City Food – Kamlesh Kumar Saini’s Lunch Kiosk, Ajmeri Gate
A moveable feast
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
What to do when one’s village is midway between the bustling urban centers of Motihari and Muzaffarpur? You accept them both as your homelands. That’s why Kamlesh Kumar Saini named his food stall ‘Motihari Muzaffarpur.’
“I’m from Bihar, and most of my customers are from Bihar and Bengal,” explains the gentle-mannered man, standing at his roadside kiosk, here at Ajmeri Gate. Nodding at the dishes heaped up on the counter, he points out these as the daily food of his Bihar. “This is aloo bhaji, this is machhli fry, this is karela bhaji.” A corner tray is filled with green chilies.
Two customers critically gaze at the fried fish, enquiring about its background. “That’s rohu, I have both kate wali machhi and bina kate wali machhi.”
The afternoon is humid. The traffic sounds on the road are incessant. But the stall, one of the many lining the footpath, manages to stay detached from the noise. The sitting space inside, with shelves stacked with beer bottles, is surprisingly restful — though the fish smell is pervasive.
Despite being supremely hectic during the ongoing lunch hour, Kamlesh, in a pink T-shirt and long half-pants, agrees to share the milestones of his biography. He arrived in Delhi in 2006, briefly worked as a stall assistant in Gurugram’s Sadar Bazar, and launched his own business by starting a lunch place on this exact spot. Back then he had no tables, no chairs, no counter. He would set up the stall on the ground. “I earned and I earned, and finally I built a proper stall in 2010.”
Ajmeri Gate lies steps away from New Delhi railway station, but nearer still are various other markets, as well as many warehouses. The area teems with labourers hauling goods manually, sometimes on carts, sometimes on head. “My customers are labour log, and rickshaw wale.”
Talking of his village, Kamlesh explains that naming the stall after it wouldn’t have been wise. “Very few people outside my village knows about my village, while everyone in the world knows of Motihari and Muzaffarpur.”
The stall serves daily from 7am to 11pm. At night, Kamlesh sleeps inside the stall.