Ashwini Shenoy and Ankush Nilesh Shah lead a typical ‘Mumbai life’, or the metro life. They are out of their homes early in the morning and return exhausted most evenings. With hardly any spare time for anything else, it’s amazing they managed to do what they did. For the past couple of weeks, they have been waking up at 4 AM daily and setting up a breakfast stall near the Kandivali station.
Why is this amazing? Read on!
The breakfast stall is their attempt to help their cook, Bhavnaben Nitin Patel, in making her ends meet. In this conversation I had with the couple, they speak about how they started the stall, their will to help Bhavnaben, what motivates them to forget their fatigue and sleep and lend a helping hand in this endeavour.
“It was very tough initially, we were sleepless and overworked but the need to help her kept us going,” says Ashwini. The couple hired Bhavnaben as a cook when their long work hours and commute made cooking at home almost impossible.
“Eating out so much also started taking a toll on our health and we wanted to find a solution to this problem,” informs Ashwini.
It was around this time that the couple started looking for a cook. The only catch, says Ashwini, was that they needed someone to come in as early as 5 AM!
“Finding Bhavnaben was a boon,” says Ankush. “She was willing to come to our place at five in the morning and she started the very next day. Within two days she knew exactly what was where in the kitchen and had taken complete charge.” This is perhaps the story of many cooks and maids working in Mumbai households.
The twist came in when the couple found out about Bhavnaben’s financial condition.
“On 8 September, we were conducting the rituals associated with my mother’s demise, who passed away three months ago. Extra food had to be prepared for it. Bhavnaben, as usual, volunteered to prepare the food at her home, if I could pick it up. When I went there to pick up the food, I saw her husband who is bed-ridden with paralysis. While we knew she had trouble at home, seeing her husband was a sort of an eye-opener,” says Ankush.
Their initial reaction was to offer financial assistance to Bhavnaben, but something Bhavnaben said stayed with them. “Aaj tak life gareebi mein hi nikaali hai. Uss time se abhi tak mene kisike saamne haath nahi falaye. Aaj ye umar pe aake haath felana theek nahi hai. (I have lived a lifetime of poverty. I have never begged for anything, and in this age, I will not start now either).
All Bhavnaben wanted was to find more work. “It would have been easier to accept financial aid from us, but she just wanted more work to earn money and that won our hearts,” smiles Ashwini.
The couple decided to explore ways to help her increase her income, and came up with a plan that a breakfast stall would be the ideal business for Bhavnaben.
Birth of a stall in Mumbai’s Kandivali station
Ashwini and Ankush took it upon themselves to set up a stall to sell Bhavnaben’s food. After a lot of ups and downs on 26 September, a stall was finalised near Mumbai’s Kandivali station. “We didn’t want to waste any more time, and we set up the stall as quickly as possible. We wanted to do this right, and decided that till it stabilises, we would ourselves help her at the stall, and that is why we here from 5.30 AM until about 9.30 AM every morning,” says Ankush.
When asked what Bhavnaben prepares for the stall, Ashwini says, “Poha, Upma, Sabudana khichi, Idli-chutney, and three types of parathas.”
What’s really interesting is how affordable all of this is. You can buy breakfast for just Rs 15. Half a plate of poha or upma is priced at Rs 15, while you can have two pieces of paratha at Rs 30.
When asked how the finances work between the couple and Bhavnaben, Ankush says,
As of now the understanding is that a monthly fixed amount will be paid to Bhavnaben. This is needed now as the stall is only a few weeks old, and we do not want to burden her with the losses. Once we know the pattern and when the profits come in, after deducting the costs we incur, the surplus money will be given to Bhavnaben.
For Bhavnaben, this is the first time someone has willingly gone beyond the usual lip service.
People like Ashwini and Ankush help restore faith in humanity and inspire others to break out of their comfort zones and help others around them. If you find yourself anywhere near Kandivali station in Mumbai, then do stop at Bhavnaben’s food stall!
You can get more details about their stall here.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)