Born and raised in a small Rajasthan village, Udaipur’s Shashikala Sanadhya was happily married to a hotel manager.
In 2001, she says her husband was murdered in a conspiracy for money. “Losing him was painful. I had lost all hope to live, but I had two sons to look after,” she says.
After her husband’s death, she had to withdraw the children from their English medium school and enrol them in a government-run school.
For days, they survived on namak mirch roti (flatbread with chilli and salt). To make ends meet, she washed tourists’ clothes until 2008 when she had a visitor from Ireland.
“He told us that he admires Indian food a lot. And since he was our guest, I thought of offering him the food we had. I did not have sufficient means, so I could only serve him roti sabzi, but he said it was delicious,” she says.
“He was in Udaipur for four to five days and he visited us each day. I would cook various vegetables for him and he relished them all. He even wanted to learn how the food was cooked,” she adds.
This incident gave her the idea to start cooking classes for tourists and that’s how ‘Shashi Cooking Classes’ was born. So far, she has trained at least 1,000 foreigners from Italy, Russia, Ireland, Switzerland, and Poland.
She first teaches her “guests” how to prepare masala chai, then moves on to chutneys of coriander and dried mango, followed by pakoras of paneer, potatoes, and mixed vegetables.
She also teaches them how to cook dal (lentil gravy), chapati, gatte ki sabji (a traditional Rajasthani curry made with chickpea flour sausages), and naan (flatbread).
She also cooks a unique kind of garlic cheese made from hung curd, pepper, and chopped garlic which is applied over hot naan or chapati and served with tomato curry.
After a five-hour class, which is priced at Rs 1,500 per person, the guests relish the cooked meals.
For Shashi, teaching these foreign tourists helps her feel empowered. “I always believed in hard work. I have learnt that there is no point in crying in front of others, empower yourself to go on,” she says.