Currently, India is going through economic slowdown and employment crisis, with the automobile manufacturing sector having hit a rough patch over the waning of the GDP growth rate to 5% in the first quarter of FY20. With the stock market bull making way for a bear market, investors are walking a tightrope. Even at this juncture, few social entrepreneurs including 80-year-old Kamalathal of Tamil Nadu are unaffected by the growth slowdown in the country.
While most of us ponder over what we can buy with 1 rupee in India, Kamalathal is happy selling fluffy, hot, yummy idlis with sambar and chutney for an incredible Rs 1. The octogenarian with boundless enthusiasm has been following the same routine and filling thousands of stomachs at an unbelievable price for the past 30 years, which will put to shame cheaper than the cheapest breakfast joints across India.
Though Kamalathal’s idli for one rupee has become a social media sensation, many of us don’t know what sort of toil and moil she goes through daily to continue her ‘holy’ mission to mitigate the hunger pangs of those who can’t afford a meal at market prices.
Kamalathal wakes up before the sun rises in Vadivelampalayam near Perur, Tamil Nadu, offers her prayers to the almighty, collects fresh vegetables for sambar from the farm and makes chutney using a grinding stone to crush coconut and other ingredients. In the same laborious manner, she prepares the idli batter daily in the evening for the next morning.
On being asked how she manages to continue the arduous job of grinding 6-8 kilos of rice and urad dal daily, she says that having grown up in a joint family, she is used to cooking for a large number of people. Grinding the ingredients for idli batter and cooking for a few hundreds daily is a spiritual pursuit to her.
Unlike the community and temple kitchens with modern cooking equipment, Kamalathal’s idli shop in Vadivelampalayam, which her home doubles up as, is equipped with a firewood stove, a grinding stone, and traditional vessels. At 6 o’clock in the morning, she opens the doors to a lineup of her loyal patrons from the same neighborhood and the neighboring areas.
Kamalathal’s idli was priced 50 paisa per piece ten years ago. One rupee for one piece of idli has remained unchanged for the past few years. She refuses to hike the prices for her satisfaction of serving platefuls of idli to the needy, the poor and the hungry who can’t afford a filling breakfast for Rs. 15-20 anywhere else. Daily wage laborers account for a majority of her customers from the economically backwater class.
“Striving to satisfy the hunger, not filling my coffer with monetary gains is my mission,” Kamalathal says without mincing words. Kamalathal’s idli comes at a very nominal price, so that daily wage laborers can save some bucks for their family.
Her grandchildren do not like her to continue the work, as she needs to take care of her health. But, the tempo of her daily life shows no sign of abatement as she believes that her work keeps her active physically and mentally.
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