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Old Faces, New Stories: Meet Rajinder Chauhan

You’re hanging around Defence Colony Market with a cigarette hanging limply from your lips, post midnight, swaying under the influence of one too many beers, and you just can’t find your damn lighter. Breast pocket, butt pocket, jacket pocket- WHERE IS IT?! Just as you’re about to give up, throw the cigarette away, quit smoking forever and become an anti-tobacco advocate; you see a gun, coming straight for you. Next, a click, and your cigarette is lit.

You look up in wonder at the man standing before you. Wearing a warm black jacket, resplendent fauji moustache, and holding a revolver-shaped jet lighter in hand stands Rajinder Chauhan. Don’t recognise the name? We’re sure you’ll recognise the face.

Chauhan has been minding the door at chindian restaurant and beer spot 4S, smiling at passersby, and lighting cigarettes in Def Col for the past 15 years. His smile, the very definition of beaming, greets us once again as we settle in to have a chat with him. He doesn’t seem surprised, though a little shy, that we would want to interview him, mentioning his gun-lighter has been featured in many magazines before {consistent mentions of his gun as the real star, we soon found, are just another sign of his humility}.

It can be hard sustaining a long conversation with Chauhan without interruptions, as he will consistently call out greetings to people and will never, ever let someone open the door to 4S without his help and a friendly call.

Once we get into the flow of things, we find out he’s from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, which he left for Delhi 25 years ago. As a youth he was a farmer but moved to the city to better care for his wife and three sons {eldest of whom is working and studying, no doubt under his stern guidance}.

We try hard to squeeze some personal opinions out of him but he has little interest in things like sports, music or politics.

With Chauhan it soon becomes obvious he values two things above all others: Hard work and a loving attitude. For the first, he consistently repeats that in this world, security {for your home, for your family, for your finances} is everything. He pauses to open the door for a group of young men. He has never had time for personal interests {working from 11am to 1am} does that to you, and as such has passed on his focus and drive to his sons {or so, he says with a chuckle, he hopes.}

The second, and perhaps more pertinent, thing he values is love. A firm believer in what you give is what you get back, Chauhan explains the importance of a good attitude.

“You know”, he begins, “Everyone’s mind is different. Everyone thinks differently. Some happy, some filled with tension. If they– Hello ma’am, hello sir! May I light cigarette for you?”

He pauses, lights a couple’s cigarettes, and continues.

“If they {people} are angry you should go out of your way to help them. One day you may be angry too, no? Always, always talk with love. There is no use fighting with others.”

Chauhan is the living embodiment of this attitude, and not a person goes by who is not touched by his light-hearted hellos. We see this sweet, friendly, smiling man– with no interest in personal entertainment, and a hard working, people loving attitude – and we wonder how he hasn’t been corrupted in Delhi after all these years.

“You know, sir”, he says, breaking my train of thought. “When I came to Delhi, there were two things I never thought I could own- a mobile and a colour TV.. Now? I have both.”

We jump at the opportunity to ask him another question. So do you have a favourite thing? He shakes his head slowly, but his eyes travel to a red Bullet motorcycle across the street. After much poking and prodding, he admits to having bought it recently, second-hand, and that he has always wanted a Bullet, even before he got married.

His smile reaches from ear to ear, and lights up his eyes: “It is my favourite thing.” Finally! We get a personal detail.

Chauhan has nothing but good things to say about the clientele at 4S. He’s watched generations of college students drink themselves into a stupor, but he never once mentioned anything even when we asked him to give us some gory details, some crazy anecdotes.

“I was here when Moets, Sagar, Aka Saka, and 4S were the only four restaurants in all of Def Col”, he says. Looking across the market we wonder how much it all must have changed. “Shops come, shops go”, he succinctly sums up the transient nature of a marketplace.

He’s right. Shops come, and shops go, but as long as Defence Colony has 4S, we will be lucky enough to have Rajinder Chauhan.