Delhiwale: Blue sky sighting

The sky has lost its blue. The pollution has covered it in a haze. But there is still one place in the city where you can find the most beautiful shade of that lost blue.

It’s on the wall of Malik Naan House, in Old Delhi’s Turkman Gate neighbourhood. Founded 40 years ago, the naan and roti making establishment is very small, and looks totally unremarkable from outside, until the gaze falls on the blue wall. Tonight, many plastic bags are hanging on the wall, along with shirts and pants, and even a gamcha — it must all belong to the roti cooks, traditionally known as Naanbai.

It’s 7.30 pm, busy hour for the stall as folks from across the neighbourhood are coming up to get tandoori rotis or naans for their dinner. Indeed, the stall is distinguished by one specific additional aspect, apart from its beautiful wall. It retains a link to Delhi’s longtime culinary culture, in which the households would cook their own gravies and subzis but the rotis would be sourced from neighbourhood bakeries. Such businesses, satisfying the need of the neighbourhood residences, have greatly diminished over the years, as more and more home kitchens opt to cook flat rotis on their gas chulha rather than have big thick tandoor-baked breads.

Malik Naan House employs about half a dozen men, and all are from Lucknow in UP. The most venerable “kaarigar” (cook) is the one with the responsibility to handle the tandoor. Taufik Khan remarks that even in the days when the air is clear, he and his cooks have no time to look at the blue sky. “There are other important things, like making rotis,” he says, chuckling. The other much younger cooks laugh. The playful Muhammed Sonu, rolling out the dough, picks up his giant wooden rolling pin and holds it like a film star clutching the rifle in the climactic scene of an action film. The customers standing outside clap like single-screen cinema audience.

Gesturing towards the wall, Mr Khan clarifies that it isn’t always decked up with so many bags. “Today the boys went for shopping to Matia Mahal,” he says, referring to a nearby bazar. “The bags have their new clothes…. they came straight to work from the shopping, and so hang their purchases on the wall.”

The stall will close about an hour later and the cooks will return to the room they share together. “We’ll take all our thaile (bags) to our room, and the wall will become empty.” The clear blue sky shall become clearer.

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