It has been 30 years since 80-year-old Kamalathal is serving idlis at her eatery for Re 1 each, every day in Vadivelampalayam on the outskirts of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.
For Kamalathal, fondly known as Paatima, age is just a number. She gets up at 5 am and starts her day with prayer. Then, she goes to buy the ingredients for Sambar with her son. Later in the day, she grinds coconuts, salt and other indigents in order to prepare chutney in an aatukallu (traditional hand grinder) all by herself. To keep the food interesting, she changes chutney daily.
Paatima uses the traditional mud stove for cooking idlis even today. Loyal to her work she opens her shop at 6 am to welcome customers and closes at noon depending on the quantity of batter left.
When asked about the number of idlis she steams every day, she said, “I don’t keep a count on them but I use eight kg of rice for the batter”, reported The Hindu.
Paatima uses the traditional stone grinder for making batter and masalas. Raised in a joint family where food had to be prepared for many Paatima says she is used to hard work, “As I was raised in a joint family, cooking for a large number of people was not difficult for me. I wash and soak the ingredients the previous day in a vessel and grind them in the evening. It takes around four hours to grind six kilos of rice and urad dal for the idli batter. I prepare fresh batter every day.”
Coming from a peasant family, Paatima would cook when her family member went on-farm. “Every day, my family members would work on the farm leaving me behind. I was alone, bored and wished to start making idlis for the locals, which is continued till now. Almost all the neighbours are my customers who come daily to have my food along with the people residing in Boluvampatti, Pooluvampatti, Thenkarai, and Mathipalayam who are my regular customers. Belonging from all the age groups my customers are children from the Panchayat Union middle school, who have their breakfast here before heading off to school,” she said.
When asked about the student customers who have been her regular customers for two or three years they said it’s the unique taste of her idlis which attracts the young crowd at her eatery.
One of the customers, A. Rajan from Coimbatore, said he had come for the idlis after watching her video on the Internet. When asked about increasing the price of her idli she said, “Some like to eat the same food at Rs. 10 and some like it in Rs. 25 so let them eat as with my work I am earning punniyam.”
Recently one of her customers asked her to include uzhunthu bonda. So now her menu also has bonda priced at Rs. 2.50 each.
Once her story of selling Idly at a meagre Re 1 surfaced online, several notable people expressed their desire to help the old lady. Indian business tycoon – Anand Mahindra expressed an interest in ‘investing’ in her business by buying her an LPG stove on Twitter.
Recently, the Tamil Nadu government has provided Paatima with an LPG connection. “Salute the spirit and commitment of Kamalathal,” tweeted Union Minister for Petroleum & Natural Gas and Steel Dharmendra Pradhan. “Glad to having helped her through local OMC officers in getting LPG connection.”
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