Delhiwale: Raju’s paratha corner
A poly bag filled with tomatoes and lemons is hanging from a tree trunk. Another bag has green chilli pickles. The air is smelling of pre-sliced onions and hot steaming parathas. Stall owner Raju is absent-mindedly stirring the matar (pea) dish inside a brass cauldron.
This pavement landmark in south Delhi’s Panchsheel Park has been in existence continuously for 30 long years. “It has always been here, on this same spot,” asserts Raju in a low voice. His late father had founded it, after moving to Delhi from a village in Badayun, UP. He taught Raju how to make the matar subzi and paratha from scratch, including the pickles. The elder brother runs a similar stall in Khan Market.
In his 40s, Raju is dressed formally in grey pants and a collared shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He is very slim; his arms are so thin that they have the flatness of a two-dimensional figure.
It’s late morning and the Outer Ring Road is busy with speeding cars. A man appears at the stall and wordlessly sits under the tree. He seems to be a regular patron, for Raju starts making a fresh paratha for him without any prompt. A little plastic bag is filled with mashed potatoes “for those who want aloo paratha.”
Now Raju lifts the handkerchief from the brass cauldron, and scoops out a ladle of matar in a bowl. The dish looks boringly bland, as if it had been boiled and left at that. “But it’s salted.” Raju lightly sprinkles some masalas on the serving portion, tosses in some chopped tomatoes and onions, squeezes half a lemon, sprinkles chopped dhaniya and hands the meal to the man sitting on his haunches.
He now turns to face the road and, while staring at the passing cars, remarks that he gets both chhote (small) and bade (big) people as customers.
What does he mean by chhote?
“Those who are labourers and guards, and who work hard.”
“Those who are educated, and live in big houses.”
Raju considers himself in the former category, “because I don’t live in a big house, and I work very hard.”
He prepares a new serving. This time the paratha is stuffed with mashed potatoes. It’s delicious and feels as light on the palate as the matar. The green chilli pickle is homey. Raju’s stall opens daily from 7am to 4pm.