[Digging out old stories from The Delhi Walla]
It’s cramped and dark, except for the orange glow from a hole in the wall. Two men in lungis squat in front of the wood-fired oven. Blackened iron trays are stacked against one of the cell’s sooty walls. Ten minutes later, one man inserts a long iron spatula into the oven and brings out a tray of paape. This golden-brown bread and the Dickensian world in which it is made has vanished. Well, almost.
Opened in 1942, Sikander Bakery is in Kucha Faulad Khan, a congested mohalla (neighbourhood) in the Walled City named after a Mughal-era kotwal. It is one of the few traditional bakeries of Old Delhi which have survived the onslaught of factory breads and industrial biscuits. Spot them in neighbourhoods such as Matia Mahal, Ballimaran, Pahari Bhojla and Farash Khana. A few exist in central Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti and some are in south Delhi, in the Muslim localities of Okhla.
At four each, Kucha Faulad Khan and Matia Mahal bazaar, which is opposite Jama Masjid, have the largest cluster of bakeries in one neighbourhood. Sikander Bakery is the oldest. Every day its single wood-fired bhatti (oven), eight workers and 400 baking patris (trays) produce a sackful—or 90kg—of baked goods. Cramped and airless, the bakery’s walls are stained black with decades of soot and the floor is dusted with refined flour.
The workers in these bakeries are called karigars, or craftsmen. However, they are essentially treated as unskilled labourers. At Sikander’s, three karigars in the room adjacent to the bhatti work exclusively to prepare dough for the two most fast-moving products—rusks and paape, while the rest work on the other side of the bhatti, kneading dough for the other products. The karigars’ world is invisible from the street that, unlike this 69-year-old landmark, has transformed completely.
Click here to read the rest of this article originally published on The Delhi Walla in June 2011.