“Sab acha hi hoga” (everything will be fine) is what Sharda Chouragade from Nagpur tells herself every time she faces a difficult situation.
Whether it was walking out of an abusive marriage, coping with her mother’s death, going hungry for days at an end, or starting a dosa stall, this feisty woman always tried her best to stay optimistic.
Fondly known as ‘Dosa Ajji’ (grandmother), Sharda started her dosa (and idli) stall in 2004 to sustain her family. However, to everyone’s surprise, she decided to sell the food for a really low price (Rs 2) when she started out. When I ask her about that, she smiles.
“There have been days when my son and I couldn’t even afford a single meal and I know what starvation does to your mind and body. I didn’t have any support for the longest time, but once I was in a fairly better position I wanted to try and help others in the hope that it could make a difference. Besides, I started the stall to serve fresh and hot dosas to school children and labourers, and had to ensure that it was affordable for them,” says Sharda tells The Better India.
This is probably an important reason why Sharda has a loyal clientele that frequents her stall, which is located opposite to the Shri DD Nagar school in the city. Over the years, as other stalls in the city raised their prices due to inflation, Sharda also followed suit but again, it was bare minimum. A couple of years ago, she started selling two dosas and four idlis at Rs 10.
While she confesses that the dirt cheap prices take a toll on her monthly earnings, she is quick to state that she never compromises on the quality of the food.
“I get around 40 customers daily and I earn up to Rs 10,000 every month. Most of this income is spent on purchasing the ingredients for the stall and vegetables for the house. But it does not matter if I get profits or not. At the end of the day, seeing customers satiate their hunger happily at my stall is enough and that’s my reward,” she says.
Although many people have told her to increase the rates, she refuses each time.
“Sometimes we cannot understand her passion cum stubbornness to keep the prices low. But every time I visit her stall, the vibe is always so positive. So seeing that, I try not to convince her. She is really a lady with nerves of steel and a very kind heart,” Geeta, Sharda’s daughter-in-law tells The Better India.
Sharda excitedly recalls one of her most cherished memories at the stall when a frequent visitor surprised her with a banner for the stall.
“She was a college student and would often hang out with her friends at my stall. One day out of nowhere, she got a huge banner for my stall and told me this would attract more customers. The banner did help people recognise my food stall. It is very rare to find kind people like her these days.”
“A Moment of Courage Was All I Needed”
Given her difficult past, Sharda’s serenity and optimism is truly incredible. Years ago, she was married to a man who would physically abuse her, and she even though she wanted out, everyone around her tried to convince her that it was a bad idea.
“He would get drunk, hit me with wooden sticks and humiliate me for no fault of mine. I traded my self respect in return to save my marriage. For months I questioned myself and put myself through undeserved torture. For nearly seven months of my pregnancy, I had no medicine or hospital visits. My health was deteriorating but he did not stop hitting me. One day, I gathered courage for my unborn kid and me and walked out of the house. I came back to my parents’ house and started living on my own terms,” she recollects with a heavy voice.
She knew that living alone and being a single mother would not be easy, but it would be far better than the life — and person — she had left behind. From selling vegetables to working as domestic help, Sharda took up odd jobs to educate her son.
Finally, when she earned enough, she opened a stall and started yet another chapter of her life. Her son is married and has a 2-year-old kid.
“I hit rock bottom when I was in my early twenties, so somewhere I knew nothing could be more terrible than this. Ending my marriage was very liberating, and now I can face any challenge that comes my way. That’s the thing about being content in life… all you need is a moment of confidence and courage to turn around your life,” she adds.
The last six months have been tough on her and she has barely made any money since March, but Sharda has soldiered on with whatever little savings she had accumulated. She ends the conversation saying that this situation is but a minor bump, and things will get better. They always do.
If you wish to help Sharda, here are the details:
Name: Sharda Chouragade
Bank Name: Punjab National Bank, Nagpur
Bank Account No: 0353000109213836
IFSC Code: PUNB0035300
All images have been sourced from RJ Akki
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)