Saturday, September 20, 2014

Nisaar Ahmed’s lonely walks with a trunk full of treats TSHERING EDEN

75-year-old Nisaar Ahmed walks 12-13 kilometers everyday carrying an aluminum trunk on his head. Wearing rubber slippers, white cotton pajamas rolled up to his calves and a cream coloured top - a cross between a kurti and a shirt, he walks with his hands folded behind him and the trunk balanced perfectly on his head. He is one of the few, perhaps even the only “roti-wallah” left in Gangtok.
While rich pastries, flavoured breads, mousses and cheesecakes excite the present day palate, it was the roti-wallahs who serviced every nook and corner with baked delights in the years gone by. Sadly, even with the last remaining few roti-wallahs, the “swiss” buns, nariyal puffs and color coded biscuits are gone and Nisaar sells only pyaajis and phulauras. The “bhatti” or bakery at Tibet Road near Sadar Thana no longer exists and this is why there are no baked goodies in his trunk, he explains. The bhatti had to shut down due to the diminishing firewood supply and also because it emitted too much smoke, and also market realities of changing tastes.
Nisaar wakes up at 4 every morning to prepare the two items he sells and leaves home by around 8. Roadside workers are his main customers but as we are talking, a taxi also pulls up and the driver buys some phulauras.
“Others have stopped buying since there are so many shops and companies who sell baked items now,” says the roti-wallah. He earns between Rs 250-300 per day but informs that earlier he used to earn upto Rs. 600.
He starts his daily journey from his home located at Helipad covering Bojoghari, 3 Mile, Burtuk and returns by 4-5 in the evening. Nisaar, who hails from Motihari in Bihar, lives alone here while his family is back home. He used to work in Jalpaiguri as a roti-wallah before he came to Sikkim some 20 years ago. “Business was not that great in Jalpaiguri since customers would mostly buy on credit. They would pay us at the end of every month. A friend called me here since he said business would be better here,” shares Nisaar.
It is good to be living and working in Sikkim since it is peaceful here and there is no “loot-mar”, he adds.
Roti-wallahs are a dying tribe even in its place of origin - Bihar. “There are shops everywhere now,” says Nisaar before adding that at one time there were 24-25 roti-wallahs who would sell goods baked at the bhatti on Tibet Road. Now, he says he doesn’t know of any other roti-wallah working in Gangtok.
Even though he plans to retire next year as he can’t walk like he used to, the 75-year-old refuses a ride in the car and walks on.

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