Every day at 4 pm sharp, Sanjay Dubey sets up his food stall selling Italian cuisine with an Indian street food twist in Delhi’s Bhagwan Nagar. From then until late at night, he continues to stand and toil on his feet over hot burners and ovens. While this may seem like the story of your earnest middle-class man earning an honest living, the 37-year-old’s story is an inspiring tale of grit and determination.
After losing a leg in an accident, Sanjay felt marred for life and had almost lost all hope. But when life knocked him down, he picked himself up and turned the narrative to suit his terms.
Learning to stand on my own feet
Born and raised in Pratapgarh, in Uttar Pradesh, Sanjay comes from an agricultural family. After facing severe hardships, he decided to migrate to Delhi in search of a better life. It was in 1998 that Sanjay moved to Delhi where he found a job at Container Corporation as a customs clearing agent. Speaking to The Better India, he says, “Things were good, I was working, and earning a monthly salary of about Rs 8000 per month.”
After having worked for a few years in Delhi, when Sanjay was returning home to UP he met with an accident in 2014. “I was riding my bike on a road that did not have any street lights, which is typical of my village. Unfortunately, there was a truck on the opposite side with its headlights not turned on. I assumed it was a smaller vehicle, but before I realised what had happened, the truck had hit me,” he recalls. That accident changed the course of his life forever.
The injuries sustained to one of his legs was so severe that it needed to be amputated. He says, “I was admitted to PGI, Chandigarh, for close to one year but I was still not able to return to my regular job.” When he returned to Delhi a year later and requested his old job back, he was denied it as they cited his accident as a reason. “That was a very difficult phase for me and I knew that I had to do something to get back on my feet,” he says. Left with no means to earn, Sanjay spent the next few months wandering between his brother’s house in Delhi and his own village.
Getting an artificial limb in 2015 helped him a little. He says, “All I knew was that I needed to start earning a livelihood again and it was here that I found help and started learning to cook with the intention of setting up a food stall.” Sanjay went on to learn to make pizzas, pasta, sandwiches, garlic bread for six months. This, he admits, was difficult, given that a lot of the work involved him having to stand for long periods of time. But he was not one to complain.
With the savings from his previous job, Sanjay says that he invested close to Rs 20,000 into setting up a food stall. “In 2016, I set up a pizza and pasta stall in collaboration with my friend. Everything seemed to be running smoothly until 2020 when the pandemic hit and I was left jobless again,” he says.
Service with a smile
Sanjay describes the months during the lockdown period as “agonising” and spent his last penny on starting from scratch. “I didn’t know what hit me when the lockdown began. I spent a few months in Delhi but then had to go back to my village because I ran out of money.”
He overcame his feelings of restlessness about his food venture by formulating a plan to start over once the lockdown ended. “I had to borrow money from family and friends and with an investment of Rs 50,000 I started out once again,” he says. As Sanjay cannot work alone, he requested his uncle to help him with his stall in Delhi.
At Sanjay’s food stall called ‘Pizza Delight’, people come for the much-talked-about pizza and pasta but stay for his sauces. Amampreet Kaur, one of Sanjay’s customers says, “What struck me immediately about Sanjay ji is his dedication. Despite all his troubles, he persists and comes to set up his stall every evening, serving all his customers with a smile.”
One can get a half plate of pasta for Rs 50 and Rs 100 for a full plate, while the cost of pizzas begins at Rs 50 and goes up to Rs 200.
While the business has been slow even after the lockdown was eased, Sanjay, who sets up his stall every day from 4.00 pm to 10.30 pm, still beams with confidence that more people will visit his stall.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)