Sanjay Bhatia, a resident of Tilak Nagar in Delhi, like many others, lost his sole source of income during the pandemic. Not having anything to do for almost six months pushed him into a state of depression. However, what he did next is nothing short of inspirational.
“Until March 2020 I had a steady job, was happy, and doing reasonably well. I had managed to marry off my eldest daughter, and was taking care of the education of the younger two and running my household as well,” Sanjay tells The Better India. When the lockdown was announced, the restaurant where Sanjay was employed as a chef closed down and the owner decided to keep it shut since it had stopped being viable to run the establishment.
He says, “We catered to many of the college students in the Greater Noida area. Once the lockdown was announced, colleges shut, and students made their way to their own homes and that impacted our business a lot.”
‘Tiding over a difficult period’
“The period from March to September were harrowing, to say the least,” says Sanjay. He mentions how he felt defeated and almost worthless since he was unable to find any job and bring home a salary. When asked how he managed to tide over that period, he says, “With a lot of difficulty. There was a well-wisher who helped me financially and that took some of the burden off me.”
It was at the insistence of his mother, wife, and daughter that he managed to find something to do once again. He says, “They were constantly supporting and encouraging me to start something on my own. They knew I was a good cook and in their own way kept urging me to utilise that talent.” People around him did come forward to help, Sanjay also mentions how the landlord agreed to take a lesser amount as rent until he could re-establish himself.
“There are good people around, all we have to do is try and find them,” he says. From time to time Sanjeev also managed to find some home catering jobs, which kept him going.
Dahi bhalla to the rescue
Armed with the encouragement from the women in his life, and a desire to start earning again, on 3 September 2020, Sanjay launched his own chaat stall for a rent of Rs 8,000 per month. “It took me close to Rs 30,000 to set it all up, which I did not have. I had to borrow it,” he says. At the stall, one can get dahi bhalla, bhalla papdi chaat, tawa bread, stuffed tikki for Rs 60 a plate and vegetarian burgers for Rs 40.
As of now, Sanjay makes between Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 a month and says that slowly by word-of-mouth, people are seeking out his stall and coming there. He is helped by his wife, Rajni Bhatai, who also comes to the stall everyday once the work at home is done. “What I can assure you is of quality and taste – those are two things I do not compromise on,” he says.
Sanjay sets up his stall at noon everyday and says that by 11 am every morning he is at the stall getting things ready for the day. He and his wife are usually at the stall until 9.30 p.m. every night. “On some days, I manage to sell all the food and then there are days when I am unable to make much of a sale. It’s a struggle but I am so glad to have a job that provides me with an income,” he says.
Sarabjeet Singh, a food blogger who discovered this food stall first says, “What I found heartening about this story was how Sanjay picked himself up and decided to work on something.”
“The couple is extremely hardworking and having spent a few hours with them I can say that with certainty.”
Stories like this instill hope that there’s almost always a way out of sticky situations. You just need to be persistent.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)