City Food – Om Pal’s Parantha Cart, Satsang Vihar Road
Life of a cart.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The two peepal are picturesque, but he didn’t chose the spot 25 years ago for these eye catchers. Back then, the trees anyway must have not been as luscious. He chose the site “because even then many offices were here, and I had thought that if I do the job well, the people in these offices might become my customers”.
Decades later, he turned out to be right.
Om Pal, now middle-aged, says this with eyes firmly focused towards the aloo parantha he is rustling out on his modest cart, here on Satsang Vihar Marg. This afternoon, the snack cart has been mobbed by his regular customers. Some men are asking for his aloo parantha, others are demanding his matar kulcha. The gigantic brass cauldron for the matar subzi is adorned with a garland of marigolds.
Everyday, Om Pal gets up at four in the morning to prepare the matar subzi and to boil the potatoes (for the parantha). He opens his stall at seven, just as the traffic on the road starts to liven up. In another hour, the office-goers start surfacing, and the man gets busier. This moment the sooty girdle is steaming up with a parantha- in-progress. The scent is so intense that it might trigger hunger pangs even in a freshly nourished stomach. Now Om Pal slaps down two “factory wale” kulche on the girdle.
Om Pal works alone, but today his bhatija Ram Gopal is by his side. The young man lives in their Uttar Pradesh village in Sambhal, and is visiting his uncle for a short holiday. “He is a student of chaudhavi (14th),” Om Pal says. Ladling out matar subzi onto a plate, the nephew looks gratefully at the cart owner, and then turns towards the interlocutor, explaining “I’m BA second year in Bio.”
Om Pal expresses a sense of accomplishment.“So much can happen in so long a time, people leave their jobs, join new offices, but my business is staying on course.” His practiced hand scoops out half a fistful of boiled aloo mash.
At four in the evening, Om Pal, as always, will park his cart in a friendly office compound, and walk to his room in Kishangarh village nearby. He won’t be back tomorrow morning. The parantha man is awarding himself a four-day “chhutti” due to the G20 curbs in the city. “I’m going to my village… it is three hours away by bus,” he says, smiling slightly, handing a plate of parantha to a customer. “I’ll return next week.
Paranthas by the peepals