At the end of two weeks, an additional 10 children had joined the study group at the slum. Their laughter rang throughout drawing curious onlookers, including a few adults. Reading and writing was going on at a happy pace, Jayati’s antics drawing children out of their shells. Archana and Rakhee provided able support, getting the books, holding children’s hands while they wrote and on certain days, Archana even brought the children some home-made snacks. They were getting there, slowly!
Meanwhile, Salimbhai’s house had been spruced up (the initial garage idea did not work out as planned!) and was spotlessly clean and ready for the women’s enterprise. A part of each family’s savings was pooled with maami’s being the largest (by virtue of Siva now doing well!) Susila, Shanti, Archana, Kanakavalli, Malati, Sobiya and Nisha, under maami’s supervision set about buying large utensils, gas stoves, ingredients and all the paraphernalia needed for making chutneys, papads, chaklis and other snacks. The first shopkeeper willing to stock them was Ramesh at the nearby Madras Stores. Once the items were packed and dispatched, the women cross their fingers and wait.
A week later, Ramesh informed the women that sales were steady and picking. The biggest hit was the mango pickle and Archana basked in the compliments. Maami thanked all her special Gods but for the women, it was no time to celebrate. There was more to their enterprise than just Madras Stores.
The breakthrough came from the most unexpected of quarters. Riteshbhai, Susilaben’s husband! He was an important person alright – a police constable but hardly paid any notice to the going-ons at the chawl. He never took part in any gathering or even joined the boisterous group of men when they watched cricket together. But Susilaben told maami, “This morning, my normally disinterested husband just turned to me and asked, “Can your mahila mandal cater to 100 people for a police gathering?” and I was shocked out of my wits. So I came running to you, maami!”
It was difficult but achievable. A simple menu was planned. Samosas, dhoklas, chutneys and paav bhaaji. With masala tea. Along with the pre-made chaklis and other snacks, of course.
There were a few hiccups. The local bakery ran out of paav and maama and Joyda had to be dispatched to far-flung places of the city to source them. Both the men admitted that they quite enjoyed the rickety ride on Joyda’s LML Vespa. What they didn’t however say was the thought running through their minds, “What if we didn’t get enough paav?”
So it was ‘all’s well that ends well’ with a group of 100 policemen enjoying the food prepared by the women of the chawl. They could now look at catering as well. The bill was paid on time and a tidy profit made.
On the same evening, maami felt a lump on her breast.