Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jodh's Climb in Life

This photo story was part of my final project at The University of Missouri-USA during my Reuters Foundation Willy Vicoy Fellowship in 1997. When I was hunting for an Indian Restaurant to taste the delicious Indian dishes, during my fellowship in Columbia Town, in Missouri State, I met upon this 58 year old Punjabi lady who was running a chain of Restaurants named ‘India’s Rasoi’.
Then it so happened that I invited the Director of the PJ School Mr. Bill Kuykendall and his wife over for supper at this Indian Restaurant which he had not visited earlier.
During our supper Mr. Bill Kuykendall came up with an Idea for me and asked me to make this Indian lady as my Photo Story Project, and also asked me to speak to her for her consent which was duly agreed upon and in the following frames you will get to see my six months of work compressed in 14 visual frames.
For this 58 year old Mrs. Jodh Kaur, a Punjabi lady running one of the largest chains of Indian Restaurants (India’s Rasoi) in the USA is just another halt for her, in her long but fruitful journey from the small middle class living in Calcutta to a huge Palatial Mansion with more than 10 cars for her choice to travel in from her house to her work place.
Jodh had started her first restaurant in Columbia Town in 1987 with 25 dollars as a bank balance which she had earned by preparing and selling home made pickles to the Indian Community in USA.
And now Jodh has a bank balance of 85,000 dollars and keeps climbing every year.
Jodh shifted to the USA after her Husband passed away and her younger brother who was settled in the USA forced her to shift there along with her three daughters and one 10 year old son in 1977.
After nearly 10 years of struggle she came up with the idea of setting up Indian restaurants around the USA for the large and ever growing Indian community. Though she can afford to have a laid back life she prefers to stay put at the restaurant during the day time to ensure that the cooks and the waiters are neatly dressed and the day’s menu displayed well.

Jodh Kaur has a sense of belonging with her co workers at the 8 chain of restaurants spread in four states across USA, that if there is no call from her than the chef’s and the managers start to press the panic button. This she say’s is due to the extra care she takes with the food her restaurants serve the customers, and adds that there is a common menu in all our chain of restaurants every single day.

Jodh loves her workouts which she goes to on alternate days, the keeper of this workout joint says that this “Indian Aunty” is the kindest person he has ever met so far and adds she is the only regular person for the past 10 years.

As far as getting herself done up it is very minimal as Jodh says that “I hate all the facial colors and keep myself away them”. Though, she loves to apply lip sticks and a few gold ornaments.

Jodh after reaching her Restaurant in Columbia Town has a word with the Chief Chef Md.Abdullah Nadir for the day’s menu and adds that it is this Chef who keeps my chain of restaurants on the hunt for Indian food.

After noting down the menu her next important thing is to call up all the chefs in her other chain of restaurants to inform them about the day’s menu and also to note down the income of the previous day. Jodh says that she trusts the managers and they do all the cash handling.

Jodh is the first person to reach her restaurant and does the cleaning of the entrance glass herself as she says that this habit of hers has been their right from the beginning of her first restaurant and adds that “self help is the best help” and that is why she has kept the self service system in all her restaurants.

Jodh Prepares the South Indian dishes herself after her South Indian Cook fell ill. She says that working for her in the kitchen is like what a mother does for her children and adds that restaurant or no restaurant she loves to cook.

Jodh does not like to differentiate herself from her Co-workers, and adds if any businessman starts to think in that manner he or she will from that day start their downfall. The workers of Indian’s Rasoi are given a monthly salary along with a house and of course food during their jobs.

Jodh is loved by all in her huge chain of family and this she says is because she did not trouble them during her struggle in life and adds that her foreign born niece ( Anna Kaur – Above) loves her the most and has on many occasions made her come to her school and college functions as her guardian.

Jodh admires her American Sister-in –Law (Elizabeth Singh – seated left). Jodh says that it was her encouragement she gave me when I was new in the USA that what I am today and adds she keeps advising me every now and then which I heed too.

But for Jodh her first love is for her only son (Harinder Singh) for whom she has built this huge chain of restaurants and adds that he will remain as a new born child for me as long as I live to see him.

Jodh loves to travel and this she does every quarterly of the year. She clubs her travel when ever niece and nephews have their vacations and takes them to locales which they have not visited the previous trip and loves be like a new born child herself amidst them.
Jodh says that she will remain as she is today and adds that only this respect for other humans has fetched me all this success and adds that at every difficult moment of her life she has remembered her husband.

Thanks to the effort of Mrs. Jodh that we still remain religious who keeps our family together said all most all the family members I spoke to. After Jodh shifted to the USA we learned a lot of family values and religious sentiments from her they said.

Jodh herself loves to read the ‘Guru Granth’ every night before going to bed and adds that reading your religious book every night helps one to keep their thoughts pure and clean.

As for 32 year old Harinder Singh (the only hire to these chains of restaurants) it is time for fun life getting chilled along with his class mates on a glass of beer.

And after 10 long years of hard and relentless work she owns 8 restaurants spread over there states in the USA and has plans to open another three by the end of 2004.
For Mrs. Jodh Kaur this climb in life has been a long but fruitful one.

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