Mission Delhi – Bimlesh, Galli Choori Walan
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It looks like a mandir. Her tiny food stall is decked with sacred portraits of her beloved “devi-devta”—Durga ji, Lakshmi ji, Ganesh ji, Kali Maa, and Bhagwan Vishnu. The wall also has garlanded portraits of two men.
“The photo beside the clock is of my sasur… he started this stall a long time ago,” Bimlesh says, preparing a plate of chhole kulche for a patient patron. The much larger portrait is recent. “My husband,” she says, fleetingly turning her face towards the frame. The portrait bears the husband’s name, which is appended with respectful ‘ji.’
Ramesh Kumar passed away in August three years ago. “He had (heart) attack.”
Until that fateful event, Bimlesh would rarely come to the stall, a 60-year-old landmark in Old Delhi’s Galli Choori Walan. Even so, she would work daily for the husband’s stall, but at home in nearby Sitaram Bazar. She would get up every morning at 6.30 to prepare a fresh stock of chhole and chutneys (the kulche would be sourced from a bakery). This was also her routine before her marriage when she would similarly assist her father, who too managed such a stall. By 10, Bimlesh’s husband would leave the house with all the workday paraphernalia. He would return twelve hours later.
In the present phase of her life in which she manages the stall on her own, Bimlesh is still obliged to get up at the same hour to prepare the dishes. Though now she has a helping hand, courtesy her youngest daughter, who works in a Karol Bagh shop. (Her other two daughters are married and live in their own homes.) She recalls the life-altering events of three years ago. Bimlesh had made certain, she says, that the stall reopened the third day after her husband’s passing “because that was the right thing.” Her nephew managed the eatery for the first month while she and her daughters dealt with the initial shock and grief.
As the afternoon lapses into evening, Bimlesh gets busier. Her hands are moving with an effortless efficiency about the tiny bowls of chutneys and masalas. The chhole is stored in a giant cauldron. “We never gave any name to our shop,” she says, “it is simply known as chhole kulche ki dukan.”
During a brief gap of idle moments, she reverently gazes towards the “devi-devta” on her walls. “No shikayat (complaint). It is destiny. I’m thankful I’m able to earn.”
Two women stop for chhole kulche.
[This is the 567th portrait of Mission Delhi project]