“Jab tak hai jaan, karte rahe kaam!”
You cannot help but agree with 65-year-old Dalbir Kaur says these words with a beautiful smile.
Famous as the ‘Parathe wali Aunty’ who runs a dhaba at the Milan Cinema Road in Delhi’s Karampura area, Kaur opens the tiny establishment at 11 AM, and only leaves by midnight.
“They (the Municipal Corporation of Delhi) have pulled off my stall from here so many times, but I come back again shamelessly. What should I do? I will fall sick if I don’t work.”
The Journey from Gurdaspur to New Delhi
Dalbir was born in Gurdaspur’s Athwal village. Her father was a mason and the sole breadwinner of the family of 11—his wife, parents and 7 children. Getting just two meals a day was difficult, so there was no question of sending the kids to school. Dalbir had also never been to a school. She started doing odd jobs early on in her life to support the family.
“We had 3-4 buffaloes. I would graze them and sell their milk to support the family,” says Dalbir while cooking a paratha and talking to The Better India.
She moved to Delhi in 1974 after her wedding. Her husband was a carpenter, and the duo was part of a joint family. Here too, she took up odd jobs like sewing clothes to add to the family income.
Time passed by. Dalbir’s children grew up and got busy living their own lives. It was time for her to sit back and relax, but she couldn’t!
“What would I do at home? At this age one either holds the bed or the bed holds them. I did not want to do either,” she laughs.
How did the idea of starting a dhaba occur to her?
“I would visit my parents in Punjab once a year. While travelling by train or bus, I realised that one could not eat good food while travelling. The food available in restaurants en route was incredibly expensive, and commuters were forced to have it as there was no other choice. I love to cook and thought I should help such people. Delhi has so many students who stay away from home. I thought someone should cook for them too,” she mentions.
This thought kept swirling in Dalbir’s mind, but it turned into something concrete after one of her daughters got a divorce and moved back home.
“The entire responsibility of my daughter and granddaughter fell on me. I didn’t have much, but also knew that I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone. So, I decided to earn money while following my passion,” she says.
Dalbir opened a dhaba at the corner of Milan Cinema Road, named ‘Punjabi Paratha Corner’ in 2016. However, the signboard was taken away by the MCD and Dalbir was asked to leave that place. She then took a rented shop and started her dhaba there. But as luck would have it, the owner of the shop soon wanted it back, and she was asked to leave that place too.
But Dalbir refused to give up. She returned to the original spot, opened the dhaba without a name board and has been successfully running it ever since.
Love is the secret recipe!
Dalbir serves about 150 customers everyday, and supervises the running of the dhaba with great care.
“I cut the vegetables myself and ensure that they are cooked in a hygienic manner. This place might not be very fancy, but we work hard and ensure that customers are served fresh and wholesome food,” she asserts.
The meal that Dalbir serves for Rs 70 includes 2 sabzis, dal, papad, pickle, raita and 4 parathas. She sells her famous paratha for Rs 40.
“It was Rs 30 before. My customers insisted that I make it 40 because of inflation. I know everything has become expensive, but it’s expensive for the customers also isn’t it? Why should I trouble them more? The money I make is enough for my family and I to eat three square meals in a day and save a little too. What else should I wish for?” says this lady with a golden heart.
Although Dalbir serves only fresh seasonal vegetables with a different menu every day, the most popular item on her menu is the paratha, which is made in a kadhai.
And there’s a story behind that too.
“I remember that day very well. There were several hungry guests at home, and I thought of making parathas for everyone, but only had one tawa. So, I used my kadhai to make them, and they were a hit. I realised that making parathas in a kadhai creates less smoke and the paratha is also cooked consistently all over. So, I had to include kadhai parathas in the dhaba’s menu! They are the reason why I am known as ‘Parathe wali aunty,’ she laughs.
Two years ago, Dalbir’s husband suffered a stroke and was paralysed. “It was a major setback, but I returned to the dhaba soon. I cannot stay at home for too long; I need to work. It makes me feel better,” she concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)