City Food – “Factory” Cream Rolls, Sher Khan’s Glass Case
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Chasing a vendor.
Evening, half past seven. The glass case almost empty of cream rolls. Only 10 left. Sher Khan had started at eight in the morning with 300 cream rolls. But no turning to home till the last cream roll is gone. That’s his daily drill.
Here’s a day randomly extracted out of this gentleman’s life. Sher Khan gets up at 6 at his home in Noida’s Hindon Vihar. By 7, he is in a “factory” that mass-produces cream rolls. Made by night-shift bakers, these flaky cream-filled sticks are hawked by vendors across the Delhi region. Even so, cream rolls are not a common sight in the capital, certainly not in the hoity-toity patisseries. Until some years back, snack trolleys in Connaught Place would stock them along with “factory” burgers and “factory” patties. Those trolleys have thinned down with the unceasing gentrification of the shopping district’s arcades and corridors.
By late morning, the Metro rail card holder has drifted far from Noida, digging deep into central Delhi lanes. This afternoon, he is scurrying through Bhogal alleys. The glass case is perched on his shoulder. Amid the crowd, a child’s eyes grow bigger as she stares at the cream rolls. Her mother pays 20 rupees for two cream rolls.
An hour later, Sher Khan stops to have subzi-poori in a mithai shop, casually keeping the glass case on a bench. “My bhai is in the same line,” he says, his fingers silently drumming on the glass top. Agreeing to be snapped, he examines his photo on the phone screen. His brows lift. “Not good, take another photo without the face!”
An hour later, Sher Khan steps inside a Metro station. Some hours later, he is outside the Jama Masjid in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar. Sitting down on the mosque’s staircase, he keeps the half-full glass case beside him, and leans over to gaze at an old black dog lazily plopped along the plaza below. A man in crutches slowly comes up the steep stairs, the crutches making a tak-tak sound on the stone steps. Sher Khan wordlessly flicks out a roll from the stack, and gives it to the man for free.
Minutes pass. Sher Khan is now strolling by the bazar shops. By half past 7, his glass case is almost empty, just about 10 rolls left. The grey searching eyes are darting around the street, attempting to catch the last of the day’s customers. He will reach home by ten, he hopes.