City Food – The Potato Eaters, Heera Nagar
Eating routine in the times of corona.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Auto rickshaw driver Raju Rai has started driving again, after a considerable ease in the corona-driven lockdown. “But there are barely any people wanting to travel… I get so few customers that I’m still staying most of the time at home.”
He is talking on WhatsApp video from the isolation of the one-room house in Heera Nagar, near Gurgaon’s Pataudi Chowk in the Greater Delhi Region, that he shares with his wife and three kids.
In the last one week, Mr Rai said “I have earned only 3,000 rupees.”
This means, he explains, that the family has to curtail expenses almost on everything, including food. No milk for children, for instance. He is not buying vegetables either, “because they are expensive and we don’t have a fridge to keep them fresh in case we buy in bulk.”
The family has ended up having potato and rice for each meal. “Every morning my wife makes aloo subzi and rice.” She cooks enough quantity to last the whole day. In the BC (before corona) era, children might be bought namkeen, chocolate or samosas from the shops outside but now there’s a complete moratorium on those treats. “If we feel hungry, we eat more of the aloo chawal that was cooked in the morning.”
At night, a fresh round of the same dish is cooked again with rice.
Until recently, the family, would sometimes have channa dal too, “which was given by my landlord along with one kg of rice and 5 kg of atta.” The dal is also over, or almost over; it’s not clear.
Mr Rai’s landlord is kind enough not to have insisted to be paid the rent (2,700 rupees) during one of the months of the lockdown. Nevertheless, the rickshaw driver paid his dues by asking his folks in the village to send him money to deal with the crisis.
Mr Rai is from Bihar.
Now, on request, he arranges all the food that he has at home for a photo shoot—the pictures are taken through the phone screen that connects him to The Delhi Walla. There are sacks of potatoes, a pan of cooked rice, and a pressure cooker filed with aloo subzi. “We do use tomatoes and onions for the subzi,” says Mr Rai.
He always buys the over-ripened tomatoes, which are slightly cheaper “than the better ones.” And he’d got three kgs of onions some weeks ago that are still not over.
The boiled rice is studded with small protein-rich soyabean balls, a packet of which was given by a neighbour “out of kindness.”
The household’s kitchen is tucked in one corner of the tiny room and consists of a cooking gas cylinder and a single burner stove. Mr Rai’s wife is standing by the adjacent door with her two children. The third kid is plonked on a chair, eating what else but aloo and rice.
From the world of home cooking