City Food – Nafees Khan’s Sherbet Stall, Gali Suiwallan Street
A steady landmark.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He’s here, still all smiles—or so it seems, for he’s in a mask. He has survived through the two surges of the coronavirus pandemic. He is the face of a long-time Old Delhi institution.
Nafees Khan runs a sherbet stand in Old Delhi’s Gali Suiwallan. It’s a landmark so modest that when he wraps up his things for the night, no sign of the stall is left, as if it had never been. And yet, it is so much part of the daytime landscape that not finding Mr Khan would be like living in a world suddenly bereft of a beloved friend.
“I stayed at home during the lockdown… I survived by borrowing money from friends,” he says, insisting he has no complaint to make about his situation. “Everyone is suffering with their businesses these days.”
Mr Khan’s juice kiosk exists only for the summer. As soon as the winter ends, he is done selling diapers and turns his street establishment back into what his late father founded decades ago—a sherbet stall.
There’s only bel, or wood apple, sherbet here. Watching the man is as calming as dunking down his drink. He sits as motionless as a statue, which makes him look like a hallucination—for the rest of the street is a maddening blur of pedestrians and rickshaws.
The stall consists of a table with a large pan filled with sherbet. “My papa, Hakeemuddin, started it decades ago… he would sit on this same spot.”
The sherbet is kept cold with slabs of ice that stand like icebergs in the sea. In the evening, the market lights shine out of the still surface of the sherbet. Inevitably, the sherbet seller stirs the liquid at some point, instantly destroying the world that was existing in it.
This humid afternoon, masked shoppers are stopping by the stall, clamouring for a cool glass of the drink. Life appears to carry on as if the pandemic-related tragedies were but a blip in the sherbet stall’s history.
It used to stay open until beyond midnight, but now, in obedience of the new regulations, shuts down at 8.