City Life - Local Chatter, Gali Haveli Azam Khan

City Life – Local Chatter, Gali Haveli Azam Khan

City Life - Local Chatter, Gali Haveli Azam Khan

Talk of the street.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Shabrati is shuttered.

The Gali Haveli Azam Khan landmark was reinvented in the uncertain early months of the coronavirus pandemic into a fancy grocery, breaking the heart of a multitude of ageing loyalists who grew up on the flavour of its meaty nihari. Within weeks, the owners cancelled the grocery, bringing back their signature dish, the cooks and the cauldrons.

Today, the closed Shabrati hints of time passing, as if yet another familiar sight is to disappear. Turns out it is merely that time of the evening when the eatery is customarily closed. It is to reopen in an hour.

Elsewhere too in the vicinity, life is following its daily patterns. At the Modern Tea House, owner Khalil Bhai is sitting at the counter, his topi plopped on his account pad. And the stately Raeesuddin, a retired electrician, is sitting outdoors, steps away from Shabrati, beside an intersection of neighbourhood alleys, next to Bhai Salauddin Pan Wale’s stall (now more of a cigarette kiosk run by his dapper son Nafees). His metal walker parked in front of him, Raeesuddin is absorbed in a video game of billiards on his Chinese Kechadda mobile phone. Sitting opposite him is the venerable Muhammed Vakeel, a retired rickshaw puller, his mobile-free hands placed patiently on his knees. Finally, this gentleman breaks the silence: “Shabrati is the oldest place in our area for nihari, but…”

Raeesuddin speaks up. “Shabrati ki nihari used to have a larger variety of masalae.” Vakeel concurs: “What could they have done… ingredients get costlier with time.” Raeesuddin smiles, shrugging. “Waqt! This time changed my world. My Saddam (son) died ten years ago in a road accident, he was just 18. My Madeeha (daughter) too is dead. I’m left with (wife) Naseema and (granddaughter) Shifa.” Waving towards the direction of his home, he states that Gali Haveli Azam Khan contains six galis—“Hakimji Wali, Mochiyan, Peerji Wali, Ahmad Shah, Goda Wali, Farash Wali.”

Suddenly, a young man hurries out of Gali Peerji Wali, daring anyone to correctly answer his riddle: “What is it that is hot when you keep it inside the fridge, and is still hot when you take it out.”

Ignored by all, he hurries into Gali Mochiyan, repeating the riddle.

The bearded Vakeel turns his gaze towards Shabrati, pointing out that behind those closed shutters the famous nihari is slow-cooking at this very instant. “They put the deg on fire while closing the shop at 10 in the morning, and the nihari is ready by the time they reopen in the evening…. same at night, and the nihari is cooked by the time they reopen in the morning.”

Nodding distractedly, Raeesuddin starts a Kishore Kumar rain song on his mobile.

“Allah megh de, pani de….”

But it is already drizzling.