City Food – Panditji Doodhwale, Near Galli Sooiwallan Street
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The peepal tree in Old Delhi’s Tiraha Behram Khan oozes out vibes of steadfast reassurance. So much is changing so furiously, but it continues to stand at its appointed place, like a loyal friend. So is the sight of milkman Pandit Rajiv Sharma. There he is in his white kurta pajama, silent and patient as always, sitting cross-legged on his shop counter, his figure perched between a giant milk cauldron and a stack of dahi platters.
Panditji Doodhwale near Galli Sooiwallan was founded by a Ferozabad native in 1945. Late Radha Krishna Sharma was briefly a hired hand in a Chandni Chowk dairy, says son Rajiv, aka panditji, aka uncleji. Narrating the progression of the family enterprise, the elderly polite-voiced gent recalls that “after I completed my high school, Pitaji told me to spend a few hours everyday in the dukaan… time passed, pitaji grew old, and died (in 1975)… now I’m old (he’s 61), my son has started sitting in the dukaan.”
The low flame under the giant cauldron burns nonstop from morning to night. The sweetened milk in it is deliciously dense, and is looking slightly caramelised. You immediately want to guzzle it down in a big traditional peetal glass. Rajiv Sharma keeps the vessel replenished with frequent additions of milk and sugar. “Winters are almost here, and the demand for garam doodh will go up.” This afternoon, most customers though are queuing up to get dahi. Nine trays have already emptied. Five more trays are stacked up on a shelf. Labourer Ataullah Alam arrives to get 20 rupees worth of dahi. He shall have it with rotis as his lunch.
The store room scooped deep within the shop is loaded with character. It is painted bright blue. Its large taak has a framed portrait of Bhagwan Krishen with Radha. A fridge is filled with cartons of buffalo milk that arrives fresh every morning from the dairy in Gajipur. One of the eye catchers is a steel tijori custom-made 20 years ago for 10,000 rupees.
The shop is one of the area’s few landmarks to stay open for long hours continuously, serving daily from 5 in the morning to about 11 at night. Both opening and closing are presided over by Rajiv Sharma’s son Rahul.
Taking advantage of a brief lull in the afternoon rush, “Uncleji” picks up his metal ladle and stirs the milk in the cauldron. The creamy malai on the surface drifts languidly.
Old Delhi’s old landmark