Delhiwale: Portrait of a childhood
- A child far from home
His ‘danedar shikanji’ cart is lying unattended on the Old Delhi pavement, as he sits on the narrow staircase of Al-Ahad Holiday Home, counting a wad of cash. It’s a thousand rupees. “This is not what I earned as profit… it is the worth of shikanji I sold,” he points out solemnly.
This attention to business might not be remarkable in a street hawker, but it becomes so in this case because the hawker is a teenager. Noor Ahmad is just 14. More astonishing is the fact that despite being so young, he lives far from his family. “Mummy papa are in the village in Bahraich,” he says, referring to a UP district. His two elder brothers live with his parents in the village. “They do farming with father. We have a very small land.”
And he, the youngest brother, travelled so far, to another city.
Noor Ahmad explains that “when one doesn’t have much money at home, then one has to go to distant places to earn money”. He realises that people of his age are often occupied with school, sports, and friends, but points out that “not every child can have that kind of life.”
He says he arrived in Delhi two years ago with his ‘mama’ (uncle) who lives nearby, in Darya Ganj. He himself has taken up a room on rent in Chawri Bazar that he shares with a few fellow hawkers. “One man sells papaya, one man sells cold water…”
Every morning, Noor Ahmad gets up at 6 and heads to the vegetable mandi where he buys 5 kgs of lemons. He sets up his stall by 9 and returns to his room 12 hours later. At night, he eats out in an eatery. Sometimes Noor Ahmad “think of mummy’s khana, especially her arhar dal and rice”. He doesn’t have a mobile but borrows one from an acquaintance to talk to parents at home, which is 12 hours and a 500-rupee bus ticket away from Delhi.
While discussing his inability to attend school, Noor Ahmad remarks that he is not able to read English. “When I grow up, I will do what I’m doing today,” he says. He now gets up from the stairs and walks back to his cart, which is painted with large Hindi fonts in yellow, saying “Noor Ahmad shikanji wala.”
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