City Food – Sitaram’s Jaljeera Cart, Sadar Bazar
Taste of a shifting time.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment. Some writer said that. It perhaps implies that what we are seeing in front of us today will not be here tomorrow, when we might look back upon this scene with a pang in the heart.
The idea is applicable to the familiar sight of Sitaram’s jaljeera cart in Gurugram’s Sadar Bazar. It is soon to stage an exit. The season is on a cusp of change. After a few more weeks of receding humidity, the air will cool, and the weather will become less hostile. For Sitaram, this shifting time has always meant that the “public” would no longer be as thirsty, and “mera jaljeera thela” would not be viable for a period. The street merchant of this pale green cumin-flavoured pungent drink then switches to fruit salad.
One afternoon the friendly gent strategically positioned his cart outside the Apna Bazar complex, paces away from a popular matar kulche joint. “It is lunch time, many people are having the kulche and they will feel thirsty.” Some of those might drift towards his stall for the jaljeera, he had hoped.
And these days some people might want to try Sitaram’s offering solely because of their sensitivity to the cyclic disappearance of daily sights. For the looming departure of a thing otherwise taken for granted suddenly makes it precious. The same motivation nudges one to try out Chawri Bazar’s cold-weather delicacy of daulat ki chaat—for one last time—in early March before it vanishes, or to gaze—for one final time—at the blooming Amaltas trees of Amrita Shergil Marg in early July when the golden yellow flowers fade.
Sitaram’s jaljeera has many spices but it bears an unmistakable hint of geeli mitti, owing to its old-fashioned clay pot. Additionally, the continual evaporation through the earthen pores keeps the drink cold. (This coldness is gentler than the biting coldness induced by the ice.) The jaljeera has to be ladle-stirred frequently to keep its many spices—black pepper, raw mango powder, black salt, mint, and tamarind—from settling down at the bottom. While handing the glass to the customer, Sitaram squeezes half a neembu into it as a final touch.
The vendor starts his new summer each year by acquiring a new clay pot. The old one gets discarded.