I have lived in Delhi for over a decade, did schooling and my first few jobs but never visited Sanjay Van. This time around, Ayush took me there for a walk promising to show Delhi I had not seen before. And he was correct on all the accounts. I have known Ayush since his secondary school days. This time I was a visitor and he, a local guide.
We started our trip after eating Kulfi at the Hauz Khas market. Traveling across Delhi has gotten smoother, thanks to the metro connection across NCR. We were inside Sanjay Van on one of his favorite trail walks. I desperately needed to burn a few calories after all the overeating in Delhi.
As we went further inside, the trees became denser. I felt calmer and at peace. We saw a few foxes and regulars like monkeys and squirrels. We had to be careful not to run over on the tiny colorful insects crossing our path.
We heard someone shouting his lungs out from behind. He was shouting Pakdo, Pakdo (catch him, catch him) and whistling in symphony. I could see a guy in his 50’s, with a stick in his hand and a grey shirt, blue pants, cap, and leather footwear. He must have been one of the guards, catching some pickpocketers, what I thought. His dress reminded me of the NCC cadet days of my school. He rested near us and started swearing. If you have lived in Delhi, you know it all. We were confused about what to do.
Guard: Sir, nakli guard sabko paresaan kar raha hai. Aaz usko pakad ke police ko dene wala tha. (There is an imposter who wears, walks like them, security guards, and troubles other visitors.)
I listened to him patiently. But could not control my laughter. How on earth does a protector get troubled by an imposter. This imposter was going after couples, making them uncomfortable and asking for money. Most of them seeking some privacy shoo them with throwing some money. He would also go after homeless loitering in the park.
As we walked further, the landscape changed. I could see people tieing knots at a big tree for fulfilling their wishes. There was Mazar(holi shrine) of some Sufi Saint and, people queued up in mass for the blessing.
On our return, our route changed, and I could see Qutub Minar. It was another side of it. We were sitting on a hill and, the dense forest was an envelope. A few moments would have passed and, I could see another guard walking towards us and asking not to sit on the rocks.
I jokingly asked: Tum Asli wale ho ya Nakli? (Are you the imposter?). His face went pale but, he returned quickly with the one-liner: Kya farak padta hai, sab Ek he kaam Karte hai. (How does it matter. The real and imposter are doing the same). Haan, Matlab, visitors ko paresaan Karna paiso ke Liye (yes, troubling visitors for money, I said bluntly). His silence was an agreement. He came closer, sat next to us, and introduced himself as Mukesh. He is 24 years old hails from Bulandshaer. Mukesh paid 20000 rupees to a middleman who had promised him the guard job. They gave him a letter, contractor’s phone, and address. Upon arrival, there was nothing.
With no one in town, Mukesh stayed inside Sanjay Van itself for a few weeks. The real guards let him in on the pretext of him giving a night stroll. As time passed, he got more closer. Mukesh had to share 50% of his daily earning with the other real guards to cover himself.
Mukesh: Ye Sunsaan Jungle hai, kab kahan kaun kya kare, kisko pata, hum to bas rakhwale hai, asli ya nakli. (In this while, we are just caretakers: Real or imposter, nobody cares.)
I asked Mukesh if he caught today what have they done to him. He smiled and said they would have taken the money and beaten him until they were satisfied. But they would co-exist Real and Imposter.
I was speechless and confused at the same time. I am sure Ayush would have felt the same.
Mukesh: Sab paise ka khel hai saheb. Apse nahi mangunga, aapne hamare kahani sune. (This is all about money. I won’t ask you because you listened patiently.)
Mukesh disappeared into the wild and, we continued our conversation until dawn.