Where did the popcorn wallah go?

Tan..tan..tun…tun..tan…the chimes of his sickle shaped utensil hitting the dark iron wok could be heard atleast a block away. Each afternoon, around the last few minutes of the 13th hour I could hear him approaching. I’d be usually be sweating in my school uniform, just arrived from school, with my mother bidding me to change before venturing out. On most days it would be too late for her, I’d already heard the popcorn wallah‘s tune and like children chased the Pied Piper I’d rush out to our gate waiting for him.

He was a tall dark man, with bright white teeth, often reserving a smile for me. The transaction was the usual, I’d ask him for 2 rupees worth of pop-corn and he’d pop fresh kernels of corn into the wok. The wok was a curious instrument, bigger than the ones at home but not any bigger than the ones they’d make jalebis in the nearby sweetshops. At the base of the instrument was a coal fired stove, and the wok had a sand-salt mixure. The real thrill of the ritual was the sound of popping corn, it gave me a strange delight and he’d cover it up with a strainer but even with that contraption, a few kernels would pop out and escape leaving a trail of popped corn in front of the houses he had sold his produce. In the end, he’d pick a paper bag, and gently blow air to open it. He’d finally fill it to the brim with hot popcorn and finally top it off with a sprinkle of the strange sand-salt combination. It took 5 minutes each day, in the sweltering sun, and I’d pay him up a couple of rupees. But the whole performance was not without its rewards, he’d always fill a tiny paper bag with already popped corn and give it to me for a quick snack, while i watch him cook a fresh batch for me. He’d never charge me for it, it was perhaps a token of our unspoken friendship.

This would continue for the next morning and the next, for almost 2-3 years, the price went up to three rupees and gradually his regular visits declined. Sometimes he’d be back to his village for weddings, and at some point he stopped coming. I, for my part, also grew up and left my home for studies and work. I still wonder where did the popcorn wallah vanish, does he still sell it in another town or place? Does he share the same camaraderie with another boy as he shared with me?

The second man had his stall in front of the Parade grounds in Kanpur. I’d often visit my grandfather for my summer vacations, and he’d take us once a week to this pop-corn seller to pick up our favorite snack. This man was shorter in stature, but more talkitive, he’d talk my grandfather about us and about his well being. It would usually be dark when we’d be visiting him, his kersone lamp would burn and through little strands of light on the wok. He’d only pack the fresh popcorn into thin polythene bags, and perform the magic of sealing the packs by touching the base of the lamp with stretched packing material. This was pure magic, and probably my first experience on how one could seal stuff in poly bags! This man would always give us extra bags of pop-corn, much to the annoyance of my grandfather, for he would refuse to take money for these extra bags. It was a ritual, with him giving us extra bags, and my grandfather coaxing him to take money for all of it. It would always be a sight, sometimes he’d win the argument on others my grandfather would prevail. Each week, when the packs were empty, we’d go for the refill. Over a period of time, our grandfather grew old and could no longer drive the scooter, my trips on vacations declined and the talkitive popcorn wallah vanished from our memories.

I do not know the fate of these men, who shared their affections with us with a fresh bag of hot popcorn, I wonder if they still ply their trade or have long fallen victims to make-it-yourself-for-10-rupees Act II, or worse, compete against 60 bucks a pack popcorn at malls, which we grudingly buy either due to keeping up a social pretence or just lack of other options. Maybe I’ll spot them once again…just maybe..

If you have a similar story of a street vendor filling your childhood with tiny pleasures, do share in comments below.


Chasing flavours – Malai Makhan


The traditional Malai Makkhan in Lucknow
The traditional Malai Makkhan in Lucknow

Malai Makkhan or cream butter is one of the most amazing sweet snacks sold during the winters in Lucknow and Kanpur (and also some other parts of UP). While the name may scare the diet conscious, the true product is much much lighter and devoid of any noticeable fat content.

I normally had trouble describing how it looks like, and thus the picture above. Incidently, I have been buying this amazing sweet from the same seller (who comes on a bicycle singing along makkhan malai on the streets) for over a decade! 

The best description of the recipe of this treat is  – saffron flavoured frothed cream, made by hanging unsalted butter overnight in dew and then aerating it by beating it.

Dew being an important factor to manufacture this delicacy, its only during the winters and early spring that we Lucknow-ites are blessed with this. I has a slightly sweet flavor of  frothy cream which just vanishes in your mouth tickling your taste buds wanting for more.

Shape of things to come

One of the key questions which I have asked myself many times is whether I really have any acumen for business or atleast marketing. This question has been answered and yet it shall be asked again!

Anyways, yesterday I observed a tetrapack of ‘Onjus Thandai’. What surprised me was that just 3 weeks ago me and a friend of mine had recommended the same product for Haldirams in a competition. I believe we weren’t too wrong. However, I also observe that Onjus suffers from:

  1. A brand name tied well with oranges, this might just hurt them.
  2. Little distribution, very regional in availibility.
  3. Assortment – Is putting Thandai in the rack of juices a good idea?

Looking at the ‘ganjing’ trip I made today. I also observed a few changes which have hit my city Lucknow…I would just raise questions here..and avoid suggesting answers.

The Indian Coffee House is totally revamped (actually was revamped quite a while ago, but I visited it today). Now it just looks like a new age cafe than the old coffee house with wooden tables and fans hanging from metre long poles. The menu is revamped too with Italian food and a full blown Indian dinner menu as well. Prices have also gone up but still acceptable.

Now the real question is: Indian Coffee House has been, through the decades, the centre for politican and literary discussions in Lucknow. But this revamp aims to make it more relevant to the new age consumers – the youth. By doing this is it not hitting its old clientile? Afterall, the old ambience and the laid back demenour of the place is what attracted them. Moreover, are changes in the menu, christmas decoration and better decor enough to attract this new target customer?


Diwali Break – Choti Diwali

Another busy day, most of it went in shopping and bank related jobs. I still managed to take a few snaps of the festivities en mi casa.

It was really fun to be back in the diwali market rush and haggle for clay diyas, electric lamps, or kitchen utensils. Trust me, this is the real festival, the rush and the pavement shopping has no match in the malls of today. I did manage to get a good deal on electric lights and shall have my setup ready tomorrow morning.

I also spent a bit of time on clicking pictures of the drawing room with its dim lights, and one of them is a pretty decent snap…

Our drawing room!

I also hope to make my first rangoli tomorrow morning, hope that mom helps me with that…

Happy Diwali

Hasta la vista

Diwali Break – Dhanteras

Its great to be home, after 5 months. Much has changed in the city, particularly the traffic has increased substantially. Another surprise is the infamous Ambedkar Park, that project of the current chief minister of UP seems to be re-constructed all again. This comes as a surprise because the Park had been completed more than 5 years ago and was open to public. I cannot understand the logic of almost reconstructing all of it! Illogical to me at the least, specially when there is a 14 kilometer long fly over awaiting completion in its last phase, stalled ever since the Government changed hands.

Anyways, its Dhanteras today, and I had a trip to the local Diwali market to buy the clay idols of Goddess Laxmi and God Ganesha. It was fun to be a part of the hustle and bustle of the market, I always enjoyed this bit of shopping in the Diwali market, it gives me the feel that the festive season has arrived. I happily clicked snaps and even recorded a small video of the paraphernalia on display. Boy, if you aren’t here then you miss all the fun!

Clay couples for Diwali…ain’t they lovely? My best pic for the day

Later, went with my grandpa to the nearby multiplex and bought advanced tickets for Om Shanti Om. Hope that it would be a good one, and then I splurged almost a thousand bucks on four books thanks to my grandpa…

I am back, but the festival has just begun, it is going to be quite at home but I know I would be enjoying every bit of it.

Fair Play

There I am, back to my place at Lucknow, and also back to a Dial Up Internet connection. Well, I had just forgotten how terrible it always was using a Dial Up, and thanks to the bright people at BSNL, I cannot expect to have a Broadband connection at home till the time I goto Pune!

Now to the main topic, I used to crib a lot looking at buses in Bangalore having numbers and places written in Kannada, it used to be so inconvienent to me who doesn’t understand the language. I used to mutter that they should atleast write in English numerals, but then I was so biased! In the past week I could see that forms at the bank were totally in Hindi, BSNL customer care is in Hindi, all bus numbers and places in UP are written only in Hindi. Now while Hindi is the national language, a big number of us don’t understand it, and this makes it so inconvenient for the southwallahs who come over here.

Forgive me guys, its all fair game. You choose your language and we choose ours, there is no solution to this divide!

Back from the roots

Am back, returned from Kanpur and Lucknow (if you don’t know about these cities try Wikieing them!) on Wednesday the 21st February.

Home @ Lucknow

On the personal front it was a fruitful trip back home; could meet my cousins and grandparents after more than two years. Was lucky enough to meet my parents as well.

I could spend some useful hours and had fruitful discussions with my 82 year old Grandfather. Something which I always missed; it was good about discussing life and its learnings with him. It amazed me that there is always so much to talk to and learn whenever I interact with him.

 Anyways, coming back to the main purpose of the visit; well; the whole thing was quite disappointing. Had my Interview for MBA studies at IIT Kanpur; and the only thing the professors were interested in was my Differential Calculus skills, which I was not really in touch with. It was a very unique experience and I can still not relate that how can my calculus abilities justify my admission in MBA. Afterall I had not applied for MS program!

Nevertheless, it definitely was a fruitful visit to the roots.

God has been kind with me; and on this Saturday 24th of February I cleared admission rounds for one of the B Schools I had tried my luck on. Hopefully, this year I shall begin my Post Grad Studies; a dream finally to be realised.