80-year-old Kamalathal’s day starts at around 4 AM in the morning when everybody’s sound asleep at home. She ushers to her kitchen and grinds the Idli batter in the old-style Aattukal or what we call the stone grinder which has to be manually ground to make a batter. She makes a batter that could make about 1000 Idlis a day and makes sure that batter is not used for more than a day.
Mind you, they’re the perfect fluffy, fresh, soft and hot Idlis. Rock Idlis are sold at Rs.50 a plate and this amazing woman sells it at just Re.1 so that even the unaffordable could eat good food. Its 2019 and inflation skyrocketing. People are literally starting to struggle and she is a true saviour for most of them. She is situated in Coimbatore and has a picturesque shop in Vadivelampalayam, a tiny settlement in Coimbatore.
In an interview with The Better India, Kamalathal’s granddaughter talks about this astounding woman’s moving journey. “She was born and brought up in a farming family. Making Idlis was a daily necessity in the household kitchen of the joint family, so she mastered the craft quite early in life. She got married, but her husband deserted her over some fallout. Alone and helpless, the young mother decided to earn her bread through selling Idlis —a skill she was adept in,” adds Aarthi.
Kamalathal has been doing this for the past 30 years. She began selling Idlis at the rate of 50 paise per piece and increased to a rupee only recently. Kamalathal has sternly said that she would never increase the price any further since it helps the daily wage workers and needy people who comprise of her customers.
Till last month, she used a firewood hearth to steam her Idlis in a traditional Idli-maker. However, after her video garnered millions of viewers on social media, Indian Oil and Bharat Petroleum (Coimbatore) supplied her with free gas stoves and cylinders. Now, Kamalathal cooks her Idlis with far more ease.
Starting her selling from 7 AM in the morning, Kamalathal sells up to 800-1000 every day. But, the profit is not much. “If she earns Rs 800 a day, more than half of it goes into stocking her kitchen for the following day’s haul. Whatever paltry amount she manages to save, she gives to her grandchildren. Paati (grandma) will never agree to increase her earnings,” says Aarthi.
Going from Kamalathal of Tamil Nadu to the Kamalathal of Vizag, meet Satyavati, a 65-year-old wonder woman who has been doing the business for around 15 years. She sells four dosas for Rs 10 and idlis at Rs 2 per piece. She owns a tiny, humble shop in Seethampeta near Vishakhapatnam. Satyavati, who is being assisted by her daughter-in-law in the kitchen, initially began selling four Dosas at Rs.5 and only increased the fare two years ago.
“We are managing. We don’t need a lot of money to live in. We are just happy to feed people,” says Satyavati. Satyavati and her family were initially supported financially by her husband. When her husband passed away, he left them with a debt of Rs.11 Lakh and three children.
But, over the past 15 years, she has not only repaid her debt but has also gotten herself a brand new home.
Satyavati’s shop is usually a takeaway shop since space cannot contain sit-outs and tables. But, apart from the delectable Dosas and Idlis, Satyavati sometimes adds Pooris to her evening menu on customer demand. The shop attracts 50 to 70 customers on a daily basis. “I never aimed for hefty profits from my business. This is a rural area; there are so many needy people. I just want to continue feeding them at the least possible cost,” says Satyavati.