Farmers' daughters from rural Uttar Pradesh embark on their dream of becoming chefs
Stepping out for the first time from their homes in rural Uttar Pradesh, three girls travel more than 1,000 kilometres to study hotel management at the renowned International Institute of Hotel Management Kolkata. It is a journey of hope, ambition and making their dreams come true.
Pankaja Srinivasan 1 Jan 2023 5:56 AM GMT
Mohini Singh, Madhu Kumari and Sarita Yadav long for home-cooked food, but since they cannot have that, they decide to zhush up their lunch with some instant noodles. "Food is very different here and sometimes we crave ghar ka khana," Mohini tells Gaon Connection. But, quickly adds that is just a tiny blimp in their overall happiness.
The three girls, 18-year-olds, have travelled all the way from their villages in Uttar Pradesh to Kolkata, the bustling metropolis and capital of West Bengal. It has been a 1,000 km-journey into the unknown, for them.
"Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would be in Kolkata, doing a course at the IIHM," Madhu who is from Salemabad village in Barabanki district said. IIHM Kolkata — International Institute of Hotel Management — is one of the premiere hospitality institutions in the country.
The girls come from villages in Uttar Pradesh where few from their farmer-families have ventured out so far and for something so different. And least of all young girls of their age.
"We did not even know about this institute. We just assumed we would always remain in our own village, and never get away from the drudgery of chulha chaukha (domestic chores)," Sarita, who comes from Kunaura village, added.
But that changed when Ranveer Brar, celebrity chef and restaurateur, visited their village school, Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya, in Kunaura, in Lucknow district, from where they passed out earlier this year.
Brar spoke to them about the world of cuisine, restaurants and hotel management, and the untold opportunities that world could offer to them.
"I never thought food and cooking could take people places, and was surprised that Chef Brar had become world famous because of food. That got me thinking about the possibility that I could also travel on that path," Mohini, who is also from Salemabad village like Madhu, told Gaon Connection.
For all three of them, an opportunity to move out and on from their villages was a great motivation. And Chef Brar's words caught their imagination.
Founder and Chef Mentor of IIHM, Dr Suborno Bose spoke to Gaon Connection about the institution and how it could be a launching pad for the three girls into the world of professional hoteliering. "Working with the community is built into the DNA of IIHM. And, we are as excited as the girls to see how well they do. We have a huge international network and offer immense possibilities, if they do well," he told Gaon Connection. One of the alumni of IIHM is working in the Buckingham Palace, and 600 students of the institute were flown to Qatar to work at the VIP lounges during the football World Cup.
"Chef Ranveer Brar is a close friend and when he proposed the three girls to be accommodated at the institute, we offered them a full scholarship. And, we are doing all we can to ensure they are comfortable. They have a mentor chef who guides them," Dr Bose said.
Wings of fire
With the support they received from their school, Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya, set up by Dr SB Misra and his wife Nirmala Misra, they could take the first step in their journey.
"It was not easy. First of all, educating girls is not the first priority in rural areas," Dr Misra, a noted geologist who gave up his job in Canada and returned to his village to set up the school, pointed out. "Many of the children are first generation literates and convincing their parents to send them to school was an uphill task," he explained.
Dr Misra said how rural kids were often unable to compete with urban kids because they lacked learning opportunities. And, it was the aim of their school to see to it that they were provided all possible skills that could help them hold their own in the world. He believed that if those opportunities were provided to them, then they could compete with anyone.
It was this conviction that led the founder to set up the Swayam Skill Centre as part of the school. Here the rural children are trained in graphic designing, hospitality, audio-video editing, housekeeping, photography, repairing (mobile and computer), and having courses on computer concepts.
"Providing skills in technology and skills to the rural children helps them develop confidence and be able to compete with their urban counterparts, and hold their own anywhere," Dr Misra said.
Before the three girls left for Kolkata, the school enabled them to do a month-long internship at the Marriott in Lucknow where they got a taste of house-keeping, food and beverage, front office office work and so on, that make up the world of hotels. The kitchen is what excited them and they chose to do the Diploma in Food and Beverage Services at IHM. Now they are honing their skills in making sauces and gravies, pastries and bread.
Dare to Dream
"I am still in disbelief that the girls were allowed to leave home and travel so far," Nirmala Misra, co-founder of Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya, told Gaon Connection.
Nirmala Misra has worked hard since 1972, when the school was set up by her husband, to persuade families to send their girls to school. There was pride in her voice when she said, "More and more girls are studying now and so many of them have completed college."
"A precedent has been set with Mohini, Madhu and Sarita. It has led to people willing to change their mindsets. When the girls call back home and their parents and family see how happy they look and sound, they are reassured. And, today, the ratio of girls to boys at Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya is 60:40," Dr Misra, proudly stated.
Preparing a way for others
"We will work. We will earn our own livelihoods and we will help out our parents. I am fully aware that the relatives and fellow-villagers have begun murmuring about eligible boys and getting us married, but that is not a priority at all for us," Mohini declared firmly. Her older sister got married after her tenth, she added.
The IIHM course is a year long one and they will complete the diploma in November of 2023. Well wishers and benefactors have made their study at Kolkata possible. "Otherwise we would never be able to afford this course. And, we are grateful for that," Mohini said.
The girls share accommodation and keep up each others' spirit, when any one of them gets home sick. They also share a dream. Of doing something meaningful with their lives, and, they are conscious of the fact that all eyes are on them, and if they do well, it may well mean liberation and opportunities for many other girls in their villages.
Before they decided to enrol at IIHM Kolkata, the girls sought the advice of their English teacher, Charu Tandon, who is based in Chandigarh and for the past several years has been teaching the students of Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya, virtually. With her help the girls sent in their CVs to IIHM.
"We talked for hours about the different things they could do once they finished school, and they were struck by the fact that a chef could garner so much fame," Tandon told Gaon Connection. Along with Dr Misra and Nirmala Misra, the English teacher spoke to the families as well and patiently addressed their apprehensions and fears about sending the girls so far away.
"Anytime we miss home or are in a dilemma over something, we call Charu Ma'am," Sarita said. In fact, it was Charu Ma'am who talked them through their initial difficulties in cooking non-vegetarian food in the IHM kitchens.
"We are all from vegetarian households, and have never eaten or even seen fish or meat being cooked. So that was a problem. But, Charu Ma'am reassured us and said that it was part of the course, and if we wanted to be successful in it, we would have to do it, or else declare defeat," Mohini said.
And giving up was not an option for the girls. "We cook everything now. We just think of it as another vegetable," Madhu giggled.
All three have cooked back home, helping their mothers out in the kitchen and that has been a huge advantage. "Our instructors here appreciated how we cook. They approved of our mis-en-place (organising ingredients before actually beginning the cook)," Sarita said. "We already knew how to make gravies, do the tadka, and so on…" she said.
While they are yet to decide what their favourite Bengali food is ("we have not had much opportunity to eat much of it"), the rasagulla gets full marks from them.
The girls have made friends with other young people who have come from Meghalaya, Punjab, Manipur… "Talking to them, I feel like going and visiting their hometowns and learning about their lives," Madhu said.
"I don't want to work in just one place. My dream is to travel around the world," said Mohini. Madhu wants to do the same. And Sarita says, "I want to go to America because I heard the people there are a happy lot," she laughed.
Meanwhile, they brush up on the recipe for focaccia. And, put the water to boil for their Maggi lunch.
To support Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya, visit https://graminschool.org