“What’s extraordinary about my journey? Isn’t this the usual?” 94-year-old Harbhajan Kaur is nonplussed over the attention she receives for her four-year-old venture, Harbhajan’s—bachpan yaad aa jaega.
Married at 22, Kaur, who hails from Tarn Taran in Punjab, took over the responsibility of caring for her husband and his siblings, and settled into domesticity with ease. While most around considered household chores as unavoidable aspects of their lives, for Kaur, they brought her the most joy. “I took immense pride is doing chores myself. I never thought of them as ‘boring’. Cooking and feeding loved ones was gratifying; nothing like ‘ghar ka bana hua’!” she exclaims.
However, she secretly harboured one desire—to earn money of her own. In the summer of 2016, as she and her daughter, Raveena Suri, (her youngest of the three daughters whom she has been living with in Chandigarh since 2010), savoured a cup of tea, Kaur expressed a yearning to be independent. The next moment, Suri encouraged her to start her venture by putting up her signature besan barfis (traditional gram flour cakes) and lip-smacking pickles for sale.
Gleaming, Kaur made her first batch of barfis and tomato chutney, and Suri set out to sell them at a local mandi. The lot was sold out in one hour, and the 94-year-old made Rs 2,000. “I will never forget the day I earned my first ‘pay cheque’. You know, I treated my family to lunch at the Indian Coffee House. This was mine and my husband’s favourite hangout,” she says, beaming.
It has been four years to new beginnings, but Kaur is more determined than ever. In fact, her family is witness to the evolution of the shy nonagenarian into a confident entrepreneur. “A day before the order is to be dispatched, she takes stock of the raw materials and proceeds to prep as needed. The following day, she begins her day at 9 am post breakfast, and whips up these delicacies while ensuring every ingredient is just the right amount. She is a delight to watch. Once done, family members help in packaging,” says Supriya Malhotra Suri, Kaur’s great granddaughter-in-law.
Currently, the barfis and pickles are made-to-order, but soon, the family plans to retail them out to a family-run grocery store for patrons to enjoy her makings all year long. “The grandchildren have grown up eating her trademark chole-bhature, kulchas, khatte aloo, halwas (bottle gourd, carrot, pumpkin, and dal) and pickles such as onion, carrot, bottle gourd, and Amritsari, amongst others. Her popularity doesn’t come as a surprise,” adds Malhotra Suri.
Over the past few years, not only has Harbhajan’s grown from strength to strength, it has also acquired a loyal fan following. “The love and respect I receive from all quarters is unparalleled,” she says, adding, “A few days ago, a customer sent me a shawl as a thank you for the barfis. This was the first time a parcel came to the house with my name on it. It was an emotional moment for me.”
Kaur, as she puts it, is enjoying the “bonus” years of life, and is content with how life panned out. “Let me tell you, contentment is relative and you define the boundaries. But if you want to achieve something, get out of your comfort zone. I firmly believe, it is better to wear out than rust.”