LIC Building, Hazratganj
Some time back, a radio channel organized a ‘samosa challenge.’ The field comprised 268 competitors. The people of Lucknow had propelled the Sehgal brothers (Sanjay and Ashok), who sell samosas and tea in the compound of the LIC Building, to a spot among the las ten. The brothers could scarcely believe that their miniscule stand could compete with the formidable outlets remaining in the fray. The winner was to be announced the next day. Sanjay positioned himself near the radio from early morning, following the spiel of the radio jockeys. Soon enough, the channel erupted with congratulations to the Sehgal brothers. Their little stall was mobbed, and the police had to be called for crowd control. Sanjay recalls the sarcasm of a police officer: “…there was a time when we used to be assigned to the security detail of political leaders and film stars. Now we are reduced to providing security for this samosa vendor!” Ever since, this small stall has become a pilgrimage for Lucknow foodies hankering for the taste of their samosas with the ineluctable flavour of ‘heeng’ (asafoetida).
The Sehgal brothers are from from Tilhar, district Shahjahanpur. Their parents died young. Fourteen-year-old Sanjay and his kid brother, a mere seven years came to Lucknow to continue their schooling. They would be at a loose end after school hours by 1 PM. Soon enough, the enterprising kids started a stall selling cold drinks and ice in the Chaupatiyan square. Munshi Lal of Tilhar used to have his sweet shop right opposite. He knew the kids and their family from long back. Often, he would leave them in charge of his shop when he took a break for lunch or other business. The kids learnt all about samosas in their early years. Then Sanjay got a job with the Insurance Company. Ashok would often drop by his brother’s office after school. The two realized that an outlet selling tea and snacks would do well here. In September 1999, the two brothers started their tiny stand. Diligently sourcing raw material for the samosa, they settled for the best heeng they could get from Bareilly’s Lala Gattumal of Alamgir Ganj (this is the source of their supply even today). Ashok persuaded three other young men from Tilhar to join the enterprise. The first day, they set up shop with 5 litres of milk for tea and 2 Kg flour for samosas. Everything sold out in a trice. Today, “someone who comes here for a samosa ends up eating two and taking away four!”