Photo: Gulab Jamun Man

Gulab Jamun Man

While exploring the alleys and narrow sidestreets of old Varanasi, we were going down this particularly quiet street. Almost no one around – some footsteps could be heard somewhere further down.

We walked by this modest bakery. Behind the low counter, on the floor in the dimly lit interior, sat an old man. He was calmly preparing pastries and pieces of paneer. He was in no hurry – in fact he had an air about him of dignified deliberation.

As we were passing by my sixth sense started tingling: photo opportunity. I slowed down and asked Lauri to wait. I didn’t want to be blunt and just go up in the baker’s face, wielding a camera. So I decided to work my way into the situation, find my place in that bubble.

I walked up and said hello, asked him what he was preparing. He didn’t speak English, but we understood each other. There were pieces of paneer floating in one bowl, and in another I could spot some galub jamun. That’s my route. So I asked for two, and a cookie to boot. I was handed a styrofoam cup and a wooden spoon, and the baker fished out a couple from their sugary bath.

We sat down on a wooden bench across the alley and I dug in. The gulab jamun was saturated with syrup, I swear it was sweeter than pure sugar. Almost too much to bear. As I was struggling with the stuff I told Lauri about my plan, that I’d ask the man for a photo if I survive the sugary shock. He’d get a few too.

I hope you appreciate this, I said to him, I’m taking one for the team here. I’m going to get diabetes from these, so make your shots count.

After I was done I thanked the man, pointed to my camera and asked if it was ok if I took a few. He straightened up just a little bit and gave a slight nod. I took two photos, showed them to him and told him he looked handsome in them. We had a laugh about it and shook hands.

After Lauri got his we waved goodbye and continued down the street – one of us maniacally wide-eyed on a sugar high for the next half hour, but happy with the result.