City Food – The Rasgulla Walla, Sarai Kale Khan
The hard life.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Eating is an art that is cultivated not just by tasting a variety of delicacies, but also by trying to understand the people who earn their living by those dishes. One afternoon while walking in Sarai Kale Khan, a low-rent neighbourhood in central Delhi, The Delhi Walla meets a man who has been hawking white rasgullas on his bicycle for 22 years.
Lalta Prasad serves the cheese-based juicy dessert to customers on a steel plate. The dish is accompanied with bread pieces soaked in sugar syrup. Priced at Rs 10, a plate has two rasgullas and a slice of bread, cut into halves. The syrupy bread is a poignant reminder of calorie needs of the poor. The food industry in India is being corporatised. Snacks such as biscuits are increasingly coming in packets, sealed and barcoded. They are out of bounds for a large section of people who can’t afford the printed price. Vendors like Mr Prasad cater to this segment of the society.
While most street food vendors have a wooden cart (or thela), Mr Prasad’s establishment is built on his bicycle. It has a steel box, called peti, fitted on the carrier. The back of the peti has ‘Rasgulle’ written on it, in Hindi. The box is divided into three compartments. One has rasgullas, the other has pieces of bread floating in sugar syrup, and the third is stacked with dry bread slices. A container fitted on the cycle’s handle is filled with water that is used to wash the cutlery.
Mr Prasad’s spongy round rasgullas are exceedingly sweet. He wakes up each morning at four to make them. He boils the milk till it coagulates, collects the fat (or chenna) that comes off, roll it into small balls, which – in the final step – are boiled in sugar syrup. The entire preparation takes about three hours.
By nine, Mr Prasad is out in the streets. He pedals his ware in Ashram, Bhogal and Jangpura, localities close to his home in Sarai Kale Khan, and earns about Rs 100 daily. After paying Rs 1,800 as monthly rent for his single-room accommodation, he sends the remaining amount he is able to save to his family. Mr Prasad’s parents, wife and three children live in a village near Gwalior, Madhya Prdaesh. “We have two bighas of land in a barren hill where hardly anything grows,” he says. “That’s why I came to earn in Delhi.” Belonging to an impoverished farming community, finding a calling in this sweetmeat was accidental. Mr Prasad had equal chances of becoming a coolie.
His room has no furniture, not even a bed. He sleeps on the floor. His possessions are limited to a bicycle, a stove, two blankets and two electric bulbs. With hopes of getting out of poverty, he started selling rasgullas in Delhi 22 years ago. The hopes haven’t materialized. Would his life improve in two decades from now?
“Most probably I would still be selling rasgullas,” Mr Prasad says, “and still be struggling for money.”
The hard life of Lalta Prasad
Rs 10 for a plate
Inside the peti
Two rasgullas please
A life of constant struggle
For you, sir
On the road