City Food – Nafees Bhai’s Bel Sherbet Stand, Gali Sui Walan
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[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Evergreen Sweet House has been a Green Park Market icon since 1963. Jama Masjid too hasn’t budged from its Old Delhi GPS since 1656. Ditto for the derelict Kaman Sarai gateway in Gurgaon, holding on to a compromised elegance.
The longevity of these landmarks is a great consolation in our altering world. More poignant is the endurance of concrete-less places. Take Nafees Bhai’s stall in Old Delhi’s Gali Sui Walan. The severe modesty of the enterprise is misleading. It is the Walled City’s longest surviving center for bel sherbet, founded 65 years ago by the present owner’s father, the late Hakeemuddin.
This sweltering afternoon, the friendly Nafees Bhai is stationed directly under the sun, seemingly undaunted by the hostile weather. His demeanour is gentle, his voice soft, his face lit into a slight smile. Indeed, his very persona is a symbol of reassuring constancy. When sighted here a year ago, the gentleman was sitting in this exact posture, occasionally stirring this same honey-hued sherbet in this same pan with this same ladle. But when he was sighted here again last December, the stall was stacked with… well, children’s diapers. Like a migratory bird annually flying between set latitudes, Nafees Bhai switches between cold drinks in the summer and diapers in the winter. Additionally, every night after he returns home to Gali Kotana, the stall ceases to exist. As if it had scarcely been. Even so, a veteran local will attest the landmark to be as integral to the street as any other Sui Walan classic (such as Kale Mian Kebab Waley, Lala Jutar Rang Wale, Al Arhaan Bakery, Ram Kumar General Store, Welcome Tailors, and Munshi Doodhwale).
This moment, the sherbet’s still surface is mirroring the figures of hurry-hurry passers-by, until completely taken over by the lined face of Ali Nawab. The elderly handicraft artisan has stopped for a “dus wala (10 rupees) glass. He has been seeing the sherbet place since his “bachpan,” he mutters, downing the drink in a single gulp.
The stall opens daily from 8m to 10pm, and is across the street from long-closed Mallik Roti (now a tax consultant’s office), beside an old hand pump, still in use.