City Food – Shyam Nashta Corner, Near Gurgaon Railway Station
A homey tea house.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The large counter is stacked with very many egg cartons. A steel tray is serried with green chili and onion pakoris. Another tray is packed with bread pakoras. The adjacent platter is crammed with pooris. The plastic packets of fen and toasty rusks are plopped upon each other into a hill. The chipped pan for chai is atop an unlit burner. The pan is cold on touch.
This is a new destination by the roadside. Name—Shyam Nashta Corner. Owner—Radhe Shyam Saini.
In a time when the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting lives and professions, Mr Saini is adjusting to the odds by launching a fresh start. “I began about a month back,” he says. The stall is perched on the side of a road snaking up to Gurgaon railway station, a short jog away. At this moment in the afternoon, it is the only such establishment to be seen on this portion of the pave. In the pre-pandemic era, and also in some of the easy-going months sandwiched between the second and the third wave, the lane was choc-a-bloc with food carts, selling meals from plain parathas to elaborate biryanis. In fact, the cart stands on the spot where a very friendly elderly man operated a coffee stall—his unique selling point was his instant coffee (so rare for a street) served in kulhar (doubly rare). That stall became history with the first lockdown.
Mr Saini has no inkling of that landmark of the past. In a way, he too is a landmark of the past, but of another place. He earlier carried on with his street food living in Daulatabad, “but I was no longer doing well there, so I moved out.” Glancing towards the rail station’s direction, he draws hope from those would-be regulars who might restart commuting by train daily from Gurugram to adjacent towns once the pandemic eases. “I hope they will become my customers.” Mr Saini himself is a native of nearby Rewari but have been in the Millennium City for some years.
The wider area is not absolutely deserted of street entrepreneurs. A chhole bhathure cart is standing across the road, along with a tikki stall in the distance. One cart is decked with handkerchiefs, masks, belts and soaps. A couple more wheeled stalls can be sighted, in addition to a watch repairer’s kiosk (sheltering a dog).
The scene at Mr Saini’s is not looking promising. There are no customers, and the cart is loaded with just too much food. But he is not nervous. He explains that he prepares fresh snacks immediately after his “routine” midday break, and that the day’s earlier stock finishes by noon. “Somebody or the other will arrive sooner or later… people have been coming to me.” He turns to look at both sides, and freezes his gaze towards the bread pakoras. Soon, a masked man approaches.
A new stall is born