Anuradha Khandelwal, founder of Anu Can Cook, So Can You has been making and selling spices and tea for eight years to sponsor the education of underprivileged children in Bareilly's cantonment area.
“Travelling the world with my husband, who was in the merchant navy at the time, the one thing I always enjoyed was the different food I got to taste,” says 65-year-old Anuradha Khandelwal, a resident of Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. Not one to be satisfied with just having eaten all the scrumptious food, Anuradha decided to recreate the magic for others as well.
Having travelled to more than 20 countries, Anuradha was exposed to various cuisines and flavours.
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From the Fiji Islands to Bangladesh and New Zealand, Anuradha says that each of these trips have left her with a treasure trove of recipes and memories.
Recollecting her younger days when she sailed with her husband, she says, “My husband was with a Japanese company and the chef on-board would whip up wonderful Teriyaki. I remember asking him to teach me every step he followed in making it. I would note it down diligently and almost never looked back at it until my niece got married and asked me how to make different dishes.”
She continues, “Her call requesting a recipe got me thinking. Up until then I hadn’t done anything solely for myself – not to say I regretted things I did.” This prompted Anuradha to create a Facebook page called Anu Can Cook, So Can You, on which she posted two recipes and left it at that. The next day she left for Lucknow oblivious of the activity on her page. “I returned to 200 new followers and I had no idea what they were all doing there,” she says with a chuckle.
Anu Can Cook, So Can You
In 2014, the page’s fan base grew almost overnight to more than 1,000 followers, and shortly after there were more than 6,000 followers on her page. It was then that Anuradha decided to take one more step forward by recreating some of the spice mixes she had learnt during her travelling days. “I must confess I started with a lot of trepidation. I wasn’t sure of who might even buy the spices,” she says.
“With zero marketing or sales background I dived into entrepreneurship armed with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm,” she says. What’s interesting about the spices she sells is what Anuradha chose to do with the money she earned. She has taken it upon herself to fund the education of children in her neighbourhood. “Around 2014, I started with a peanut vendor whose son was keen on studying but his alcoholic father did not have the means to support his education,” she says.
Having started with one child the initiative expanded slowly and Anuradha soon had five children’s education to support. “One of the reasons I continued the spice and food business was to support more children. Eventually, I started putting up various food pop-up shows, curating meals and even writing for various platforms about food and forgotten recipes,” she says.
A Daughter’s Touch
Vaydehi, Anuradha’s daughter and a photographer, stepped into the scene in 2018 and decided to try and put her skills to use and helped the business grow. Vaydehi says, “I was living in Mumbai and every time I visited home I would see mom work on her pop-ups and the spices. I decided to help by clicking pictures and making a little splash on social media platforms.” She adds, “As a traveller myself what I missed when I travelled abroad was the spice in my food, and voila mom was kind enough to put together a spice specifically for the Indian palate. This was a mixture of chilly and garlic and is a great accompaniment for just about anything.”
This was what gave birth to a spice called ‘Hot No. 8’. This is also one amongst the bestsellers. Another product that was inspired by Vaydehi was the tea bags and speaking about it, Vaydehi says “We worked on getting this product made by speaking to tea planters in Assam, getting in touch with people making biodegradable tea bags and after all the research our tea masala was sent to Kolkata, where the tea garden owners started blending our tea mixes and sending us samples.”
After almost two months of extensive tea tasting sessions Vaydehi and Anuradha felt confident of adding the tea bags to their catalogue. “We were particular about the colour and the flavour – it wasn’t just another tea bag but an actual blend of spices and tea leaves,” adds Vaydehi. All the blending and making of the tea bags happens at home in Bareilly and both Anuradha and Vaydehi do it themselves. “There is no machine that we use for any of this,” adds Vaydehi.
Cooking to Educate
In 2016, Anuradha also started hosting food pop-ups at home and began by charging Rs 2,000 for a meal. “While the intention was not to make a profit, it was to enable me to sponsor and support not just their education but also give the children a better life,” says Anuradha. As of today, we are supporting 12 children’s education — the fees, their uniforms, books and sometimes even buying them cycles, clothes etc.
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There are close to 90 boxes, spices and tea bags that are shipped out month-on-month and with this they make a revenue of about Rs 15 lakh annually.
“We introduced some alcohol infused teas like vodka, rum and even Jägermeister and those we found to be instant hits, especially for gifting during the festive season,” she adds.
Soni, mother of seven-year-old Ansh, one of the children being sponsored by this initiative says, “Anu madam and sahab [Anu’s husband] gave me a cycle so that it would be easy for me to drop and pick my son from school. I was in a lot of debt and they helped me get my jewellery back. Last year, during the lockdown, they also gave me a phone so that Ansh could continue his lessons. I have always received so much support from them.” Ansh adds, “I enjoy going to school and learning new things. I would not have been able to if not from them.”
On a concluding note, Anuradha says, “I have had people, including my husband, tell me that they will sponsor the education of the children but this is something that I take pride in doing. I want to be able to do something on my own accord – and continue to support them until I drop. It’s a small contribution but it is completely my effort.”
You can reach out to Anuradha or Vaydehi by clicking on any of these links:
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)