I was born, raised and educated in Delhi. I married and had a daughter, and took proper training as a chef in order to build a career. My marriage did not last. I began working as a chef for diplomats, about 15 years ago when I was in my early twenties. I also worked in the US and Canada for some time. I had not been able to take my little girl with me; I had left her with my former in-laws. But they were not able to take care of her. I tried to bring her to the West but couldn’t afford it as there was no support from my ex-husband’s family. I returned to Delhi so that I could raise my child.
I began working as a chef for a foreign embassy, but left that job as the salary was very low, though they provided me with an apartment. My child was growing up, our expenditure was increasing. Since I was an experienced chef, I decided to open a restaurant in Khirkee Extension two years ago. I named my establishment ‘Shanghai Blue’. It was an eat-in as well as take-away place. It was quite successful as I got a lot of customers from my neighbourhood, especially men. Women were less receptive, and some also criticized me for opening a roadside business. They could not quite believe that a single woman, without any man’s backing, could independently manage a restaurant.
Through friends and local shops I contacted three young me to work for me. They were quite active and seemed committed. The restaurant opened at noon and closed at 11 p.m. Male customers and men from the locality never misbehaved with me, nor were there any disruptive incidents in my establishment. Most of my customers were young people who work in call centers, malls or nearby private offices. They usually live in shared flats or as paying guests. They would order one dish and sit for hours. I never asked them to free their tables for other customers, and nor did I object to the young men and women sitting close and holding hands, as I am quite liberal in outlook. My restaurant was usually full of these groups and couples. Local families rarely came in to eat, but they ordered a lot of take-out daily.
I never felt unsafe in Khirkee, though I was single woman running a business and living on my own with my young daughter. Compared to localities like Kishangarh and Munirka, Khirkee is quite modern. Here, girls can wear shorts or high skirts and move around freely with their friends. They are fully at ease when they come to my restaurant and eat and socialize till late at night. They can also commute safely in the late hours. The area is diverse, because rents are cheap and this attracts people from all parts of the country, who don’t have much income but have aspirations. I understand their situation as I too was struggling like them at one time.
The restaurant was running smoothly, but I began hearing rumours that my employees were cheating me. I noticed that they were selling my supplies outside. They also began to deceive me in other ways. My naïve faith in them turned out to be misplaced. There was a huge deficit in my cash flow as well. Gradually it became unmanageable and I had to close my business. It was a big financial blow and also psychologically very depressing. I took a job in a café for a while, and then tried to operate a take-away food business from my home. But this didn’t work either, as I found it hard to trust people, and also could not find anyone reliable to make deliveries.
So now I have joined a corporate office, and at least my financial anxieties have reduced. Earlier I stayed in a rented flat, but slowly, paying in installments, I have managed to buy a house.