I have to be happy in the present…

I’m usually a day or so late with things and the centenary of International Women’s Day is obviously no exception… A week or so  ago on assignment I photographed an extraordinary woman, Sheela, who runs a tiny tea stall that backs onto a rag-pickers’ colony.


India - New Delhi - Sheela, a widowed tea stall owner keeps a steely eye on a customer dropping a coin onto a steel plate

I can’t tell her story any better than see did.


“I came to Delhi a long time ago. I came here with my husband and he was working as a chowkidar. That was in 1981. A long time. Then it all went bad. From the beginning I stayed on this piece of land. My husband died here 21 years ago. My eldest son then became sick and he also died. That was sixteen years ago and then my youngest (son) died I think six years ago. We spent a lot of money to save them all but despite the medicines they all died. I couldn’t save any of them. I don’t know why I am still here. But I am here alone and I must survive.

At my tea stall I get up very early and serve the rag pickers who work on the dump behind me. I have had this business since the children died. I am not happy but I don’t have the means to change my life. I am alone. I am a woman. It is not easy. I don’t make so much money – tea is Rs5 a cup and I have to buy the tea and the sugar and recently all this has increased in price.

I suppose Delhi’s a good a place as another: there’s work, you can survive. I can’t think about the future can I? It’s a waste of time <laughs>.

I have to be happy in the present.”