Monday, November 10, 2008


Eight years back, he boarded a train to Mumbai, and like so many other thirteen year olds, took up a job as a full-time ‘boy’ in someone’s house. He started off sweeping and mopping floors, washing dishes, washing and ironing clothes, and taking care of the children, but pretty soon graduated to cooking food and and managing a ‘chutta bai’. When I first met him about a year back, he was the ‘housekeeper’ of the family he worked for, and handled things like paying electricity bills, and making sure the kids did their homework on time and wore the correct uniforms to school. The people he worked for treated him well, all the kids in the apartment complex he worked in adored him, and random people called him when they needed help with changing the gas cylinder. Most people in his position would have been quite content with that, but he wanted more, much more. After a hectic day chasing after twin boys, he trained as a cameraman at night, and took lessons in fancy cooking whenever his schedule permitted.
A few months back, he quit his full-time job and started working as a freelance cook. He was super-efficient and took less than an hour per house. While the other cooks struggled to work in three or four houses, he took on eight houses, and also managed to spend four hours a day working in a photo-studio. He was able to undercut the other cooks, and got more houses than even he could handle. For a couple of months, he struggled to manage so many houses – his attendance took a beating and he started losing houses. That must have forced him to do a rethink, and much better than most MBAs, he came up with an audacious business plan.
While he is losing business, and is struggling to cope with the houses that he does have, instead of cutting back, he’s chosen to expand. He has employed two local ladies to work for him, and is getting three boys from his village to join him too. He’s marketed his household cooking services in most of the major Mumbai suburbs, and has in less than seven days signed up 25 new households. His employees would be cooking in those houses, and one boy is being kept as a reserve to cook in whichever house the normal crew is not able to service on a given day.
If that is not ambitious enough, he has greater plans. He’s applied for a loan to buy the implements to set up a proper kitchen, to start a catering service. Cost estimates, profit margins, a marketing plan, he has it all.
What about his photography business, I asked. That too, he told me, but not now. He’s open to commissions for weddings and other appointments, but is essentially going to concentrate on setting up his catering business for the next few months. Once it is able to work without too much intervention from his side, he has plans for setting up a photography business too.
The White Tiger had to murder his employer before he could become an entrepreneur. My cook proves that you can dream big and aspire to live the dream even without that. Enterprise and a vision is what it really takes to get ahead.

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