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Discover Delhi: The rare sightings of numberwalli kulfi

Found in Old Delhi, the numberwalli kulfi offers the thrill of a Las Vegas casino. Drop a coin in the kulfi cart’s spinning wheel and you win as many kulfis as the number on which the coin comes to rest.

delhi Updated: Mar 27, 2017 14:18 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Girls line up for the numberwalli kulfi near Turkman Gate in Old Delhi. It’s one element of Delhi summer that is fast receding into memories.
Girls line up for the numberwalli kulfi near Turkman Gate in Old Delhi. It’s one element of Delhi summer that is fast receding into memories. ( Mayank Austen Soofi)

Why are Delhiwallas always running scared of Delhi’s summer? After all, it is in these hot dusty months that the city comes into its own. We temporarily get rid of all the disloyal super-rich who dump Delhi for London and New York.

Our avenues are again lined with the extravagant yellow bloom of Amaltas trees. The refrigerated cold water and lemonade trolleys too return on the streets, decked with roses, marigolds and lemons. And how can you claim to be a Delhiite if you have never licked off a midnight orange bar at India Gate grounds?

However, one element of Delhi summer is fast receding into living memories of its inhabitants — the numberwalli kulfi.

When did you have it last? No, not kulfi, the Indian-style flavored ice-cream served on a stick, but the numberwalli kulfi?

It has become a rare sight.

I’d spotted my life’s first numberwalli kulfi only a few years ago in Old Delhi’s Bulbuli Khana, near Empress Razia Sultan’s tomb. There it was – the kulfi cart fitted with a desi-style roulette wheel.

Numberwalli kulfi offers the thrill of a Las Vegas casino. Drop a coin in the kulfi cart’s spinning wheel and you win as many kulfis as the number on which the coin comes to rest. Sometimes the cart is equipped with a kind of pinball game, and if that’s the case, then you ought to manoeuvre your green kancha (small glass ball) into the highest value square. If the ball lands in number five, you get five kulfis.

Curiously, I never saw such a kulfi cart in any other part of the city. My second sighting, two years ago, too happened in Old Delhi. And then I never sighted the numberwalli kulfi again until last week while entering the Walled City through the monumental Turkman Gate.

The cart was fitted with the most elementary version of the pinball game: there was no spring to hit the kancha. There was actually no kancha, but a small plastic ball. Lots of nails were stuck up at one end of a creaky wooden block with numbered spaces between them.

I hit at the ball with full concentration. The ball tumbled down into the array of nails and, alas, fell into ‘number one’. I deserved just one kulfi but the kind vendor instead took out two of those sugary milky trophies from his wooden ice box — the second stick was for free, he said. The summer was a steal.