After spending a grueling 10 hours a day to make pickles, Deeja Satheesan shares what keeps her going to fulfill orders from all over India.
Deeja Satheesan, who hails from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, is wheelchair-bound after contracting polio in her childhood. But, she decided to add some spice to her life with a dash of homemade pickle.
Due to the challenges caused by polio, she couldn’t attend school or play with other students her age and was homeschooled instead. Her only companions were the books her parents bought her. But since childhood, she had a “special love for cooking”, which she learnt from her father.
“My father was an amazing cook. Sitting on my wheelchair, the first dish I cooked was chicken curry when I was 19. Everyone loved the dish and appreciated me for it and my father said I had his talent,” Deeja recalls.
She now sells a variety of pickles and earns a handsome salary of Rs 2 lakh a month. Deeja tells The Better India how her life bears testimony to the changing wheels of fortune.
A Spicy Dish For A Sweeter Life
Until three years ago, Deeja’s father took care of her family — buying clothes, food and other necessities. She says that all things continued smoothly until the sole breadwinner of the house, who worked as a cook in a hotel, passed away.
She shares that her mother also couldn’t go out to earn due to age-related alignments. Deeja was the only one left to help the family.
“The best food I have eaten in my lifetime was prepared by my father. Even though I lost my father, I still remember the taste of the food he fed me, that is the only reason why I chose to try my luck at cooking,” says Deeja.
And soon, she found her love for pickling!
“It was in the year 2017, I decided to start something on my own. One of my family friends, Naushad Khan, motivated me saying I need to do something which I love and what makes me happy. Without giving it a second thought, I chose to start a pickle business, as I had made it before. With the faith of my family and friends I began ‘Nymitra’, which means ‘new friend’, with the help of Naushad,” says Deeja.
Starting with the ingredients available at home, she tried making a lemon pickle. “To prepare the pickles, I had to face so many physical difficulties. Sitting for long on the wheelchair gave me bad back pains everyday. But I was not ready to give up as I had to take care of my family,” she says.
After cooking the pickle, she posted a picture of it on her Facebook page. And the rest was history.
People from different parts of India started ordering from Nymitra and they even shared Deeja’s post.
Within weeks, she received dozens of orders for pickles not only from Kerala, but also from Delhi, Haryana and Punjab.
Making pickles is no picnic
During the initial days of preparing the pickle, Deeja shares that she had to sit on the wheelchair for at least 10 hours without a break. She says, “To get the best pickle, more hard work, time and effort is required.”
“My friend Naushad buys the produce from the market and brings it home. With my sister’s help, I wash the vegetables and meat in water, sitting on my wheelchair and bending towards the ground where the sink is,” she says and adds, “No special arrangements are made for me as my sister and mother have to use the same kitchen. It is difficult to continuously bend and work in one stretch. Apart from this, it is more difficult for me to go to the washroom while preparing the pickles, but somehow I manage everything by the grace of God.”
Some vegetables like lemon and mango are soaked in salt water for almost a week to get the best flavour, after which she begins to prepare them. The other vegetables, including ginger, garlic and chillies will be kept for drying after wash. For non-vegetarian pickles, the preparation has to be completed on the same day that they are purchased. If not, Deeja shares, the pickle gets spoiled easily.
The only preservative used in Nymitra products is vinegar. The vegetable pickle stays for almost four months without getting spoiled and non-vegetarian pickles have a shelf life of upto three months, according to Deeja.
She says, “The final cooking stage of the pickle is also done by me. It is difficult to bend to the ground for long hours but I don’t have another option or to make special arrangements in the kitchen, as I live in a rented house. We keep the gas stove on the ground and I place my wheelchair next to it to prepare the pickle. Every day we make 50 kilos of pickles. My sister helps me in all ways possible but I still have to do the rest.”
Once the preparation is over and the pickles cool down, it is transferred into clean pickle jars that have a tight lid. She says, “I wait at least two hours for the pickling to kick in, but if you’re trying this at home, try to wait for 24 hours for a better flavor. The jars are then moved to the Nymitra shop, which is next to my home.”
“I prepare many pickles including mango, lemon, dates, garlic, nutmeg, papaya, ginger, carrot, bird eye chilli, bitter gourd, gooseberry, fish, beef and prawns. Apart from pickle I also make chutney powder, sambar masala powder, Rasam masala powder and garam masala powder,” adds Deeja.
The 38-year-old adds that the price range of the pickle starts from Rs 50 (for 250 gram) to Rs 800 (for 1 kilogram).
“Through social media I have received many orders till date. It has helped me get a decent monthly income. I got to know more people from different parts of India through my pickle business,” she laughs.
Sharing an interesting fact, Deeja says the “most orders” she received were from army men and NRIs. “Most of the army men and NRIs buy my fish and beef pickle. I become happier when they say that even without curries they enjoy rice with my pickle. They usually buy at least a kilo of pickle from me,” adds Deeja.
If you want to try some of Deeja’s pickles, you may contact her on this number — 7902375735, to place your order.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)