimmed glasses and long white beard peeping out from his mask. At his age, and in these times of pandemic’s great surge, he ought to be snuggled inside his home. Instead, on this early morning, he is out in the streets, on his bicycle, at work.
“I have to earn whatever little I can,” says Muhammed Fazil. Even in these times of curfew, he pedals about this south Delhi neighbourhood, collecting empty bottles and boxes from the pavements, and selling them to a recycler.
“I’m also a spice seller.”
Before the city shut down in the most recent Covid-ridden crisis, Mr Fazil would pedal all the way to the famous spice market in Old Delhi’s Khari Baoli to get the masalas, which he would hawk in little sachets in south Delhi localities. “My spice trade has stopped for the time,” he says, shrugging his shoulders, as if implying he has surrendered to events beyond his control.
But that’s not the thing worrying him for the moment. “My family in Rampur—my wife and daughters—I haven’t been able to send them money for weeks.”
Until a month back, Mr Fazil would be able to earn ₹500 daily, “but now I’m lucky if I can make even ₹100.”
He notes that things were never this bad—“Good people would sometimes help me with cash... but now nobody wants to help.” Everybody is concerned for their own emergencies, he explains.
“I have six daughters... four are still to be married,” he says, giving a nervous chuckle.
Working in Delhi since 1979, Mr Fazil lives alone. “These days I wake up early in the morning because I’m keeping roza (Ramzan fast).” He cycles around the area, returning to his single-room home in the evening in time for prayers and for iftar, when the fast ends. “Then I cook dal roti.” Not knowing when his life might return to old certainties, he hesitantly confesses that “my family is surviving by God’s generosity... but for how long?”
Although he is wearing a mask, isn’t he scared of venturing outside, and catching the virus?
Mr Fazil looks on blankly, and says after a long pause—“who knows what will happen tomorrow?”