New Delhi, Oct 8 (PTI) Kanta Prasad pulled down his mask every few minutes to reveal a nearly toothless smile, his eyes taking in with gratitude the crowds thronging his tiny food stall, Baba ka Dhaba, that was forlorn and empty till just a day ago, much as it had been through the last six months.
On Thursday, though, everything changed for the 80-year-old and his family that was on the brink of penury. Social media spun its magic with a video of Prasad tearfully recounting the desperation of the months since the lockdown being shared widely across platforms – and, hey presto, customers made a beeline to eat his food as did camera crews, bloggers and journalists.
Baba ka Dhaba, a little blue box in Malviya Nagar in south Delhi, was the cynosure of many eyes across the country, including celebs from showbiz who posted appeals asking people to go there and get themselves a meal.
A day after the heartbreaking video, #Babakadhaba was trending on Twitter and the food joint was flooded with more customers than it had seen in 30 years of being in business.
“Like everyday, my parents started cooking at 6 am. When they reached the shop at 8.30 am, they found people were already lined up outside.
“For the first few hours, we sold only parathas and then prepared more items,” said Azad Hind, Prasad’s 37-year-old son.
By 12 noon, all items on the menu, comprising chapati, rice, mixed vegetable, and paneer, all ranging between Rs 10-50, were sold out – much to their surprise and stupefaction. Like many other businesses — big and small -- Prasad’s food stall that he has been running with his wife since the early 1990s hit its nadir during the lockdown and in the weeks that followed. The elderly couple barely made enough to make ends meet and their food was mostly unsold at the end of the day.
Their despair came to light when Instagram influencer Gaurav Wasan on Wednesday captured Prasad breaking down as he talked about his struggles in a video shared on his social media account. Overnight, the post spiralled into a movement to help the elderly couple, whose plight struck a chord of empathy in distant corners of the country.
Life had become increasingly difficult for the family also because their son Azad lost his job as an office boy.
“The earning from the shop was the only way to feed ourselves,” Azad said.
Besides Prasad and his wife, the family comprises their three children, two grandchildren and a daughter-in-law.
Before Covid-19 took its toll on businesses countrywide, Prasad would make enough to save Rs.4,000-Rs.5000 almost every month. It all dried up in the months since March when India went into lockdown.
There were days, Prasad said, when not a single customer turned up.
“We realised there was no point in sitting at home, so we opened our shop everyday. Some days we would have a couple of customers, so whatever money we could make was important. Sometimes we didn’t even manage to cover the cost of preparing the food,” Prasad, who lives with his family in Jagdamba camp in Sheikh Sarai, said.
Today, people not only helped in buying his food but also with rations, he said.
Wasan, who posted the video through his Instagram handle @youtubeswadofficial, said he is always on the lookout for lesser known food joints around the city but never did he imagine his post would lead to so much traction.
“I am so glad I decided to take the first step to help them. I realised that they made good food…the only thing missing was marketing, and I thought I could use my followers to do that. “With the kind of support this has created, I will continue to focus on other food joints which need help in this time,” Wasan, who has over 1,15,000 followers on Instagram, said. AAP party MLA Somnath Bharti was an early visitor at Baba ka Dhaba.
“Visited ‘Baba Ka Dhaba’ n hv done d needful to bring SMILE on their faces as promised. Will take care of them n I am starting a drive 2 take care of similarly placed people,” he tweeted.
Actors such as Suniel Shetty, Randeep Hooda and Raveena Tandon, retweeted Wasan’s video, asking people to support the couple and other local vendors in need during the challenging times of Covid-19 pandemic.
'Do visit if you are in Delhi! Block B, Shivalik Colony, Opposite Hanuman Mandir, Malviya Nagar, South Delhi. #SupportLocal #BabaKaDhaba,' tweeted Hooda.
'#dilliwalon #dil #dikhao. Whoever eats here, sends me pic, I shall put up a sweet message with your pics ! #supportlocalbusiness #localvendors,' posted Tandon.
'Let's help put their smile back ... our neighbourhood vendors need our help to.' tweeted Shetty. Cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin expressed his desire to help.
“I am not able to message you, but is there a way I can help that man?? I would like to contribute,” he wrote.
Sharing a video of Prasad, satirist Akash Banerjee urged his followers on social media to “stop by” at the food kiosk.
The overwhelming support was a ray of hope for other small-scale shopkeepers and hawkers in the vicinity.
Raj Rani, a 70-year-old widow who sells towels and handkerchiefs on a pavement in the Malviya Nagar market, said she has barely been making Rs 60 a day. “I have no family…my husband died 20 years ago, and since then I have been running this shop. Earlier I used to still earn enough to support myself, but now there is nothing. Can someone help me?” the Begumpura resident said.
Yes, they can. PTI TRS MG MIN MIN MIN