A house in Sainik farm, a Mercedes and a ticket to anywhere... that could be your neighbourhood paanwala. Bazaar does a survey
Bhagwan Dass Tekwani has a house in the posh locality of GK-1 and owns a Toyota, Ford IKON and a Maruti van. His two sons, Yash and Jai, are happily married and work with their enterprising father. His future plans: "I will be retiring in April, buy a farmhouse and spend the rest of my life there with my wife," says he.
Tekwani, the enterprising entrepreneur, is better known as Prince paanwala. If you are a regular at GK M Block market, then you certainly haven't missed Prince Paan. Maybe you haven't bought cigarettes from the shop, but you probably bought medicines from Prince Chemists. Heck, if you didn't buy medicines then you must have bought groceries from Prince Departmental shop. He also happens to be the president of the All India Paan Merchants' Association.
Sitting outside the paan shop you will, most often than not, find an old man clad in a white dhoti. Meet Mr Tekwani, the owner of this small "princely" empire. Puffing on his cigarette, he narrates his story which is as interesting as the array of expensive Cuban cigars displayed in his shop.
Tekwani came to Delhi in 1950 after the Partition and stayed with his family in Jamna Nagar Jhuggi colony near Nigambodh Ghat. His father was a coolie at the New Delhi Railway Station. "I used to go to an MCD school at Kashmere Gate and after school hours, worked with a paanwadi next to my house. He taught me to make paan and soon asked me to take over. I was paid 2 anna a day," says Bhagwan.
In 1955, he dropped out of school and decided to concentrate on business. He bought his first shop for Rs 150 in the same colony which was soon torn down by the MCD. For a couple of years after that, he managed a canteen for Bharat Petroleum office, after which he went back to selling paan. In 1965, he shifted base to GK. "It was nothing like what it is now," he says, "There were some shacks around here but I had made up my mind to settle here since business was good and I had a family to look after."
His was one of the 10 shacks in what is now the M Block Market. "The owner of the plot managed to wipe out nine jhuggis while I got a stay order for mine. I used to pay Rs 300 as rent to the owner and after working hard for many years I finally bought three shops there in 1984. And here I am," he says with a smile. Not a small accomplishment that, with three shops in a row and one in the basement in a prime location.
On a smaller scale, but no less successful is Ashok Chaturvedi who has his little paan shack in South Extension II. He doesn't earn much, he says, and then grins, when you quiz him a little. "Koi problem to nahin hoga, na? I pay all my taxes. I get around Rs 4-5,000 daily from this shop and a little less from another nearby. I also have a partnership business in Nehru Place selling assembled computers."
His children study in Kendriya Vidyalaya and he owns a Maruti 800 and a Tata Sumo. And, where does he live? "In Sainik Farms," is the answer. Life is good, he says, and has changed a lot since he left his village in UP. "Things have improved back home as well, since I have now bought a tractor for the family. I could have been a success back home as well, but there's more pride in making it in the Capital. Earlier, I was an innocent villager, now I have learnt to dress and talk to my customers," he says.
And, what do you call a phenomenon that commands an audience of over 50 strong at any time of the year? No, there's no film shooting in progress. Tucked away in a tiny bylane next to the UPSC are a group of "Coco-Cola" umbrellas that are invariably surrounded by a mass of humanity come hail, shine or rain. The tiny area, from 12 noon to 7:30pm daily, plays host to Delhi's favourite "chaatwaala."
While people polish off dahi papdi and golgappa with relish, terming it "the best place for chaat in Delhi," brothers Jagdish and Gopal Das take us back a little in time.
"The dukan was started by my father Prabhu Dayal over 50 years ago on a small patri on the other side of the road. A permanent structure was erected a little later but due to overcrowding, the MCD demolished it and we shifted to our present address," says Jagdish.
Originally form Bulundshahr, the patriarch soon built up a loyal clientele which included comedian Mehmood. "He came often to have chaat. Our father started from scratch and we are continuing his legacy," says Gopal. They have two more brothers who run other businesses.
Residing in Pratap Nagar, the brothers maintain they "do not earn much, kahan ho pata hai jyaada. We manage to earn enough to go home and eat one square meal. Kabhi kanhi the turnover even leads to a loss," says Gopal Dayal.
A claim that is received with scepticism, considering the humble chaat waala's father is supposed to visit the shop in his Mercedes. After a moment's hesitation, Gopal mumbles, "hamare pitaji ke paas Mercedes hai, par woh to ab purani baat hai." The brothers and their sons and nephews come to the shop carting their essentials in a Maruti van and a Zen. A family concern, Gopal says, "It's best our children learn the trade first-hand."
Their USP, they say, is "quality." The potatoes used in the chaat are especially kept aside for them at the Azadpur mandi and the dahi is prepared at home. "We might not use Bisleri for making the golgappa ka paani but it is filtered water nevertheless," they say. The masalas are also home made, they claim.
He reels off the names of celebrity customers, "Daler Mehndi, Nagma and many politicians are regulars."
But life is not always easy. Uprooting of their shop is a constant threat that looms over them. "MCD has allotted us land near the garbage dump a few minutes from we are now. Business dropped when we set up shop there so we came back here."
Now, over to the not-so-ordinary paanwala near ITO. The 4 feet X 4 feet shop with a plastic sheet acting as a roof, houses an extremely well-to-do paanwallah - Rakesh Kumar Jain. His cellphone rings and he answers, "Mere paas time nahin hai."
Jain also owns a fleet of taxis. A couple of mainline newspapers in the area and the Baptist Convent of Indraprastha are among his regular customers.
Jain, 37, came to Delhi in 1985 from Morena in Madhya Pradesh after he lost his brother during a "dispute with the land mafia." Once here, he took to helping his uncle in his paan shop. "I was paid Rs 1,500 a month for managing the shop in Green Park," he says. After working for one-and-a-half years here, he put up his own shop in Raja Garden.
Three years down the line, he shifted base to Barakhamba Road, landing up finally in ITO in 1991 where as luck would have it, his mama "retired to the village" and left his paan shop to him."
His day begins at 6am and at 8am, he opens shop and remains so till late into the night. Jain began running taxis in 2000 after "somebody told me there was money in it" and he took a loan of Rs 1 lakh from a bank. Ten installments, he claims, remain to be paid.
He maintains he earns Rs 12,000 a month, but the mathematics show otherwise. With about five taxis engaged all day, it seems much, much more. His people skills are also good, "They know me and I know them, so there is no scope for friction."
His family, too has benefitted from his climb up the ladder of success. He has set up a shop in Nehru place for his brother and has handed over his shop in Raja Garden to his cousin. Married at the age of 23, he has two children. "Anshu is in class VII and Himanshu is in class V in the Baptist Convent," says the proud father. Himself a class XI dropout, he wanted to "get settled first and then marry, but family and fate willed otherwise."
His wife and "my support" Meena blushes when asked if she has a hand in her husband's success. "My responsibility is to take care of the house and children. He works very hard. Earlier, it was hard, but after the taxi service, things have improved."
Any big dreams for future? "I am satisfied with the way things are," says Jain. As for his sons, I just want them to grow into good human beings and choose whatever profession they like." He doesn't want them to follow in his footsteps, though.
The last 18 years, he says, have been a struggle. "What's helped me get here is my honesty. Hum ne na ka kabhi kisika khaya hai na kabhi khayenge."
However, life in the Capital doesn't suit him. "The government does not let me live in peace and the life is so boring, nobody has any time here." He plans to retire to his village one day when he becomes too old to work.
And, if you thought only paans held the magic mantra to rake in the moolah, hold it. Check out Sanjha Chulha in Kailash Colony.
Any kebab lover would swear by Sanjha Chulha. But not many people know that the brothers Nand Kishore and Suresh Kumar, who own the joint, were once fruit sellers.
Getting across to either of these brothers is not easy, considering stories of people getting drunk outside the dhaba were recently splashed across tabloids. But, reluctantly, Suresh and his chief cook Lakhan let us peep into their lives.
The duo used to be fruit vendors in the same locality before they switched to selling fish tikkas outside Nehru Place in 1974. "We had a small cart and were constantly pushed around by cops everywhere we set it up," says Suresh. They finally set up a small shack in 1990 in Kailash Colony and decided to sell kebabs. They claim to be the first to sell chicken kebabs and their popularity began to grow. Now they do business worth lakhs of rupees and are favourites at wedding receptions.
The shop hasn't changed much. You still have to stand and eat or be served inside your car. Their restaurant will open shortly in GK and promises to keep up to the standards they are known for. Suresh has four daughters and a son.
He is planning a lavish wedding for them. Nand has two sons who are helping their father in his roaring business. Suresh and Nand Kishore stay together in a huge bungalow in Karol Bagh and drive Marutis to work. A far cry from the days they used to push their carts screaming "Kele dus rupaye darjan."
All proof that grit, hard work and little bit of Lady Luck can go a long way in changing destinies!
Published in DailyPioneer. Photos Alwin Singh and Suresh Chandra.