Sunder Raj has been an idli vendor for fifteen years now. He is sixty-one-year-old with greying hair and baggy eyes yet he is brimming with vigour and gusto. Selling fluffy rice cakes and coconut chutney on his bicycle alley by alley doesn’t embarrass him. He had passed class five from a school in his hometown, Chennai and has been living in Malad ( in Mumbai) since last thirty-two years.
He has never cursed his fortune. Not when his parents died, never once when every child born to him was a girl, not when the company where he worked had shut down and he had to become a hawker. As a matter of fact, this sincere soul provides free idlis to children, every Friday who go home with twisting empty stomachs. But what’s the reason behind selling these free idlis?
Sunder Raj describes, “When I first came to this unknown land, I had no idea how I was going to sustain myself and my wife. Some queries took me to the steel company where I laboured for almost two years. As fate has ordained, I was destined to sell idlis. The company had shut down and I had to do something, otherwise we would be on the streets begging. My wife and I made idlis and sold it in our neighbourhood. We had cut down on our expenses so much that I had different chappals on my feet, we didn’t purchase clothes on festivals, we ate idlis for breakfast and dinner. And oh! We decided to skip lunch so we could have enough money to buy a bicycle. It was sorrowful but life was moving. Then came in luck. I had a daughter on the first Friday of June and on the same day I got an order of making 3000 idlis. This meant that now I would be free of worrying about giving the necessary medication and care to my new born. The next day, I brought a bicycle.”
Things gradually improved for Sunder Raj after his daughter’s birth. He says it was the happiest day of his life. He decided, then and there, that every Friday he would give idlis to children without charging money. He makes 1200 idlis daily and earns rupees 500 per day. He has three daughters, all of them satisfactorily educated. Praise to this man for managing the expense of providing quality education to his girls with his scanty income.
“Education is an essence today. Without it, man has no future. I had the eagerness to study when I was a boy but my parents didn’t have funds to raise me. I want to give my children the best of what I can and I will. If it takes me all my life to be an idli vendor, so be it. Children from this locality come from poor families and are not well nourished because they don’t get to eat nutritious food. These young minds are our future who will decide the fate of our country. Little things as such occupy great part in their heart. I feed them because I see my reflection in them. I just do it because it makes me happy, because I have no reason not to”, recounts Sunder Raj.