One would imagine ice cream to be the last thing people would venture out for when winter is at its peak. But when it comes to Delhiites, they have a thing for cold treats, especially when savoured with the gorgeous view of India Gate in the backdrop! This year, as mercury plummets to record lows, ice cream vendors around India Gate say they are disheartened at the abysmally low sales unlike previous years, and blame coronavirus for their losses.
“There is a cold wave in northern India, and rain too showed it’s magic recently. Itne degree me to gadiyon ki line lag jati abhi tak. Pichle saal isi time pe yahan khoob bheed thi kyunki sardi me ice cream khane ka alag hi maza hai… But this year, the crowds are absent. Many people who used to come regularly to buy ice cream from us are not venturing out due to the fear of coronavirus,” says Rohit Gupta, an ice cream vendor at India Gate, where almost a dozen vendors set up shop every day, and stay put for the entire year.
The lockdown last year was the first blow to their income, and led to many a vendors going back to their home towns since they couldn’t make ends meet in absence of a livelihood. And now they have returned only to face low sales, in winters, too. Gupta rues, ”Pichle saal January me itni sale thi jaise June ka mahina ho (The sale of ice cream last January was the same as it’s at the peak summers in June). Tab toh raat hone se pehle hi stock khatm ho jata tha. Par is baar toh pure hafte mein sirf ₹2,000 ka saaman bechna mushkil ho gaya hai. Saturday, Sunday mein sirf ₹200-300 ki ice cream hi bik pa rahi hai!”
The regular vendors at India Gate say their ice cream stands bear a melancholic, desolate look, much like the lanes that lead to the C-Hexagon. “Hum ne milk wali ice cream stock karke rakhi thi because people prefer those in winter over ice lollies. Par uske liye bhi bahut hi kam log aa rahe hain. Aur baraf ka kharcha kaafi mehenga pad jata hai ice cream ko sahi taapman par rakhne ke liye,” says Anuj Kumar, another vendor whose stall is stationed in the same vicinity. He informs that vendors here work on a 15% commission basis, and hence the disappointing sales are a source of major concern. “Ye maan lijiye ki ₹500 ki sale pe ₹100 milte hain. Par itne kam mein hota hi kya hai aajkal! Most of us have exhausted our savings already,” adds Kumar.
The ongoing Republic Day parade rehearsals has also caused the vendors to park their selling booths a little far from the usual spots, which doesn’t allow the cars to halt. “Safety to zaruri hai. Par isse hume dikkat hoti hai; gaadiyan ruk nahi paati to bikri aur kum hoti hai. Is baar toh New Year pe bhi bahut kum log aaye; jitni umeed thi, uski 10% sale bhi nahi hui,” says Devinder Singh, another ice cream seller at India Gate, adding, “Kuchh college ke bachche pehle regular aate the humare paas ice cream khareedne. Par ab unko dekhe huye bhi mahine beet gaye.”
Those who relished the winter treats at this popular spot share that Covid-19 is certainly raising concerns, but they do make a trip to India Gate hoping to try out cups and cones. Mahima Bharadwaj, an IAS aspirant, who recently visited India Gate only to have an ice cream with her friends on New Year’s Eve, says, “Having an ice cream in winter is an inexplicable joy! I love having ice creams here. In fact earlier my friends and I would ride our bikes to come here every week. But now, because of Covid-19, we don’t step out that frequently. It feels sad to see very few vendors around here. And we had to park very far away and walk down looking for the vendors from whom we usually buy. This is bit inconvenient.”
Another regular at India Gate, Delhi-based businessman Atul Bhatnagar, says his family had restricted their weekly visits to the ice cream stalls here, but have planned to resume them in 2021. He muses, “It’s such a nostalgic feeling! We have been coming here since our childhood, and can’t stop ourselves from visiting for the pure joy of having an ice cream here. I personally like to have tea whereas my family enjoys ice creams. Before the pandemic hit, we would often spend our evenings on weekends taking a stroll at India Gate, and indulging in our favourite delights. Now, we are careful to come only when there’s absolutely no possibility of bumping into a swarm of people, and we can maintain social distancing. We are going to resume our weekend trips after a long hiatus, and are excited about it!”
Author tweets @bhagat_mallika
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