Tucked away in a sleepy corner at Hill Top Colony in Sainikpuri, Anand Bhawan restaurant is teeming with customers during its rush hours in the morning. While Durga is busy pouring batter on to the hot tawa for an order of Davanagere’s famous Benne dosa, Sirisha is packing idlis inside banana leaves for customers parceling breakfast to their homes. As she dips her spoon into a bowl to take out a generous scoop of ginger chutney, the customer places a steel container on the counter to take back home steaming hot sambar.
“We do not pack any of our food items in plastic. We use banana leaves and then wrap the parcel with a newspaper. If the customers want to parcel home sambar, they need to bring their own steel containers,” Hima Bindu, the owner of Anand Bhawan, says.
Along with Sirisha and Durga, there are Aparna, Satyvathi, Saritha and Ammini, all busy laying tables, making dosas on the live counter and some rolling wheat dough to make fluffy pooris.
A year-and-a-half ago, some of the women were homemakers who were being regularly abused by their alcoholic husbands and had no means to fend for themselves. Some others were about to be given away in early marriages while still few were drop-outs looking for a means to provide for their families. Today, the women together run an eatery which is perhaps the only all-women run eatery in the entire city of Hyderabad.
Hima Bindu (in black) with the other staff
Bringing together the women
Hima Bindu, two years back, had made headlines after she was hired by Ola and became the first female cab driver in Hyderabad. Ananad Bhawan was started by Hima and her husband in March 2018, after she left her job with the cab aggregator a year later. The eatery, which started out as a venture for people with intellectual disabilities, later turned out to be an enterprise for women to earn their own living. And Hima Bindu tells us how.
“I, along with my friends, run a trust called Include, which provides training to people with intellectual disabilities, to equip them to be more self-efficient. Anand Bhawan was initially planned as a coffee shop to provide employment to people with intellectual disabilities, but we soon backtracked realising they needed help in a more closed and protective environment,” Hima says.
But that wasn’t enough reason to dampen their spirits. “My husband and I decided to begin the eatery with our own money and provide employment to women from the lower economic strata. We were working among women in the suburbs too and hence we were familiar with their problems and priorities. It was difficult to convince the families to send them to work, but now, they are no longer dependent on their husbands and are financially independent,” Hima Bindu says.
Hima and her husband travelled across southern states, studying and discovering recipes, before they trained the women to run the eatery. Kadappa karam dosa and Karnataka’s buttery benne dosa are all part of Ananad Bhawan’s menu, dishes discovered during the couple’s food expeditions.
“Our only criteria while recruiting the women was their eagerness to work. We provided them training, from cooking to laying tables, and most importantly we wanted to make them efficient enough to manage the eatery all by themselves, even in our absence,” Hima adds.
Braving the odds
However, it wasn’t easy for the women to run an eatery in a locale that had never before seen women running a small kirana shop, let alone a whole restaurant.
“Most of the neighbours here demotivated us. Many said that women couldn’t work as swiftly as men could. They said that women couldn’t run around fast and cater to customers like men can. But today, after a year-and-a-half, we have found loyal customers, who come here most of the days for a quick grab of breakfast or for our sumptuous mini-meals in the afternoon,” Hima says.
Women at Anand Bhawan do not encourage the use of plastic. Paper bags are neatly stacked in a shelf at the counter, which is used occasionally in order to pack huge orders from customers.
“We have lost a lot of customers because we insist that they bring their own steel containers for packing hot sambar. We have had men standing at the counters and shouting at the women after being denied food since they'd not brought their own containers. It’s for sure an easy way to earn money, but no amount of intimidation has made us compromise our values,” Hima adds.
Located close to the main road, the women at the eatery face more than just ridicule from men. While some jeer and mock at them, Hima says that there are men who stalk the women while travelling to the shop.
“They cannot let their family members or husbands know this, because then they would be asked to stay at homes and look after the children. But whenever there have been unpleasant instances, we haven’t sat quietly and the cops have always rushed to our aid,” Hima adds.
Today, there are around 10 women working at the eatery, all belonging to different age groups. Saritha, one of the employees, is attending a college nearby with the help of a scholarship and also lends a hand at the eatery during her free time. Durga is a mother of three while Sirisha studied till her intermediate, but couldn’t complete her studies as she fell sick during her final exams.
55-year-old Ammini is the chief cook, and receives everyone with a warm smile. Anand Bhawan, unlike other eateries, thus has a very comforting feature to boast about - the women serve food with a smile on their faces which fills not just our stomachs but also our hearts.