They are ubiquitous and serve to their customers ranging from the lowest economic strata to the super rich. They are the ‘chhole kulche’ (spicy chickpeas with bread) vendors of Chandigarh.
“Mirchi tez ya kum?” This is the question you most likely will face from the vendor once the order is placed. Conspicuous by big rounded brass pot mounted on a stand, these vendors carry along a stove, tamarind tumbler, boxes for salt, chilli powder, blackpepper, cloves and cardamoms, a dustbin — all on a bicycle. The delicacy they offer can be a quick snack (without bread) or a full meal.
Raj Bir, 26, who sells ‘kulche chhole’ from a market in Sector 44-D in Chandigarh is satisfied from his business. He is busy catering to his customers throughout the day till the time he runs out of stock.
“I earn `10,000 per month. I am able to take care of my wife and two children. I do not have to pay house rent as my landowner died long back and had no heir,” he said.
Raj Bir was just 5-year-old when he came to Chandigarh from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. “I have been selling ‘kulche chhole’ for 20 years now. Earlier, I used to accompany my brother. When he started selling lemonade in Sector 42, I continued with this here,” he said.
About two decades ago, they used to sell a plate of the delicacy for Rs 2.50, which now costs Rs 20.
Shiv Kumar, who does his business in Sector 17, is not too happy with the business of selling ‘kulche chhole’. “The location of doing business matters a lot. I earn only Rs 300-Rs 400 profit every day, which is not enough to sustain in a dignified manner,” he said.
He has been selling the stuff from the verandah outside the ICICI Bank for 25 years.
“My father had started the business around two decades ago, but I do not remember the year. At that time we used to sell a plate for Rs 1. Now, a plate costs Rs 20. These stoves to serve ‘kulchas’ hot came around 15 years ago. The traditional rounded brass pot now has a steel variant,” he said.
Interestingly, Shiv is also from Bareilly. “I agree that it is a Punjabi food. Most of the old vendors are from Bareilly. But now a number of people from Bihar are also selling ‘chhole kulche’. Some Punjabis are also there,” he said.
“I agree that people are conscious about hygiene particularly when McDonald’s and KFCs are around, but these street vendors thrive on the trust of their customers. Most of them have regular customers. They have been standing at a particular place for decades. I usually go outside the DAV College with my husband to enjoy ‘chhole kulche’. The flavour of ‘chutney’ differs from vendor to vendor and that makes the difference,” said Bhawna Diwan, a resident of Sector 19.
The vendor outside DAV College is on a vacation as colleges are closed these days, but he has made another vendor there to ensure that the place is free when he returns.
Mahinder, 17, who is also from Bareilly, is only four-dayold in the business. “One can earn up to Rs 300 per day. But then come weekends when very less people go to their offices. Today I have little business as fried grams are being served at a ‘chhabeel’ nearby,” he said.
“There is nothing to do in villages in Bareilly. So, the youth come here,” he said.