At 2 am everyday Akil Shabbir begins his work with two cups of tea. He then cranks up the radio, sprinkles flour on the platform and gets the 63-year-old British oven working. “It’s so quiet in the morning, no traffic, no cluttering noises, feels like meditation when I start mixing the ingredients together,” says Akil.
Akil Shabbir works at the Crown Bakery in Mahim. The bakery was established in 1953 by the Rohingtons who still run it.
He would accompany his father to the bakery when he was six, and became a full time worker at the age of 15. He has been working at the bakery for 14 years now.
“I recall when I was young I would play around and my baba would fear that I would burn myself. I never got burnt. Baking is in my blood,” says Akil.
Akil bakes 70 batches of buns everyday, roughly each batch has 25 buns. He also prepares the batter for 12 different kinds of biscuits, 3 different croissants, 7 different breads. His specialty is almond biscuits and raisin bread.
“After the clock strikes 4.30 am, things start to get crazy in the kitchen. Buns are going in the oven, biscuits coming out, some things have to be kept on the cooling racks, new batter has to be prepared, some things need to be packaged, pastries need to be decorated. While we work like madmen the city sleeps. I find it very funny,” he says.
He also manages the requirements of the bakery. He plans ahead and knows the approximate quantity of ingredients needed. “In case I run out of sugar, or butter, from where will I buy it late in the night?” he says.
The Rohingtons believe that flour makes or breaks the bread. They order their flour from the mills in Gujarat. The wood that fuels the oven also needs to be of premium quality. Mr Rohington says, “While doing baking on a large scale, if you get your basic ingredients right, then you have nothing to worry about.”
Locals who don’t have an oven, drop off their homemade batter in tin containers for Akil to bake them perfectly.
“This work is not easy, it squeezes the life out of you. But this is all I have ever known. Bright side is that I never needed gym like the kids these days do. Baking kept me fit,” says Akil, who suffers from back aches that come with the profession of baking.
“The Crown Bakery will be shut down this December. I don’t know what I will do with my life,” says Akil with a sad smile.