Imagine if your business, which you struggled to set up, goes bust for no fault of your own. Geeta Jaiswal (43), experienced just this during the pandemic induced lockdown. Forced to start from scratch, she is now back on her feet, and how.
Having moved to Delhi from Allahabad in 2016 with no support or family backing, she slowly and steadily built her homemade tiffin service business in Shalimar Bagh. This was until the lockdown brought the curtains down on it in March 2020.
As the sole breadwinner of the family, supporting her young daughter and mother-in-law, with no support from her husband, sitting at home and brooding was not an option.
Having run a successful homemade tiffin service pre-lockdown, Geeta decided to stick to what she knew best – food. It was the need to earn a living that led Geeta to establishing Mrs Idli, a food stall in Shalimar Bagh on 28 July 2020.
From having a zero income for almost three months, Geeta’s food stall business now earns her almost Rs 4500 each day.
Who is Geeta Jaiswal?
Geeta can perhaps best be described as that fiery mother, who can move mountains to provide for her family. She came to Allahabad in search of a job. Her husband, who continues to live in Allahabad, had long before washed his hands off his family responsibilities.
“When I came to Delhi for the first time I put up a small food stall in which I would make and sell bread pakodas and litti chokha. While it did not make me too much money, it was a start,” she says. She decided to continue cooking and kept trying ways in which she could add to her monthly income.
It was at this time that the idea of starting a home-cooked tiffin service struck her. She says, “The area in which I stay had many UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) aspirants staying as well. Since many of them were away from their families, they were always on the lookout for good home cooked nutritious meals. Seeing potential in that I started my tiffin service.”
Geeta was preparing three meals a day, for almost 65 to 70 students before the pandemic struck. “In March, when the lockdown was implemented, I was jobless almost overnight. All the accommodations around my house started clearing out, and before I realised it, all the aspirants had gone back,” she says.
From March until July 2020, Geeta went through a lot of financial turmoil.
Idli-sambar to the rescue
“I had no choice but to find ways to keep going,” she says and adds, “If I had the support of my husband I could have, like many others, also sat at home during the crucial lockdown months.” Geeta started small and armed with a wooden stool and her food, she set up a shop very close to where she stays.
She decided to start making idlis primarily because she felt that it was one dish that is universally liked, either by children or grown-ups. What started off as a little stall selling only idlis has now graduated to being one where almost 60 plates of idlis are sold each day.
On an average, Geeta is able to make about Rs 4500 each day but she hasn’t been able to save much. She says, “The raw materials I use itself cost me quite a bit and all that is left is used to feed my family of three.” However, not one to complain, she is just happy to have found something that allows her to earn this money.
Innovations and additions
Early on Geeta was only making plain idlis for sale but now she has added a few variations; such as chocolate idli, masala idli, and even a pizza idli. “I have also started making dosa and that has been a very big hit as well,” she says. Along with the idli and dosa, Geeta also serves two kinds of chutneys, one coconut and another vegetable based, along with sambar.
One plate, which consists of two idlis, and the accompaniments costs Rs 30, while a dosa plate costs Rs 60. Geeta sets up her stall at 5.30 p.m. each evening and serves until almost 10.30 p.m. She attributes a lot of her success to her sister, Shoba. She says, “Shoba has stood by me even when my husband turned away. She is with me everyday at the stall to help me tide over each day.”
Despite having had a formal school education, Geeta was unable to find a job that would pay her well. With a smile on her face, she says, “There is no shame in doing any kind of work. I am very grateful I have a means to put food on the plate and provide my daughter with an education that she needs.”
As we near the end of our conversation, I ask Geeta if she would want any help from us or the readers and pat comes the reply, “Come and eat at my stall. I don’t want to take any monetary help from anyone. I am capable of earning a living and providing for my family.”
So much to learn from the determination of women like Geeta.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)