Prabhulal Bhatti has just opened the shutters of his chaat stall called Kailash Bhel Centre at Eenchakkal Junction. Soon, a customer arrives and Prabhulal expertly mixes him a serving of bhel puri. “I learnt the trade from my brother, Madanlal. He came to Kerala 12 years ago from Rajasthan in search of a job. He started selling chaat in Kozhikode and slowly started expanding his business. He now has chaat stalls in various corners of Kerala which are run by members of our family. I am running this stall whilst a couple of my relatives are running stalls in other parts of the city: Technopark, Poojappura, Karamana, near SP Fort Hospital... Each stall is independently run,” says Prabhulal in Hindi.
Prabhulal came to the city a year ago. “There are very few job opportunities in Rajasthan. That is why I came down with my wife, Kanchan. We live at a rented house near Ananthapuri Hospital.”
Prabhulal and Kanchan’s day begins at 7 a.m. when the couple begin the preparations for the day’s sale, right from dicing onions and tomatoes to frying the tiny puris for their chaat. Prabhulal opens his stall at 5 p.m. and shuts it by 10 p.m. The stall sells four varieties of chaat: bhel puri, sev puri, pani puri and masala puri. All are priced at Rs. 20.
“Our customers are mainly North Indians and those who have travelled or stayed in North India. Others rarely have the courage to try it.” The earnings from the sale of chaat are just enough to make ends meet says, Prabhulal. Half of the proceeds go to his brother.
Although the stall is open daily, Prabhulal does take a break once in while. “I either take my wife to the beach or we roam the city. Sometimes, we catch up with our relatives in the city. I don’t go to the movies as I am not a movie buff.”
Ask him if he has picked up Malayalam and Prabhulal replies: “A bit. I can understand what my customers say but have a tough time trying to form a reply.”
And does he dream of starting his own chaat stall or eatery? “No. I am content. I don’t know any other job apart from this and don’t think I will be able to make it on my own. As long as I have a roof over my head and food on my plate for me and my family, I am happy.”
So, does he plan to make the city his home? “Yes. There is no future for me in Rajasthan although I will visit my parents during important festivals.”
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)