The only time I have accidentally met someone from my hometown while living miles away was in the Mumbai office of my current organization. It was a happy surprise that continues to delight me with conversations and an invisible bond of having walked the same roads, studying at same schools though a few years apart and most of all, having eaten ‘golgappas’ at the same chaat bhandars (road-side vendors who sell chaat).
Golgappas of Rohtak are not just another fried, crisp, hollow ball of dough that you fill with sweet, spicy water before eating. Golgappas of Rohtak are all this yet more of all the good things in life. They are not just concoctions of tamarind, cumin, mint, dhania etc. They are the very amalgamations of secret spices that sweeten the giggles out of friendship sometimes, add a layer of spicy chutney to a romance the other times, mix the mystery of unpredictable flavors to a mundane life still other times.
Golgappas of Rohtak were the very essence of everything good in the city.
My relationship to Golgappas began at ‘Janti Chaat Bhandar’, opposite to the Pratap Cinema at the juncture of Railway road and Shourie market. Just a few walks from my home on Bhiwani Stand, this was the place where my Dad first introduced me to the tasty little ball of fun.
Now golgappas are not really a child friendly food. They are the most wondrous food in the world but they are not child friendly. If you are going to place an intact crisp ball filled with sweet and spicy ice cold drink in the middle of your mouth and close it to crush the ball, your mouth better be big enough to contain the explosion!
A five year old’s mouth, food pipe and most of the times nose too can neither handle the size of the golgappa nor the depth of water it contains. Yet, gluttony is a sin that begins at an early age. I didn’t want to eat dahi bhalla without red chilies, customized to suit my 5-year old tum! I wanted to eat what my brothers, mom and dad were eating!
I still remember my first golgappa. Janti uncle, the owner of the chaat bhandar found me staring at my brothers and cousins enjoying golgappas while I held on to my plate of dahi bhalla. He fished in his tray for a golgappa of the size that might fit my mouth; picked the smallest one he could find, filled it with more sweet chutney than spicy water and quietly slipped it to me. I smiled, only to be greeted by the sweetest smile I have ever seen on anyone’s face. The dark brown, pudgy face of a man, a thin small mustache, and a smile of a mother seeing her new born for the first time. That was how Janti Uncle smiled. His smile turned into laughter when the golgappa didn’t fit into my mouth and broke halfway, wetting my chin with spices and chutney and causing chilly sensations, mucus in my nose and watery eyes.
He quickly dipped a papdi in sweet tamarind chutney and urged me to eat it. I don’t know if it was the sweetness of the chutney or his big heart, the chilly sensations stopped immediately.
The cinema hall was shut down a few years later and I don’t know where Janti uncle disappeared. I only know we moved on to eating golgappas from Quilla Road, Railway Road before finally settling on Pratap Chaat Bhandar at Pratap Chowk.
When I was still 12 years old, Ma would specially make a detour towards Pratap Chowk while going from Bhiwani Stand to Quilla Road for shopping which otherwise was just a straight road. It was our special treat – a plate of tikki and papdi, washed off with a plate of golgappas at the end.
The loyalty continued during college. Every evening, I hung out with a friend whose home was dangerously close to Pratap Chaat Bhandar, thus, earning the chaat bhandar some loyal customers and increasing the heartbeats of all guys of our age who lived nearby. We two were probably the only ones who ate golgappas for golgappas not as an excuse to send signals to a guy ‘coincidentally’ having golgappas at the same time. The golgappa affairs were common as we both researched and observed during our endeavors. No parent would say no to a kid going out for eating golgappas without realizing that it was the breeding ground for pre-adults to check each other out and set some real dates!
A few years later, we shifted out of Bhiwani Stand and thus began a hunt for a new golgappa place, near our new home. After trying golgappas here and there, me and my sister-in-law finally settled on Bikaner Sweets as the best place around home to get our weekly dose.
Then one fine day, the oldest Rewri shop in Rohatk, Gulab Rewri opened a Golgappa corner near Sheila bypass. Beautiful, evenly-sized golgappas with a water filling to die for.
Finally, I moved out of Rohtak to experience West and South India. New places, new people and new flavors in the golgappas I found at golgappa vendors I discovered every week. And yes they called it Paanipuri, an insult to the very wondrous soul of a golgappa. While Golgappa refers to the very experience of a shape and how you eat that shape (Gol – round, gappa – eating something all at once without biting), Paanipuri simply means a ball of water. How original it is to call a thing what it is and not the experience of it!
Neither the taste nor the name anywhere else ever matched the magic of golgappas of Rohtak, and I grew sadder looking for that part of me that probably got demolished along with Janti uncle’s shop, that probably was left behind when we moved far away from Bhiwani Stand and Pratap Chaat Bhandar and the part that I gave up on when I moved away from Rohtak.
Recently, this friend and colleague from Rohtak told me that she attended a wedding at a five star hotel in Delhi where except for golgappas all the catering was done by the hotel itself. From where did the golgappas at this wedding came from?
From our very own Gulab Rewri! I am proud! 😀 😀 😀