Delhiwale: Portrait of a knife sharpener

His profession isn’t something common any more. “I am a dhaar walla (knife sharpener),” says Muhammed Waseem, explaining that his job is to sharpen the dhaar of the household knives. This morning, his stall is parked by a central Delhi street. The establishment is very makeshift and very mobile, consisting of a simple bicycle. A sharpening machine is installed on the crossbar — Mr Waseem calls it “shaan”. It comprises of a battery-operated metal disc that revolves with great speed when being used. The knife blade is placed directly over the disk; the sparks fly and the blade gets its dhaar.

But right now Mr Waseem is standing idle, waiting for customers. “I spend the day going about many parts of the city.” Right now he is in Lakshmi Nagar. Later he will pedal to Preet Vihar and Karkardooma “and perhaps even to Anand Vihar”.

Mr Waseem’s father is a dhaar walla too, in their native Mewat region, in Haryana. But Mr Waseem came to live in Delhi on his own. Only 21, he says he picked up the work five years ago. On being queried if he has any burning dream, he stays silent for a while, his gaze fixed ahead as if he was thinking really hard. After what appears to be a long pause, he shrugs his shoulders, muttering—“What dream, no dream.”

He studied until 10th standard. He shrugs his shoulders again on the possibility of further studies. “I have two brothers… one is a carpenter… the other is very young.”

Mr Waseem’s day starts at 7am. He doesn’t cook at his room. “I always eat in the hotels outside.” This morning he fortified himself with a glass of chai and two fens. He shall have a more substantial meal for lunch. Meanwhile, a great stack of knives are arranged on the handle bar of his cycle. “I sell them.” He didn’t make them, he clarifies, saying he buys the knives from a wholesaler in Sadar Bazaar. After posing for photos, he says, “people like me don’t think about dreams.” He will return to his room by 4pm.

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