Delhiwale: The sound of music

Every morning, they are woken up by the music — and this is true on this chilly morning too, while pop star Honey Singh’s dated Punjabi hit is being played. Rag picker Salman and his wife Ruhana Begum are listening in. So is beggar Chand with his cousin Bablu. So is a woman, a bit farther, while washing some clothes in a bucket. And so are the kids playing around.

They all live here, on this vast plaza located near central Delhi’s Subhash Park, with little camps of plastic or canvas by way of homes.

But Muhammed Sameer, the owner of the “music deck”, doesn’t live here. “I have a house nearby, but I like coming here in the morning to play the deck music and listen to it with my friends.”

Most of his friend here on the plaza work as beggars or rag pickers, he says. This morning, some of them have gathered with Mr Sameer about a little fire concocted from a pile of wood.

In his 20s, Mr Sameer has a more professional use of his music system. He uses it in the chhole bhathure stall where he plays popular film songs. Intermittently, Mr Sameer’s recorded voice interjects through the songs, inviting passersby to try his dishes. In the summer, he sells rose sherbet.

“Earlier, the speaker ran on a battery that would discharge within one hour only.” The outraged tone of his voice implies that it certainly didn’t do. So, he adds serenely, he has fitted the music system with a better battery, and “if I want, I now can listen to the music for two days nonstop.”

The music system obviously commands a position of authority and reverence in the plaza. It is placed on a low table, slightly elevated from the plaza’s floor, looking like a stage. “I always sit beside the deck,” says Mr Sameer, pointing at the canopied bed on which he is sitting. He then explains that most people of the plaza have no mobile, nor TV, and that this morning music is their main source of entertainment while getting ready for the day. Pappu Bhai, a beggar sitting nearby, nods.

Now Mr Sameer plays a song from an old Rajesh Khanna film. A lady who was warming her hands over a pot of boiling milk some distance away turns to look towards the “deck”, fascinated. While a majority of dwellers in the plaza are still in the process of getting up—the sun is barely rising—the music is so loud and pervasive that it appears to be part of the very texture of the air.

Soon afterwards, Mr Sameer will leave to set up his stall and the plaza will be stripped of its music. Until tomorrow morning, that is.

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