In Focus

These Warriors fight the Virus and Hunger too

The war seems upon us and the enemy is in no mood to relent. Even as most of us wear masks, stay indoors and safe, there are a few who brave the storm and risk all for us, at these times. The Draft Colaba in its ‘Unsung Warriors’ series goes beyond the usual Corona Warriors to pays a tribute to the few unsung others, each fighting personal battles and winning…all for us.
Here goes the second of the series Unsung Warriors: The Food Providers!

Food is the most essential of all needs.  And, for most living away from home and working in the Mumbai, it’s home-made food cooked by home-makers that matters the most. After all, it’s clean, healthy and economical too. Little wonder then that most of Colaba’s students, workers even locals travelling far to work make a beeline for Koliwada where a few home-makers sell fresh food right outside their homes for customers to take-away and consume at their homes, offices or workplaces.

So, when the national lockdown was announced by PM Modi and restaurants forced to shut business, locals were left with little option but cook at home. If it weren’t for Koliwada’s home-makers, thousands of migrant workers and students - living in basic small rooms with no scope to cook - would have to grapple with hunger. Those days, the fear of hunger was real and palpable.

True to their wont, Koliwada’s residents worked around the lockdown and provided basic amenities like eggs, bread and snacks to ‘outsiders’ while keeping the mandatory ‘safe distance’ and wearing masks throughout. And, from the times of containment where the entire Nagari was locked down exclusively for residents, they’ve come a long way. Today, the opening up has led to a mushrooming of food providers – all home-makers with their husbands pitching in – cooking the choicest of wares – safe and economical to those without kitchens and viable food options.

"When I first saw more stalls opening up in the neighbourhood, I almost jumped with joy. Now, I could buy myself a decent breakfast before rushing to work," says Azad Nagari resident Shilpa Sawant working as an administrative staff at a hospital at Bombay Central. "I have to work long hours at the hospital which got longer during the lockdown. So, there is no time for me to even make tea at home," she maintains.

Among the newer food providers, home-maker Lata Koli is, by far, hugely talented. Besides the fact that her cooking prowess is endorsed by all even her own competitors, it’s the rush at her place that speaks volumes of her cuisine. “It’s through word of mouth that my customer base has increased over the days,” she says.

"Sitting idle at home was not agreeing with me. I would give tuition to local school children and later stopped to focus on my son's and daughter's education. Now that they’ve grown up, I found myself having a lot of time at hand, especially during the lockdown. So I decided to start this mini-venture of making and selling dosas during the day and personally improvised chicken-based snacks during the evenings," says an excited Lata.

ALL SET: Lata Koli makes all sorts of Dosas, helped by husband Nischal, at their home in Koliwada 
"Nischal Koli, my husband, spending more time at home during the lockdown makes it a point to help me with the cutting and chopping. It's a great way for us to get some money rolling," she maintains.

In Koliwada, there are, now, a multitude of options for residents, passers-by and the general working population. Locals are preparing and selling dosas, idli, wada, sambhar, chutney, puri-bhaji, keema pav, sandwich, ‘Frankie’, etc.

Pooja Koli and sister-in-law Pournima Koli started making and selling idli, wada with sambhar and chutney from mid-June. Pooja had just started working at an event management company when the lockdown was announced and she was left with no option but to “stay back at home.” Pournima’s sixty-year-old mother helps her with the preparations the previous night and then, again, in the mornings.

TWO GOOD: Pooja Koli (left) and Pournima at their makeshift food takeaway stall
Pooja's daughters Kavya and Aarya play around their stall if not fight over their mother's mobile. Their playful antics are a draw for customers visiting the stall. Pooja says, "This food business is a great way to kill boredom and generate some income alongside."

The unassuming Vada Pav is synonymous with Mumbai. And, Colaba, Mumbai's oldest precinct, isn’t any different. So, once the lockdown opened out, it had to be Shivaji Sanap’s stall to start business. After all, Ganesh Galli-resident Shivaji has been selling Vada Pav in Colaba Market for over 33 years now.

"After the lockdown, I was itching to start business again. So many people were inquiring about it. After all, for the poor, it’s the Vada Pav that is filling, healthy and affordable. Its importance is realised the most following the lockdown that has affected thousands financially," says Shivaji.

VADA TEAM: Shivaji Sanap (right) selling Vada Pav with son Pritam
Shivaji's son Pritam helps his father in preparing Vada Pav and at the stall. The father-son duo resumed business in the second week of June. "During the lockdown, we realised there are some other essential items that are not easily available. So, we started selling bottled water, cold drinks, etc. too along with Vada Pav," offered Pritam.

Colaba's demographic diversity is evident from the variety of food items that were made available, even during the lockdown. Yogesh Koli prepares and sells Keema Pav during the day and sandwiches in the evenings. "I was the first in the area to start a stall after the lockdown was imposed. The entire Nagari was completely sealed because of the high number of Corona Positive cases that were rising by the day. I set up the stall right at the middle of the containment zone and started with selling bread and eggs," he says.

BREAD STORIES: Yogesh Koli and wife Shweta sell bread, eggs and more 
Yogesh worked at a travel agency where now "out of fourteen, only three staff work,” owing to a slump in the industry. Now, his “small enterprise helps run the family." Yogesh's wife Shweta worked as a computer operator at a store in Colaba Market before the lockdown was announced. "It was during Ramzan, when people would be looking desperately for something as basic as even bread, that we decided to start selling bread and eggs. Then, there was a demand and it helped us make a living even during the lockdown."

"We start the day at 6.30 in the morning selling Keema Pav, bread, eggs, etc. And, in the evening we make different sandwiches that are in high demand in the area. Our new venture has given us a new identity also," says Shweta.

The Food Providers of Koliwada have braved the Coronavirus situation to fend for themselves and provide for those venturing out to work despite the threat. Their voyage is no less brave than a doctor’s in these times. Providing food at one’s doorstep to keep another alive is as risky a proposition as treating one to stay alive.

(Disclaimer: The Draft Colaba does not endorse the authenticity or claims of the food providers featured in the story that aims to capture the essence of human enterprise. The Draft Colaba does not support or endorse any unlicensed activity, civic offences, violations of local health authorities and FSSAI that may be required by law. Readers are requested to perform their own checks while ascertaining the validity of claims made)

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