Delhiwale: Old landmark in a new normal
The beloved and iconic Sardar Jalebi in Gurugram is now openUpdated: Jun 12, 2020 08:48 IST
The battle hasn’t been won, the war hasn’t ended yet. Nevertheless, we are picking up the strands of our disrupted life in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
It is in this spirit that one ought to commemorate the reopening of a special landmark—a shop that serves one of the most delicious jalebis in the entire National Capital Region.
Sardar Jalebi in Gurugram’s Sadar Bazar started producing jalebis again a few days back, shortly after the easing of the prolonged lockdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. The viral attack is only intensifying further but the city is trying to limp back to business and you see glimpses of the old normality in this much-loved icon.
This late morning, a couple of cooks, whom the owner calls karigars, are deep-frying the jalebis in huge cauldrons. One gentleman is squeezing the batter through a thin cloth into the oil-filled vessel, constantly moving his hand anti-clockwise to get twirly-shapes befitting a jalebi. Another man is filling a fresh stock of jalebis into a paper bag for a customer.
This Sadar Bazar’s signature jalebi is thin and extremely crisp and tastes excellent even when cold—unlike its thicker counterpart in the equally illustrious Old Famous Jalebi Wala in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, which tastes best when eaten hot, just off the karahi. (That shop too has reopened, serving from 9am to 6pm daily).
Each worker here at Sardar Jalebi is attired in gloves and mask, and no mask is slipping down under the nose as it is frustratingly the case with most people walking on the streets these days.
All this is being viewed through a mobile screen that connects this reporter to Gurpreet Singh, whose family has been running this establishment for 70 years. Wearing a similar black mask as his staffers, the turbaned young man is chatting on WhatsApp video. He is sitting against a wall decked up with the portraits of all the 10 Sikh gurus. The portrait of Guru Nanak is decked with a garland of fresh marigolds.
“We have five karigars at the moment,” says Mr Singh, his voice a bit muffled, perhaps because of the mask. All the employees in the shop have their families living in their native districts in either UP or Bihar, Mr Singh informs. But unlike many other migrants, they didn’t rush back to their villages following the closure of all business during the lockdown. “We looked after all of them,” informs Mr Singh. “They live on the floor above the shop and we made sure (during the lockdown days) to keep them supplied with enough food rations, and that they had enough money to send some of it to their families every month as they always have.”
Some of the staffers at Sardar Jalebi have been working here for decades. Bhagwan Das has been here for 40 years. Chhedi Ram has been making jalebis for 32 years. (The rest of the men at work are Raju, Manoj and Arun).
There has to be said something of the relationship that this small family-run business has developed with its karigars over the years. Maybe, this aspect explains the fact that, while so many other celebrity eateries in the Delhi region have lost that something special that made their signature dish so well-loved, the jalebis here continue to be universally admired without any ifs and buts. Indeed, it might be difficult to find a longtime patron complaining of a decline in Sardar’s standards.
Despite its long life and reputation, the establishment itself is extremely modest. There are only a few benches to sit. Frankly speaking, this in not a place to lounge about. You get your jalebis and take it away to have it elsewhere.
And yet, some of the afternoon scenes back in the BC (Before Corona) era used to be extraordinarily tender. Particularly after classes were over, when students of a government school nearby would excitedly come to receive their daily share of one jalebi each—for free!
The Sardar Jalebi got its name from its Sikh founder, Arjun Singh, who moved as a Partition refugee from what is now Pakistan to what was then Gurgaon. “He passed away in 1994… he was my dadaji,” says Mr Singh. With his father passing away some years ago, he manages the business with his tauji (uncle), Jagmohan Singh.
While there is no doubt that the shop must have suffered a serious setback due to the coronavirus-triggered lockdown, like many other businesses in this bazaar, one must not forget that this particular landmark has seen worse. During the killings of Sikhs, after prime minister India Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, the Sardar Jalebi remained shut for at least three months—says Mr Singh, who, in fact, was born in that fateful year.