The two nation-states born of the Radcliffe Line saw one of the largest and the most brutal migrations in history. Among those who survived the savagery of the new border was the sweetmeat vendor, Giani Gurcharan Singh, who was making his way, with his wife and three children, to Delhi from Lyallpur, now Faisalabad, in Pakistan.
With few resources and even fewer opportunities, Singh started selling handmade sweetmeats out of a streetcart in Old Delhi. Eventually, the profits afforded him a shop in Fatehpuri, Chandni Chowk, in 1956. Singh named the shop Giani-di-Hatti that soon became, and still is, a landmark in the area. “My grandfather used to sell an assortment of sweetmeats but the most famous, I am told, was the rabri-falooda and the mango milkshake. They are still available at our outlets and are made using his recipes,” says Taranjit Singh, the third-generation proprietor of Giani Ice Cream.
The ice cream parlour, which is still popular with patrons out to satiate their post-dinner sugar cravings, was born in the 1970s when Gurcharan began churning fruit-and dry fruit-based ice-creams by hand. As the demand increased, he roped in his eldest son, Gurbachan, then an undergraduate, into the business. “My father joined Giani in the late ’70s. At the time, the demand for our ice-creams was rocketing. That’s when we decided to mechanise production,” says Taranjit, who admits to being enamoured by the Old Delhi shop as a child. What endures in his memory is the “hard work I saw my grandfather put into the business. Be it early mornings or late nights, he would always be there. Self-reliance is also something I learned from him,” he says.
At the turn of the new millennium, Taranjit entered the family business. He set up their Rajouri branch, diversified the menu with sundaes, waffles and gelatos; and, introduced the ‘Kuch Nahi’ sundae — one of the most popular items on their menu. “When I started the branch in Rajouri, I would also be there to manage the outlet. I realised that there is always that one person in a family who, when asked what they want to eat, turns around and says ‘Kuch nahi’. So, we turned it into a sundae. It’s like a sweet punishment for not wanting our ice cream,” says a chuffed Taranjit.
It is perhaps his ingenuity that has led to the rapid expansion of the Giani brand — which is different from Giani’s, an off-shoot that is now owned by Taranjit’s uncle and cousins. With over a hundred outlets across the country, he is now gearing up for a stronger presence in the southern region. As they devise new flavours — cold stone sundaes, low-fat gelatos, diet shakes and ice-cream sodas — Taranjit says, “It’s important for us to stay relevant to the youth, not just with the flavours but even with the pricing.”