City Food – Sattu Ghol, Turkman Gate
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Mughal-era Turkman Gate marks the border between New and Old Delhi. It’s been here for centuries; its stony ramparts a symbol of steadfastness in this world of constant shift. Now, it is also becoming a souvenir to the future generations of the greatest public upheaval of our times—the coronavirus pandemic.
But look down carefully on one side of this gateway. There’s another monument attached to it like a limpet—far younger, more vulnerable, and extremely modest. It’s Mahinder Singh’s sattu drinks—or sattu ghol—stall. This establishment has been operating from this spot for more than 40 years. Actually, 40 summers. Mr Singh sells sattu drink only in the sweltering season, from April to August; the rest of the year is spent in jaggery production in Punjab and as a carpenter in his UP village. In his 70s, he has survived the two surges. “As soon as the lockdown ended, I came back from my village in Baghpat.”
As always, Mr Singh is dressed in a white dhoti kurta. People change over time but he looks just the same as one year ago, or three years ago, or five years earlier—neither any younger nor any older. This evening he is sitting between his two sons, Prem and Krishnapal. The stall consists of a bucket filled with the drink—sattu flour mixed with water and sugar, with chunks of ice, acquired from a “baraf” supplier in nearby Phatak Teliyan.
The road that goes into the Old Delhi lanes is teeming, this afternoon, with a great many people. A flautist is sitting close to the stall, playing a tune, indifferent to the indifference to his performance. Rickshaw pullers are stopping frequently to have Mr Singh’s sattu ghol. As well as men on bikes. Now a man approaches, his figure gaunt, his beard long and knotted. He has a blanket on his shoulders, his pants and shirts are torn, and he’s barefoot. Mr Singh wordlessly gives him a glass of ghol for free.
The drink is very chilly, very very sweet, and in these sweaty days it infuses the body with an instant rush of utmost calmness. “Thanda le lo (have it cold),” Mr Singh exhorts.
He sits from 9am until the evening call for the prayer from nearby mosques. After that, Turkman Gate temporarily loses its most long-lasting human element.