Excerpts from Sreejata Roy’s conversation with Shahzaadi

Transcription: Rakesh Khairala

Translation Hindi to English: Smriti Vohra

Urdu Park is an open site within an area of historical monuments and markets – Lal Qila, Jama Masjid and its adjacent Meena Bazar, Urdu Bazar, Chawri Bazar, and so on. Each lane here is narrow and each person has to navigate the hurrying, congested maze with care. If one’s steps deviate by even an inch, one may immediately collide with cycle-rickshaws and pedestrians. One has to be constantly vigilant, because the tension that arises from such cramped movement may suddenly turn ugly.

In this choked part of Old Delhi everyone seems absorbed in their own struggles; the old walls and thresholds cry out, and the echoes throb in every corner. A few dozen women who earlier lived on the footpath here now live in the government-run night shelter in Urdu Park with their children, in the hope that the safer environment will allow them to have a better existence than what they had gone through on the street. Feeling secure, they will be better able to find daily work in the surrounding area and subsist on whatever they earned.

Most of the women are together all day long in the shelter. Though they come from different areas and have endured different kinds of extreme hardship, they are bound through a common destitution and crisis that allows them to instinctively understand one another’s nature and needs. Like most families here, Shahzaadi and her children are entirely dependent on four daily meals prepared and delivered by Anganwadi. Sometimes two or three residents cook for themselves on a small oven made on the ground from clay or by arranging bricks. They like to do this when the mood comes over them. The women are at least assured of regular food supply, their primary need, being met. Yet an emptiness, a corrosive discontent, claws at them. They They value the collective safety of the shelter for their families, yet each woman is subtly agitated by the constant yearning to have her own home. As Shahzaadi describes this uneasy feeling of alienation: “We know that the shelter is ‘ours’ but we don’t feel a sense of belonging.”