City Landmark – Mullaji Ice Merchant, Mohalla Qabristan Chowk
Of the ice age.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It never snows in Delhi. But our eyes can always see the ice at Mullaji Baraf Wale. This tiny establishment in Mohalla Qabristan Chowk sells baraf all through the year. It has to be one of the very few shops where you may buy baraf as causally as buying dal-cheeni-salt.
But much has changed.
Once upon a time, the shop would source its ice from the long-closed Baraf Khana in the nearby Subzi Mandi. Now, the baraf comes from the “ice factories” of distant Loni. Once, the baraf would be dispatched in a horse-drawn tonga, or in a bullock cart. Now, it arrives in a mini truck (late at night when the street traffic thins). Once, the late Mullaji of Mullaji Baraf Wale sold ice on the pavement of Matia Mahal Bazar. Now, his sons—Javed, Parvez, Gulrez—administer the business of their forefathers in shop No. 2363. “My father founded this dukaan 65 years ago,” says Javed.
Since then, so much has changed in the vicinity, ice-wise.
Once, not many households had refrigerators. Now, most get their ice cubes straight from inbuilt freezers. “That hasn’t affected our business a great deal, only thora-bahut,” says Javed. Even so, a dip is inevitable with the end of the summer, the demand rising again in winter wedding season.
This afternoon, blocks of ice are lying tightly packed in sheets of blue plastic, with steam hissing out of an accidentally exposed part. Javed points out that the shop’s floor is actually a series of wooden cots arranged in a row “because wood doesn’t get hot even in peak heat making the ice last for hours and hours”. He then turns to a customer. After concluding the transaction — a kilo of ice costs 5-7 rupees — Javed reveals that the shop came to be known as Mullaji Baraf Wale because his father, real name Muhammed Qayyum, had a beard as long as that of a mullah. He also reveals the baraf shop’s profoundly different past. It was the residence of a “zenana,” a trans-gender person. “She sold it to my father, and left.”
Nothing much is discernible on peering inside what used to be somebody’s home. It is all dark, there is no window.
“Twenty years ago, we put up a board calling ourselves Mullaji Ice Merchant, but but everyone still knows us as Mullaji Baraf Wale.”