Mission Delhi – Baldev, Khan Market
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Cool people never say they are cool. They let others do the talk.
This is precisely the case of Baldev. Enjoying a most enviable reputation in Delhi’s most upscale hangout, he is known as the “Coolest guy in Khan Market”. Or at least these exact words are glowingly painted on the wall just behind him.
Baldev is a banana seller in Khan Market, since 1984. This morning, too, he is stationed by his pavement stall.
Dismissing the flattering description on the wall, the turbaned (and masked) man shrugs, telling in a monotonous tone that “somebody came and painted that last year, or may be the year before that.”
The gentleman has a poetic way of measuring time. This is how he discloses his age: “Do kum sattar (two less from 70)”.
After the manners of truly classy and self-assured people, Baldev doesn’t feel the need to clothe himself in the opinions of others. He doesn’t think much of being considered “cool,” he says, but does modestly inform that shoppers often come to click his photos. He is popular, he suggests.
In some sense, Baldev’s life is a mirror reflection of thousands of men who make their living in the metropolis as fruit vendors. Raised in the backwaters of Sultanpur, UP, he arrived in Delhi in the early 1980s and lives with two sons in a rented housing in south Delhi’s Kotla village. Every morning he gets a fresh stock of bananas from a warehouse, after which he pedals to Khan Market, where he stays until evening. The bananas are arranged picturesquely on his cycle, with a straw basket each placed on the handle bar and on the back carrier.
Baldev recalls that he he had originally chosen this area for his operations not because of Khan Market “but because the building over there used to have many government offices.” He waves his arm towards the multi-storey Lok Nayak Bhawan. “People working there were my customers…. they would come in great numbers to my stall throughout the day.”
Most of those offices moved out of the building a long time ago, he mutters. “Now my customers are market people.”
Soon, an auto rickshaw driver arrives to get a couple of bananas. After dispatching him off, Baldev turns to look at the painted words on the wall. “I usually stand across the road, but these days it’s hot… so I’m staying here in the shade.”
He starts to re-arrange his fruit.
You certainly ought to consider stopping by Baldev for bananas, but the more important reason to visit him is the fact that he is a living landmark of Khan Market — a destination so unique in the capital that is as much loved (for its Partition-era origins, its longtime shops, its restaurants) as it is derided (for its opulence and snobbery). The market has drastically changed its character over time, and also recently, with the closure of popular cafes and showrooms due to the coronavirus related crisis. But it continues to hold on to its Baldev, who, along with a handful of shops, links Khan Market’s present to its past.
You will find him in the market’s periphery, where the middle lane meets St Luke Marg, next to a coffee chain outlet that earlier used to be an Asian speciality restaurant, and which originally was a residential flat as all Khan Market upper floors were.
[This is the 330th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
“The coolest guy in Khan Market”