City Food – Master Sherbet Walla, Meena Bazar
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The sun is setting, and the cart is surrounded by a great number of thirsty folks. The large vessel on it is filled with icy roohafza sherbet. A young man is theatrically pouring down the red drink from a jug into the cauldron.
This is the establishment of Master Sherbet Walla. Seven such carts are in Meena Bazar, the open-air market that unrolls each day in front of Jama Masjid’s eastern gateway. All are called Master Sherbet Walla. They were set up 30 years ago by a pioneer called Master Sherbet Walla. He began with just one cart, explains his son Abdul Wahid. At that time, Master Sherbet Walla was yet to be known by this name, and was just another migrant to Delhi. Muhammed Basheer had arrived from Lucknow, and went on to spend all his years in Delhi expanding his empire of sherbet carts. He lived on the footpath outside the Jama Masjid, says the son. He died twelve years ago. By now, his descendants have grown affluent enough to afford a one-room residence in nearby Kala Mahal.
The sons acquire the sherbet bottles straight from the head office of the sherbet company, which lies near Ajmeri Gate, not very far from here. Indeed, the sherbet was founded by a drug maker in Old Delhi in 1907 as a drink to treat illnesses like heat stroke, dehydration and diarrhoea. Following Partition, the founder’s elder son stayed in India, but his younger son moved to Pakistan and raised a new company with the same name, which further subdivided following the creation of Bangladesh.
All these years of change later, the tradition of rose sherbet continues in its homeland, the Walled City. In this instance, a part of that legacy has been shouldered by Master Sherbet Walla, a Walled City walla who originally was an outsider.
Very soon, the winter will put an end to Master Sherbet Walla drinks. As in every cold season, his sons will stock up their carts with jackets bought from Himachal pradesh. “We will return with the sherbet by the end of February next year.”
Watching the sherbet seller pour down the sherbet from the jug into the cauldron, one already regrets the impending arrival of winter, and eagerly longs for the next summers.
Sunset with sherbet