Gajendra Sahu’s kitchen dreams find wings in his village AdriStory
By Chandrika Patnaik
20 December 2023
Gajendra Sahu, once a migrant worker in Kerala, turned his cooking passion into a successful local venture in his village Adri. This story highlights the impact of timely advice and support for migrant workers, enabling them to transform challenges into opportunities close to home.
Gajendra preparing Chinese food items to serve his customers.
Photograph by Bidyutprava Praharaj
In the small, rustic village of Adri, nestled in Kalahandi’s Thuamul Rampur block, Gajendra Sahu’s aspirations seemed to loom large against the modest backdrop of his everyday life. “Farming and daily wage work… that was all we had,” Gajendra, now 41, recalls. “But I always knew I wanted more – for me, for my family.”
Gajendra’s family’s livelihood was tied to their four-acre farm, where his father and elder brother toiled season after season, cultivating Kharif and Rabi crops. Despite their hard work, the income was barely enough, often leaving them short of cash. The young man yearned for more than the cyclical routine of farming life, “I didn’t want to follow in my father and brother’s footsteps, tied down to the land. I wanted something different for myself”.So, after completing Class 12 from Gopinathpur Private School in 2013, Gajendra left home in search of new opportunities.
“I left Adri for Guruvayur in Kerala, along with a few other boys from my village. It was time to chase my dreams,” he recalls, remembering his ambition to build a house for his family and earn a steady income.
Gajendra initially worked in a hotel kitchen in Guruvayur. “I started as a vegetable cutter, earning ₹4500 a month. But I was learning, saving, and dreaming,” he says. His dedication soon took him to Trichur district, where his cooking skills improved. “South Indian, Chinese dishes – you name it, I cooked it. My salary jumped to ₹12,000 per month.”
Despite the distance from Adri, Gajendra’s resolve never wavered. “I was determined to build a life I could be proud of,” he asserts. His hard work paid off, and he soon moved to another restaurant in Guruvayur, earning up to ₹20,000 per month.
In 2019, Gajendra’s ambitions took a tangible shape. “I came back to demolish our old house and build a new one. I invested around ₹3 lakhs and also bought a bike for ₹85,000.” However, the 2020 lockdown changed everything. Gajendra was stranded in his village, unable to return to work in Kerala.
Purnachandra Majhi regularly visited Adri as part of his work. “I would travel through the villages, reaching out to migrant workers and their families who were suddenly without work or income due to the lockdown,” he explains. As a Community Champion of Gram Vikas’ ‘Safe and Dignified Migration’ programme, he met with migrant workers and their families to help them make informed decisions, access entitlements, and receive social security.
During one of these visits to Adri, Purnachandra met Gajendra. “He seemed confused and uncertain about what do next,” recalls Purnachandra. He knew of Gajendra’s time in Kerala and the skills he had honed there, “I advised him to channel his skills into starting something of his own in the village. Why wait idly for the pandemic to ease and wait for things to return to normal?”
This advice was a turning point for Gajendra. He contemplated Purnachandra’s words and decided to venture into setting up his own enterprise in Adri, utilising the skills he had acquired in Kerala.
Gajendra decided to start an enterprise in his village. He observed a growing openness in his village to new cuisines. “The people here were ready to try new things, spend on outside food. That’s when I decided to start my own Chinese food counter in Adri,” he recalls.
Investing ₹50,000, Gajendra, with his wife Bhanumati’s support, embarked on a new journey. “We started making chowmein, soup, chicken rolls, chicken pakoda…I now earn up to ₹2,500 on market days,” he says, a smile spreading across his face.
Despite earning less than he did in Kerala, Gajendra finds fulfillment in his village life. “I cherish the time with my family and friends. I enjoy simple things now, like bike rides to nearby spots,” he reflects.
Gajendra’s food stall quickly became a hit, especially among the younger crowd. Gagan Bisi, 22, a local entrepreneur, is a regular. “I love spending my evenings there. The food is great, and there are comfortable wooden benches for us to sit,” says Gagan, enjoying his favorite dish.
Santosh Naik, a 30-year-old farmer and a frequent customer, agrees. “The chicken chowmein is just amazing,” he says, savouring his meal at Gajendra’s stall.
Today, Gajendra balances his entrepreneurial venture with a stable job at the Revenue Inspector’s office. “Having a secure job has given me the confidence to think about expanding my business,” he shares his future plans.
Gajendra Sahu’s journey from the tranquil village of Adri to the dynamic kitchens of Kerala and back is more than a personal tale of ambition and resilience. It underscores the critical importance of timely guidance and support for migrant workers. By providing crucial advice, resources, and a supportive network, initiatives such as Gram Vikas’ ‘Safe and Dignified Migration’ programme enable individuals like Gajendra to navigate uncertain times, transform challenges into opportunities, and pursue their dreams with confidence and dignity.
The fast food shop set up by Gajendra in Adri village.
Photograph by Bidyutprava Praharaj
Bidyutprava Praharaj, Thematic Coordinator, Planning Monitoring Documentation and Communication helped in collecting data for the story. Priya Pillai edited the story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chandrika Patnaik leads content production within the Communications team in Gram Vikas.
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