Every afternoon between 12.30 pm and 4 pm, a white Alto car is parked at a junction of Talkatora stadium in Delhi. Karan and Amrita step out and open the dicky, wear their aprons and open shiny steel containers. The containers carrying piping hot rajma, chole, kadhi, rice and chilled buttermilk emit a wonderful aroma.
As the couple get ready to serve, a small crowd gathers, waiting to order their food.
At least 100 customers will be served in a day, some of whom will not be as lucky to taste the delicious food. This repeats every day except Sundays when the duo are closed for business.
But for Karan Kumar and his wife Amrita, this has grown into more than just a rajma business.
A Car Rajma Catering Service
For years, Karan worked as a driver for a member of the parliament. But the COVID-19 pandemic cost him his job.
A Class 12 graduate, Karan never pursued higher studies owing to financial issues. “The poor economic situation did not encourage me to develop any interest in studies as earning money was a priority. In 2015, I married Amrita, whom I met through an acquaintance,” he tells The Better India.
Over the years, Karan changed multiple jobs. “I drew a salary of Rs 14,000 at my last job and was provided with a quarter and other daily essentials,” he says.
But Karan lost his shelter, a source of income and became homeless overnight when the pandemic struck. “The MP demanded we leave on short notice and gave us just a couple of days to vacate the premises. We had nowhere to go,” he says.
Karan says that his family disowned him in 2016 over personal and property disputes, and he could not ask for their help. “My in-laws offered us their place to stay until I found a job. But I could not stay for long as I was uncertain about getting a new job,” he says.
He adds, “However, my father-in-law was kind enough to give us his car to use.”
The couple then spent two long months on the streets of Delhi, living out of a car. “We tried to search for jobs during the day, ate at Bangla Sahib and Rakab Ganj gurudwaras to satiate our hunger. We spent nights in different locations and used public toilets for hygiene,” he says.
Amrita says, “We somehow kept ourselves busy during the day but felt lonely and depressed at night. I spent many nights crying and questioning our fate.”
One evening she realised they could not continue to live like nomads. “We had to do something. I always shared ideas with Karan on taking tuition classes or part-time work for additional income. But working at a politician’s house had its limitations. I suggested we start a food business,” she says.
‘Amrita Ji Ke Rajma Chawal’
It was Amrita who suggested selling chole, rajma, kadhi pakoda and rice. “Karan agreed, and we sold our almirah, a cupboard and other items to raise capital. Some friends and my father contributed a small sum that we used to purchase some groceries and cooking equipment. We took a loan to rent a place at Mandi house in the city for cooking food,” she explains.
Thereafter, the couple woke up at 3.30 am to cook food all by themselves and left home by 10 am and drove to places to sell meals. “We tried multiple places in search of customers. The lockdown restrictions added to our difficulties. But a month later, we started receiving expected customers near Talkatora stadium, and so we decided to make it our base,” she says.
Karan says the couple invested about Rs 1,600 a day, offering a limited menu. “We did not have marketing budgets to promote our venture and christened it ‘Amrita Ji Ke Rajma Chawal’. Our plates are priced between Rs 30 and Rs 50,” he adds.
But there was more self-doubt that came with this venture. “We had no confidence in our business as we had no place for seating, the food was delivered from the car, and customers were apprehensive about our hygiene and safety owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a few days after we started our business, a social media blogger Karan Dua published a story about us on his channel Dil Se Foodie. And that did it for us,” he says.
The video went viral, and the couple started receiving queries and visitors from different parts of Delhi.
“We received plenty of support from social media. Without any marketing budget, it was our best bet to promote the business. The bloggers helped us to a large extent. Slowly, we earned profits of Rs 320 which increased to Rs 450 and Rs 800 a day,” he notes.
Karan says they have many repeat customers along with a host of new faces every day. “Our most popular dish is rajma chawal and kadhi pakoda,” he asserts.
Vasu Parashar, one of the frequenters at their joint, says, “I have tried all the food items and every time the taste is the same. I have also introduced my friends to the couple and requested them to support their business. I hope their business improves and enables them to live a comfortable life.”
‘This Is A Partnership’
Karan, however, says their business still faces turbulent times. “The rajma sales dropped when the Omicron variant cropped up. Our revenue stands at Rs 60,000 a month with minimal profits. But we have introduced a new delicacy — Shahi Paneer and plan to roll out a thali soon,” he says.
The couple hopes to receive more support from customers to revive their sales. “We need encouragement from our customers, which will help us with valuable feedback to improve and grow our business. Amrita and I have no previous experience of running a business, and there is much to learn. It would be appreciated if people guide us,” he says.
Challenges aside, Karan is satisfied with his current situation. “We no longer depend on others for our income and have our business for financial security. We hope to expand our business, buy more equipment and open a shop, where customers can sit and eat comfortably,” he says.
Karan feels proud to have his wife alongside the troubled times. “Amrita did not abandon me but supported me at every step. The crisis has made our bond stronger than ever,” he adds.
Amrita humbly says, “It is a partnership, and we both need each other. We need to work as a team to succeed together.”
To support Karan and Amrita, contact them on 9625479813.
Edited by Yoshita Rao