“I was 5 and Badami Ji was 3 when we got married”

“I was 5 and Badami Ji was 3 when we got married in Azamgarh, UP. The only memory I have of the ceremony is of her hair being tied in a braid; she looked like a doll. We thought we were attending a party– we got to wear new clothes, eat ladoos, perform some rituals and go home. We had no idea we had been married off; so when we did meet, once a year, we’d reunite like old friends. As we grew older, the responsibilities of being ‘pati’ and ‘patni’ became clearer, but before we could understand more, Badami Ji came to live with me as my wife at the age of 21. Our friendship slipped into love before we knew it– we’d grown up together and known each other our whole life. We’re luckier than most, but we knew from the start that we didn’t want our children to have the same fate as us. So when I held our daughter for the first time and she looked at me with big, round eyes, I decided to leave UP.

We packed our bags and moved to Delhi in 1961. Here, I became a fruit seller. I would leave early in the morning to get fruits from the mandi and Badami Ji would set up the stall. In the afternoons, we’d switch duties– Badami Ji would take over; she was a better saleswoman than me! Eventually, as our family grew to 5, we began selling vegetables– we had our fair share of good and bad days. But we’d keep going for the times when we could afford chai and biscuit from the nearby tapri. My favourite day is Friday though... because on Fridays, Badami Ji makes aloo baingan! As our kids grew older, to earn more, we opened a chai stall. Initially, it took a toll on us financially, but Badami Ji had faith in me and my cooking. I remember asking her, ‘Nahi chala toh?’ She smiled and said, ‘Koi baat nahi, kuch aur karengey!’ I wouldn’t have had the courage to do anything without her. She may look small, but she has a strong willpower! So, in 1990, after hitting a half-century, we started Baba Ka Dhaba! Badami Ji does the chopping, while I prepare the dishes. There is no ‘aadmi ka kaam’ or ‘aurat ka kaam’ in our house; 50-50 partners hain hum!

But after lockdown, our business suffered; my older son also lost his job. We were barely scraping by– the food we cooked was going to waste and we had run out of money to buy vegetables. Lekin waqt hain, badalta rehta hain– out of nowhere, a stranger came to our Dhaba, took our video… and the next day, we woke up to a line outside! Since then, all news people, company walas and customers have been coming and going. But when you were talking to Badami Ji just now, I overheard her saying, ‘Dekho iss umar mein bhi kitni mehnat karte hain!’ Yeh toh best compliment hua na, madamji?”

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