Mission Delhi – Shamshad Khan, Bhalswa Dairy
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This afternoon, “bawarchi” Shamshad Khan is sitting alongside his cauldron filled with fragrant yellow pulao and modestly declares himself a professional success.
“I’m all I ever wanted to be,” says Mr Khan, here at his outdoorsy kitchen in Northeast Delhi’s Bhalswa Dairy neighbourhood, where he and his assistants rustle up Mughlai delicacies in great quantities for wedding banquets.
He shows his palms, stained with the black of burnt wood and yellow from turmeric. “These hands reveal my life,” says the 55-year-old cook who ran away from his UP village at 15. “I had heard so much about the great city of Delhi, so I simply escaped one evening without telling anybody.”
He boarded a ramshackle state transport bus, ending up at Kashmiri Gate terminus. “I was so hungry and had no money.”
He found a dishwashing job within days in a Sadar Bazaar eatery, “and gradually with hard work, I became what I am today.”
Later, he reconciled with his parents. If he hadn’t run away, “I would have no culture and remained a villager. Here in Delhi, I saw the world, the great monuments, the Red Fort… learnt the art of talking and to be well mannered.”
Mr Khan’s young kitchen assistants, listening attentively to the conversation, look inspired by it. He breaks the spell by tasting the freshly-made pulao and asking, in a polite, low voice, for salt.
[This is the 278th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
The runaway bawarchi