What do you do when your entire family is coerced into uprooting their lives, leaving behind all their assets and settling in a newly formed country that is now supposedly your home? You start small, bank on your skills and work relentlessly till you form a new identity and achieve a stable livelihood. This is exactly how the Parwani family from Hyderabad, Pakistan, established a trusted brand of papad in the aftermath of the Partition.
The Parwanis had a reputation of being one of the best Ayurvedic hakims in the region and in the Sindhi community before their lives were overturned due to an event that was marked by bloodshed and psychological trauma.
Scores of Sindhis settled in Maharashtra’s Ulhasnagar district, which is now known as the epicentre of manufacturing Sindhi papads. However, the Parwanis moved around, living in Jodhpur and Bombay (now Mumbai), before eventually settling in Pune, where Sindhis formed a small ghetto.
While the men of the house opened an essentials store, Sita Parwani, wife of Bherumal, unleashed her culinary skills of papad-making alongside acing the domestic role of being a wife and a mother.
“The intention was to have an additional source of income and never make a full-fledged business from something that was restricted to the domestic sphere. But my mother’s exceptional papad-making skills knew no bounds. It managed to impress not only the locals but also Indians living abroad. Her close-guarded secret recipe laid the foundation of Deepak – The Sindhi Store,” Jaidev, Sita’s youngest son and owner of the brand, tells The Better India.
The brand uses a century-old recipe of papad that was safely passed down from one generation to another. It is so sacred that only two women outside the family know the lentil-flour based recipe that produces an authentic Sindhi flavour. These two employees have been working for the brand for over two decades now. The trust and loyalty between them run so deep that only a virtual handshake was done to guard the recipe forever.
The brand uses raw ingredients like urad dal (black gram), moong (green gram), salt, black pepper, cumin seeds and asafoetida.
“The entire process is handmade which makes the papad thicker than industry standards. It doesn’t stick to the teeth and they can last up to six months,” says Jaidev, without disclosing the process of preparation.
Establishing The Brand
Jaidev was barely a year old when Sita, who has recently passed away, started making papads at home.
For most of us who are working from home, strenuously juggling between washing dishes and meeting deadlines, we can imagine the hectic routine of this mother of seven children.
Cooking for a family of 10, doing household chores without any help and making papads that are consistent in size, quality and taste, was no mean feat.
As per Jaidev’s earliest memories, Sita’s typical day began at 5 am, and she worked at an unthinkable pace to begin papad making by noon.
“She prepared the dough from raw materials sourced from our essentials store, rolled the flatbread into round shapes and finally sun-dried them. Our old house had a huge verandah with ample sunlight during the day. She often clipped the papad onto a jute rope or dried them on a charpoy,” says Jaidev.
Having Sindhi families nearby helped expand the business, and soon the entire Bhawani Peth neighbourhood knew where to source papads from at low rates like Rs 3 for a kilo.
When the orders increased from a kilo to five, Sita roped in local women from underprivileged families. She hired around 15 women on payroll and trained them to make papads and other Sindhi delicacies like vadis and kheecha.
Jaidev and his siblings found the entire process fascinating.
“A group of ladies would roll the papads, giggle and share fascinating stories from their respective families. I would eagerly wait to return from school and join the ladies in preparing the dough. My tiny hands made tiny papads for my family. It did not matter to me if my friends jokingly called me ‘Sindhi Papad’. I was never embarrassed by this inherent love,” Jaidev recalls.
It is perhaps this very passion that would eventually make Jaidev return from the West Indies and reestablish the papad business from ruins in the 1990s.
Taking Papads International
By the late ’70s, the business had expanded across the city, and now Deepak, the eldest son (also, after whom the shop is named), was travelling to Mumbai to sell the papad door-to-door.
From the very beginning, Sita wanted to sell the papads directly to the consumers instead of tying up with a vendor. She believed this would help in building their trust effectively as the consumers could provide feedback directly.
This strategy is followed even today. The consumers receive the papads via courier or they can collect them from their store in Pune.
In an era sans mobile phones and social media, Sita made sure her quality was consistent and that would eventually market her product through word-of-mouth. This helped Sita bag international orders. She would often send the papads either via someone travelling abroad or through the postal service that would take nearly 3 months. But the wait was worth it.
“We used to ship the papads to Spain, Singapore and London. Baba papad milay, they would confirm the delivery by writing us letters.”
Soon, the letters turned into PCO (public call office) calls and the men of the house supported Sita in expanding her venture.
Things sailed smoothly until 1991 when Jaidev lost two of his brothers, who were then handling the business, in an accident. The family also lost their rented house.
Jaidev, who was working abroad, returned to India.
“It was like Partition, we lost everything. Our professional and personal life were in ruins. While we shifted to another house it did not have a courtyard so we started making papads out of our essentials store. But that didn’t help. We had to downsize our operations and in the process, we lost many of our customers,” says Jaidev.
It took nearly five years for Jaidev to relaunch the business. This time they repackaged the brand and introduced other items like pickles, sweets, kheecha, and so on. Jaidev’s newlywed wife, Divya also joined the business. She took care of the process and Jaidev monitored the marketing.
Secret To Success
Whether it is the stiff challenge posed by the manufacturers who mass produce Sindhi-flavoured papads or the global pandemic, papad sales have been impacted. However, Jaidev has managed to keep the venture afloat amidst all kinds of adversities.
“Hitting rock bottom and rising again is in our genes,” says Jaidev, adding, “Over the years we have managed to create a loyal customer network of 500 people across the world. So, we can triumph over any problem. Our timely deliveries, responsive attitude and of course my mother’s ancient secret are the key reasons behind our papad brand. We have not changed our formula even once and that’s why our customers get a sense of familiarity with our papads.”
Delhi-based Manju Vaswani is one such loyal customer. Despite having an array of Sindhi papad shops to choose from in the city and having relatives who make papads in Rajasthan, Manju prefers Deepak papads.
“It has been almost a decade since we started buying from them. I do not mind paying the courier charges if I get to relish the authentic flavour of papads. Their consistency in terms of texture and taste is impressive,” she tells The Better India.
At present, the brand makes up to 70 kilos of papad daily and the price begins from Rs 300 (per kilo). They have added multiple flavours like chilli, garlic, Punjabi special, jeera pepper, almond and pistachios. It is probably one of the few papad brands that offers customised papads as per salt requirements.
Deepak – The Sindhi Store is one of the few local brands that has not accorded to alter its identity even after so many years. In a world where there are food brands infusing preservatives to increase the shelf life of items, here is a brand that still and will always boast of being completely indigenous and natural.
Edited by Yoshita Rao