Delhiwale: A sherbet stall like no other
Nobody bothers to deck up street-side roohafza stalls. In Delhi’s brutal summer, this icy-cold rose sherbet doesn’t need marketing to make itself appealing. The drink works as an elixir, instantly soothing down the heat-oppressed body.
But the roohafza shack outside Jama Masjid (gate no. 2), in Old Delhi, is arranged with great care. It’s just a table, and yet, here in front of the Mughal-era monument, it looks grand. Sherbet bottles stand symmetrically on both sides of the table. In the centre, two glasses with long stems have been filled with the drink. Just behind presides a large block of ice, glistening under the bright sunshine.
This is Mehboob Alam’s 20-year-old stall, which sells roohafza in the summer and momos and carrot halwa in the winter. It never looked different from any other sherbet stall, with its hodgepodge of bottles and glasses. Its aesthetics changed only this season.
The reason is Fauzia, his daughter. She likes to do things beautifully, she says, “so I arranged the glasses and bottles into a decoration.” She adds—“Papa is unwell, so I’m at the stall.”
At 19, Fauzia is the only woman in the vicinity to manage a street food establishment all by herself. Otherwise, the adjacent biryani stall has a man. The chhole bhathure stall has a man. The chai stall has a man. The sattu drink stall has a man. Does she know she is special?
She smiles, insisting she only wanted to help her father. Now, a group arrives for sherbet. Two of the men start squabbling, each insisting he must pay. Fauzia patiently observes them with an amused expression.
A school dropout, she explains that “problems at home” prevented her from continuing her studies. “And my heart too wasn’t in books.” But her two younger brothers attend school, and they come to replace her at the stall at 4pm, after finishing their classes.
“This is when I go home to rest while mummy cooks us food,” she says.
The stall stays open from morning to evening. The sherbet is delicious but the prime reason to celebrate it is because these days it is manned by an extraordinary woman.