City Food – Cotton Candy Men, Around Town
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Quietly they are walking along the pave. A huge tokri, basket, is clamped on the back of each man. The baskets are filled with rolls of blue and pink wool, heralding the two as winter’s ambassador. The sight is in sync with the on-going shift in season. These are the early days of October, the nights have grown cool, right now even the afternoon air is not uncomfortably hot.
On nearing the vendors, the idea of them being wool merchants dissolves. They are actually carrying “budiya ke baal,” literally the old woman’s hair. Some of us might know these sticky sweet street treat as cotton candy. Each serving is packed within a plastic vessel, the kind of takeaway cups employed in coffee shops.
Mama Saleem and bhanja Sameer shift to one side of the footpath. Uncle Saleem is feeling too shy to converse with a stranger, obliging nephew Sameer to do all the talk.
“We walk from noon to midnight, and return to our kamra only after selling the last cup of budiya ke baal,” Sameer says in a confident tone. Thoughtfully rubbing his eyebrows, he explains that when people in a particular area do not show eagerness for their cotton candies, they board the bus for some other locality. The duo chose their destination at random, inadvertently touring various parts of the megapolis everyday.
The pair are from Aligarh in UP, which is next door to Agra, which is home to almost all the cotton candy vendors of Gurugram’s Sadar Bazar—as per the various encounters The Delhi Walla has had over the years with the candy hawkers there. Sameer knowingly nods. “There are three districts—Agra, Aligarh and Hathras—in which many of us men are in this same line… it is a tradition.”
Indeed, the mama-bhanja team acquired their months-old candy making machine from a market in Hathras. Every morning the uncle and nephew wake up at six in their rented flat, settling down to make fresh cotton candies, using only two ingredients—sugar and colour. By noon, after an early lunch, they hit the road.
Noting a significant change that has swept across the world of cotton candy vendors since about a year, Sameer says that “we hawkers have started to pack budiya ke baal in plastic cups, earlier we would have it (wound) around a wooden stick.” This way, he says, the candies look more attractive.
The men now resume their walk. Some minutes later, they are spotted at a bus stop, waiting for a bus.