A deep, repeatedly sounding horn wakes up many of us every morning. The sound curiously penetrates right to our stomachs goading us to wake up and eat!! Food is here…
Suresh, originally from Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu, the 6th biggest town of the state situated on the west bank of the Thamirabarani river, comes to our house in Nagpur every morning. Ash and vermillion ( kum kum) smeared on his forehead which tells us he has had his bath and done puja before embarking on ‘work’. And here most of us are – still in our night dresses.
Suresh hails all the way from Tiruneveli, also known as Nellai one of the most ancient settlements of South India known for its Medical college and its historical temples.
Now migrants from this city are making its name known through the hot breakfast they bring to a large number of Indians – right at their doorstep every morning 6 a.m. onwards. Suresh is from the Thevar or Mukkulathor community: The terms Mukkulathor and Thevar are used synonymously. According to author, R Muthulakshmi, Thevar “literally means celestial beings or divine-natured people” and Mukkulathor means “three clans united together”.
True to the spirit of the community, many Thevar clans decided about three decades ago, that they were going to go out to do some God’s work in the rest of the country.
The first wave of migrants must have descended to Mumbai, Aurangabad or Nagpur: wherever direct trains from ‘Madras’ took them. (Near Nagpur, they are to be found in rail side small towns like Revral, Tharaa and Chacher too, around Kanhan ). They went with open minds on what they would do professionally – agriculture, work in offices, run small business’. But soon they zeroed in on fulfilling the primary need of people, nourishment, i.e. food. That too serving breakfast, which later expanded to brunch and lunch.
They must have seen that while most of Mumbai slept, it was the Udipi restaurants that were up and working, making idlis and ‘Kaffee’. But they depended for business on early risers who would have to get out of the house to access those hot idlis.
“Why not bring them to people’s homes?” Some clever Thevar soul must have thought. So they began making idlis, sambhar and chutney at home, packing them in shining stainless steel containers, loading them on cycles, and going round tooting their trademark horns.
The business took off with supersonic speed! Why not? If you are getting hot ‘nashta’ at home, that too at a throw away price of 5 idlis for Rs. 12/ why would you hesitate? That is the price range that existed till recently – now it has gone up marginally.
Today I got 8 idlis, 4 wadas, sambhar and coconut chutney all for Rs. 80/
Suresh informed me that the entire Thevar community who does this business in Nagpur lives in Gopal Nagar or thereabouts.
Each family makes its own food getting up at 3.30 a.m. each morning. They have huge cookers that can make 40 to 100 idlis at one time. Suresh himself cooks and packs 600 idlis for selling every morning. And over 200 wadas.
From 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. he circles Abhyankar Nagar, Laxmi Nagar and Bajaj Nagar – going through every lane at least 3 times.
At 10 he stations himself near Law College square and sells his stuff in disposable plates till 1 p.m. or till his material gets over.
There are 15 like him he says, supplying breakfast to all of Nagpur all the way till Kalamna!
He left his hometown at the age of 15 and worked as a ‘trainee’ with various Thevar families in different towns like Baroda, Nasik before ‘settling’ in Nagpur and branching out on his own.
Now he no more goes around on a cycle, he has a motorcycle and has created a special box to house his gleaming steel containers.
I remember I had met an ‘uncle’ of his at the Airport some months back at 7 a.m. When we were hard pressed to get even a cup of tea there, he was serving up dosas, batata wada and sambhar wada along with their trade mark idlis.
“Ohh? He? That is Appa, my father in law, not uncle” says Suresh and kicks off his motorbike. Time for the next home…
… Sunita Mudliyar ( Associate Editor )