City Landmark – Barber Baldev Raj’s Pavement Stall, Daryaganj
A fragile landmark.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Gone is the atmospheric Afghan eatery nearby with photographs of Kabul and Kandahar on the walls. Gone is the mile-long Sunday Book Bazaar that ended at this point. And long gone is the notable cast iron pedestrian bridge. But the pavement barber who’s been sitting here at Netalji Shubhash Road daily since 1966 still holds forth with his band of faithful customers.
“Oh yes, the bridge! The Lohe Walla Pul was being built when I first came to the city,” recalls Baldev Raj, 60.
This early morning, he’s just arrived from his home in faraway Bawana, then bathed at an adjacent temple. And now is setting up his stall for the day. It consists of a large gamcha-scarf spread out on the pavement, and with, of course, any barber shop’s necessary paraphernalia: shaving brushes and shaving blades, combs and scissors, along with a hand-held mirror.
The stall originally belonged to his brothers—also barbers—who claimed the space in 1950.
“Yes, it’s that old,” Mr Raj says with a twin combo of sigh-and-smile.
Like so many other pavement entrepreneurs, his workspace is not private property. No document attests to this tiny piece of real estate. In theory the authorities could ask him to vacate, if ever it is decided to divest of pavement squatters.
But for now, the space is “my karm bhoomi (workplace).” And, in its own way, the little stall has given the area a unique character for almost as long as India’s been free.
Mr Raj attends to customers every day from 7am to 6pm.
His karm bhoomi