I shifted to Shaheen Bagh with my husband in 2012. At that time, Shaheen Bagh was the only place in the whole of Delhi NCR where we could afford to buy an apartment. I was a little skeptical, not quite knowing how my life would be in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. Now I know. It is not any different from the kind of life I have led before in different parts of Delhi or Assam or elsewhere. Yes, may be, there are more women to be seen in the hijab, and a few other outwardly "Muslim" characteristics; but other than that, life has been as usual. Just that, I have been fortunate to have amazing neighbors. And now, I really don't want to shift out of this place until and unless my neighbors shift out too :)
My two closest friends here are Rashida Baji and Munni Baji. Both of them are tailors and they are so good with their work! What is extraordinary about them is not just their work, but how they live their lives and inspire me and others who come in touch with them. I dedicate this photo essay to them.
Munni Baji and Rashida Baji at the terrace of Rashida Baji's building
These is a lot to learn from these two women. Munni Baji's husband has been ill for almost a decade now. His health does not permit him to move much out of the house. Hence, the onus of earning this household's livelihood now rests on Munni Baji. She has three children: One girl is still in high school; her son is in Mumbai with his uncle since last year after he passed his high school, learning the trades of his uncle's business; and her eldest daughter joined work last year. So, for quite some time, it was Munni Baji who was running the household. And she has been living in Shaheen Bagh with her family since 1996, before the real estate boom hit it in the 2000s and turned an idyllic piece of land into the clutter that it is now. "I can't tell you the beautiful life we led here," she tells me. "It was almost like we were living in a village with lots of open space for my children to play and for me to grow vegetables!"
Munni Baji with her husband Islam Bhai in the courtyard of their house
The courtyard has several trees and cats. And many children from the neighborhood have grown up here. I am glad that my child is growing up here too, in the midst of sand, trees, plants and cats. This is such a blessing in Delhi!
Rashida Baji moved to Shaheen Bagh with her husband and two little daughters in 2002 and took up a place on rent near Munni Baji's house. The two women became friends and soon started working together. They work in a small room by a corner in Munni Baji's courtyard. They work very hard and proudly run their households.
There is a term called 'barkat', which means a blessing of abundance. Munni Baji and Rashida Baji's households have 'barkat'. Always and for everyone, there is good food coming out of their kitchens. There is a lot of warmth for whosoever visits them. And they look after the road in front of their houses. Both these two women and their husbands. They clean it by themselves every morning. Not only are their houses clean, but the road outside too. This sense of ownership for the road and the neighborhood is something that I have not even seen "educated" people in Delhi maintain. And for keeping the area clean, if they have to shell out of their pockets, they are not even complaining! Has anyone seen many "educated" people do that? Only a few days ago, Islam Bhai got a few people to clean the manholes in the lane. He paid extra of course because despite many rich and educated people living in the flats around, they refused to pay for work being done on the road. Which they say is the government's job! But of course when Islam Bhai pays from his pocket to keep the road well and clean in front of their houses, they have no objections!
My toddler cries at late in the night and these two households, where people go to bed early, call me up to find out if all's well and if they should come over to help. There is 'barkat' in everything they offer, even in their generosity.
I am so happy that they have included me in their circle of family.
Rashida Baji and Munni Baji at their workstation
Rashida Baji's husband owns an auto and he runs it in Noida. Very recently, some newspaper had covered the story of how he had tracked one of his passengers who had left behind a suitcase full of thousand rupee notes in his auto and returned it to the man without a single note missing. The man was overwhelmed and offered him some token money as gratitude. Rashida Baji's husband, Samneer Bhai, refused and came back with satisfaction at having located the man. The man spoke about this fortunate incident to a few journalist friends and soon they covered the story of this hero for their papers.
Sameer Bhai and Rashida Baji with their daughters and two young neighbors, plus my daughter Zaara on Eid 2013
celebrating Eid 2013 with my two closest friends in Shaheen Bagh
Rashida Baji and her sunshine smile just like her sunshine persona :)
What I have learnt most from these two women is that nothing can and should come in between a life that is lived with generosity, kindness and gratitude.