Eswari Thangavel of 'Praveen Idlies' situated in Erode district, Tamil Nadu took the job of making idlis as the demand for traditionally weaved cotton cloth declined. Eswari's father, Seerangan, used to weave kaadaa, a cloth material.
But when synthetic cloth became popular in the market, the demand for cotton cloth declined. It was difficult for Seerangan to sustain his family with the income from weaving. Thus, he started driving a bullock cart to ferry materials to markets.
To contribute towards the household income, Seerangan's wife Chellammal decided to join in by making and selling idlis. Around forty years back in time, idli was not a common breakfast for people in rural areas.
But now idli has become popular, and people would buy idli as it is an easily digestible food it is available at an affordable price for everyone.
Most of the eateries which sell idlis have employed women who look after the day-to-day activities.
Eswari's Family Business- Praveen Idlies
Eswari Thangavel shares that doctors generally suggest idlis for patients and convalescents. So her mother Chellammal approached a few private hospitals and asked the doctors to try out the idlis prepared by them. The doctors agreed that they could supply idlis after being satisfied with the quality of idlis.
Eswari Thangavel's siblings and her maternal aunt pitched in as the demand for their food increased and they started supplying to more hospitals.
Thangavel moved to her husband's village after marriage. Initially, Thangavel helped her husband with weaving, as he continued the family's traditional livelihood.
Although as there was lack of financial sustenance, Thangavel decided to join her parents' business of making idlis.
Eswari Thangavel's son and daughter-in-law are also involved in the business now. Her son had put up a simple web page which details the variety of idlis they offer.
Gandimathi's Story- Anusuya Idli Shop
Gandhimathi Madheswaran's father became a hawker, buying tapioca from farmers and selling the same from his bullock cart. But they could not earn enough through it to run their household. Dhanapackiam, Gandhimathi Madheswaran's mother also started selling idlis, as her husband's income was not sufficient.
Madheswaran who tried working in Tiruppur then tried running a hosiery shop, finally decided to join the idli shop which his parents-in-law had started. Now, along with his wife Gandhimathi, he runs Anusuya Idli Shop.
As the business was running smoothly with the increase in sales of idlis, the family of Gandhimathi decided on joining her in the eatery business.
Since they were able to sustain themselves through the income earned, women in their immediate and extended families also started idli business.
The Tale Of Mallika's Idli's Shop
Around 25 years ago, Raju worked as a mason. Raju's wife, Mallika started making about 50 idlis every day at home. Most of her customers were women with school-going children. Raju recalls setting the fire going in the wood-burning stove and finishing some of the preparatory works before leaving for work.
At present, her 'Mallika Idli Shop' has grown into a full-fledged business, and she has now rented a shop. Despite making idlis in the traditional way which consumes time as the batter has to be steamed in cloth-lined stands, the women have become adept at working fast.
Mallika Raju also says that they have always used banana leaves to pack idlis. They started the use of banana leaves for selling idlis after the state government banned single-use plastics. They encourage the customers to bring their vessels to collect chutney and sambar so that no waste is generated.
Mallika Raju says that local restaurants buy idlis from them at ₹3 per piece, or ₹6 if they want chutney and sambar. Later, they sell it for ₹8 to ₹10.
During festive season or when political rallies or meetings are conducted, the shops get large orders. Most of the eatery owners receive huge demand to make idlis at the customers' place. Mallika Raju recalls camping at a popular politician's house in Chennai for 10 days, during a family function.
When Mallika started getting bigger orders, Raju quit his work. Raju says that his son Mohan and daughter-in-law Sangeetha also work with them.
Idli Hub- Source Of Income For Many Women
Similarly, Valli, a widow, has been able to sustain herself and her daughters by making idlis.
As so many women have set up their own idli shops, Karungalpalayam is slowly developing as an idli hub. The idlis produced by the shops are sold to wedding caterers and canteens.
The eateries provide a livelihood to many women, and also a means of survival to countless people. The popularity of the idlis prepared by these shops could be easily seen among the public. Mallika Raju recalls that a businessman from Kolkata came to our shop to eat idlis.
The caterers and regular customers come to Karungalapalayam to collect their orders.
Although the demand has come down during the lockdown, their business is continuing. Many organisations also buy a few hundred idlis every day to feed the poor.
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