City Secret – Bollywood Seller, Ballimaran
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Selling Shah Rukh in Ghalib’s territory.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Mr Arif Khan’s business establishment stands a few steps away from Ghalib’s last haveli in Ballimaran, an Old Delhi neighborhood best known for being the address of… well, Ghalib’s last haveli.
Ironically, Mr Khan’s cart has no book by Ghalib. That doesn’t embarrass him – “I’m illiterate, can’t read,” he says.
Ghalib-lovers might beat their chest but then how many in this city read him?
Mr Khan has other knick-knacks that will make you forget the Delhi’s greatest poet. Like his collection of hundreds of not-so-new Bollywood picture postcards: early Shah Rukh Khans; baby Saif Ali Khan in a romantic pose with the matronly Sridevi, baby Saif Ali Khan in a romantic pose with a male actor(!) and for the naughty, there is even the saucy Mandakini (who showed her you-know-what in the 80s hit Ram Reri Ganga Maili).
Call it masala mix. If Ballimaran is a fossilizes relic of what Delhi used to be, then Mr Khan’s postcards are what Bollywood was till a few decades ago. But filmstars are not the only commodity here. Athlete types can buy postcards of tennis player Sania Mirza. There are WWF wrestlers, too – all for a rupee each. The same cards which admittedly look tacky here turn arty in Hauz Khas galleries where they would sell for not less than Rs 50(!)
From where does Mr Khan get this stuff? “I go to Sadar Bazaar and there it comes from Bombay,” he says.
Five years ago, Mr Khan was employed in a small Ballimaran firm that made lampshades. Then the Chinese goods invaded the bazaar and killed the Indian lamp trade and Mr Khan literally had to come out on the street, this Ballimaran street – Gali Qasim Jaan.
While nothing sells like Bollywood, Mr Khan’s other blockbusters are beedis, rings, toffees, chips, aamras, gutkas, rubber-bands, combs and other things I cannot recall. However, despite his houseful cart, his heart is rather empty.
Mr Khan is in his 40s (he looks older) and still without a partner – no wife, no lover. “I stay with my chacha, chachi,” he says, “and I didn’t marry because there is no place in our one-room house in Ballimaran.” Doesn’t he feel lonely? “It’s OK,” he says with a slow shrug.
With a daily income of around Rs 200, lower than the price of a pizza at Khan Market’s Café Turtle, Mr Khan could have barely supported a family. Life anyway is tough even without it. Look at his weather-beaten face, graying hair and stooped shoulders. But hard times notwithstanding, Mr Khan has a polite old-world charm around him. I will visit him again. For his sake and for Shah Rukh’s.
Where Next to Skyoptics, Near Ghalib’s haveli, Galli Qasim Jaan, Ballimaran Time 11am-11pm
Mr Khan and his cart
Life’s tough but that’s ok
That’s Shahid, in a store near Mr Khan’s cart