City Landmark - Chauhan Bros. Stationery & Hosiery, Paharganj

City Landmark – Chauhan Bros. Stationery & Hosiery, Paharganj

City Landmark - Chauhan Bros. Stationery & Hosiery, Paharganj

The small shop around the corner.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The white hoarding, the blue and red letters painted on this hoarding, the yellowing shutters. All these adds to the shop’s engrossing ambiance. Merely looking at it transports the gazer into another country. As if inside lies the trapped air of yesteryears, like in an ebony box that hasn’t been opened for centuries. Entering the dimly lit interiors is calmly. The shaded coolness so palpable, you could hold it in your hands awhile.

Certainly Chauhan Bros. on Panchkuian Road, across the lane from RK Ashram metro station, must be one of the longest surviving dukan in Paharganj.

Well, no. Well, yes.

It is merely 20 years old as a stationery. As a landmark, it dates from about 1940, informs the gentleman behind the counter. He is dressed in a summertime kurta-pajama, making February look like May.

The shop was founded by Devi Singh, a Shimla native. It then traded in milk and lassi, and continued doing so for a lifetime. At the turn of the century, the founder’s son Harish Chauhan—this amiable gent in kurta-pajama—turned the inheritance into a stationery “because running a lassi shop was so much hard work.” He laughs lightly. “Now less money, more araam (rest).”

This afternoon, he is being visited by his nephew, a software engineer in Canada. In his early 40s, Akshay remembers the business’s earlier avatar. The customers would down their lassi on the chairs over there, he says, waving his arm towards the counter. “The karigars would be at the back, stirring the boiling milk with heavy ladles.” The Canada walla nephew effortlessly summons his boyhood memories, resurrecting doodh-dahi out of these pen-pencils. Back then, he says, the shop was named Rendezvous.

Despite an ease in the coronavirus situation, Paharganj hasn’t recovered its pre-pandemic normalcy. The foreign backpackers who raided its cheap hotels have not returned in great numbers. Scores of beloved cafés and bookstores remain shut. This landmark though is continuing with its slow-moving life—may be because it doesn’t have to depend on tourists to survive. Plus, it looks impressively vintage, despite its two-decade-old transformation from a dairy to a “stationery & hosiery.” The dukan indeed is our link to the Paharganj of early 1940s, which was to profoundly change a few years later when the place absorbed a great many partition refugees.

“Rendezvous would serve daily from 5am to 10pm,” the proprietor informs. Chauhan Bros. is easier on time: from 10am to 8pm.