Out of the many things India is known for, our food remains unbeatable at the top spot. Our food is known for its wide variety, aroma, spices, and even its medicinal properties; but it is our remarkable hospitality that makes it irresistible. The magic is in the service. I distinctly remember being told by my mother once that while the food fills the stomach, service fills the heart. Food is a legacy in India; one that is passed over many generations. The largest part of this legacy is the love of feeding people. No wonder, you never walk out of any Indian home without having your belly full! Food is also a huge business in India. However, no matter how commercial it becomes, the legacy will always be ingrained in our culture, habits, and traditions.
We’ve grown up listening to the famous Ramayan episode of Shabri, an old poor village woman, tasting each and every berry herself first so that she could serve only the sweetest of them of Lord Ram and Lakshman. So pure was her service and devotion that even the Lord couldn’t resist her half-eaten berries. Kamalathal, an 82-year-old woman from Vadivelampalayam, Coimbatore has retained the same devotion and purity in her service and food, even today.
Being raised in a joint family, she was accustomed to cooking food for a large group of people since childhood. Gradually, she became passionate about cooking, especially feeding people. This continued after her marriage, children, and their marriage too. 30 years ago, she had an epiphany that a lot of labourers who sustain on daily wages come from nearby villages to work in her village. Most of them cannot afford meals outside, and would often stay hungry for the entire day. She decided to utilize her passion for their service. Since then, every day she makes hot-steamed idlis and sells it for no more than Re. 1, even today in 2019. In fact, 10 years ago, the price was 0.50 paise. Can you imagine getting anything in this world for Re.1? Well, you do get idlis full of love!
At 82, she wakes up at 5 am every day to start making the idlis. She has no additional help, except for her daughter in law, Ms P. Aarthi. She believes in doing everything by herself and makes sure that fresh idlis are served every day to people. Customers start coming by 7 am, and her kitchen runs till afternoon, serving about 1000 idlis every day! After winding up the daily chores, every evening she manually grinds all the ingredients for 4 hours to make the fresh idli batter and chutney for the next day, in a traditional grinding stone! She did not even own a stove, let alone an LPG connection. She cooked on firewood for 30 years, until Mahindra Group of Companies Chairman, Mr Anand Mahindra offered to help her with an LPG connection earlier this year.
When asked why she cooked on firewood in this day and age, her nonchalant reply was, “I cook with wood because I do not know how to use a stove.”
After Mr Mahindra shed light on her story on social media, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd offered her a free LPG connection.
She barely makes any profit from her service. However, she does not plan to increase the price of her idlis beyond Re.1 for one simple reason. She says,
Let a person spending Rs 10, Rs 25, or Re 1, all have food!
I am marvelled at her strength to do all the chores and cooking for so many people daily, that too in the traditional manner, every day without any help. It is only the satisfaction of feeding people nutritious food, who would otherwise remain on an empty stomach, keeps her going. She is the epitome of women empowerment to me. A woman who does not complain about the lack of facilities. A woman who nurtures her passion even at 82! A woman who has a big heart to put the needs of others before her, and empower them with love. A woman who treats even the poorest of the poor with respect. We talk about good customer service in the business. I cannot find a better example in the world than Kamalathal who could teach us a thing or two about service, and humanity.
I boldly call her the Shabri of 21st century, who thinks about people first, and is spreading love and the message of humanity through her food.