Migrants give momos a village

Migrants give momos a village

Migrants give momos a village

In a first-floor room, eight youths sit cramped next to one another busy preparing for the “Sunday order”. “Cut the cabbage finer,” directs one of them.

An 18-year-old, with earphones plugged in, enters the room almost apologetic for bringing in the tomatoes late. Considering it is only 11 am, the rush in preparations would take you by surprise. 

“We have to finish preparing 350 plates of chicken momos and 300 plates of veg momos by 2 pm. The delivery boys pick up the momos by 3 pm,” says 25-year-old Kiran, who ekes out Rs 4,000 a month. Rolling the dough on a newspaper, he says, “Momo-making is an art but not too tough to master”. 

An adivasi from Malbazar town in West Bengal, Kiran joined Pradeep’s momo factory in Chirag Dilli Village two months back. His employer is one of the largest suppliers of momos from this village.

A few gallis away, Lalita serves chicken momos to her family for breakfast. “You will have to help yourselves to veg momos if you delay cutting the vegetables,” says the woman in her mid-50s in mock admonishment. Lalita, who moved out of Darjeeling almost 20 years back “in search of work”, has been in this business for seven years now.

“The entire family remains engaged in momo-making. Once it is evening, youths in the locality start drinking. So I send my sons to deliver momos. They return by 11 pm, too exhausted to indulge in alcohol,” she adds.

Chirag Dilli Village, once a laid-back colony, has turned out to be one of the largest suppliers of momos in south Delhi in recent times. Currently, momos are delivered from here to Lajpat Nagar, South Extension, Hauz Khas, Green Park, Malviya Nagar and Sangam Vihar, among others. While a plate of 12 chicken momos is priced at Rs 40, you have to shell out Rs 30 for a plate of vegetarian momos.

The commercialisation of the village is not only marked by homes which double as momo factories. Plankwood stores, tailoring shops, doctors’ clinics, a “North-East Grocery Shop” and food counters have also lent an urbane look to this cramped colony.  

“In the 1990s, rooms were rented out at Rs 80-90. Rents have gone up drastically in recent years,” says Sunil Shandilya, a doctor. A freelance photographer says the village attracts migrants because of the low rents. He pays Rs 3,500 a month for the place where he has been staying for 16 years. 

To maintain harmony with his “northeast neighbour”, a “Bengali Dhaba” owner does not sell momos. “He doesn’t sell tea and paranthas to avoid competition,” says Gopal Karok, a migrant from West Bengal. Almost 45 per cent of the settlement constitutes population from Darjeeling, the Northeast and Nepal.   

Momo-making as a profession mushroomed here in the last 10 years. “It was one Milanbhai and Dinesh who first started making momos here. Now, there are over 45 factories,” says Bilal Khan, who supplies around 100 kilos of chicken every day to factories here. Dinesh’s wife, busy enveloping corners of dumplings, carelessly looks up to say “business is not as it used to be”.

“Dinesh remains busy garnering support from our community for Gorkhaland,” says Anup, 28. “He is our leader,” he adds proudly. Anup, who earlier worked in a showroom, joined this business seven years back. With momo-making being the most popular profession, the village has come to be known as the “Momo Village”. 

However, making momos is not a profitable business anymore, Anup adds. “Put together the cost of raw materials, gas cylinders and labour force and there is hardly any profit. Also, we have to pay the babus of corporation and the police for setting up stalls,” says Anup.