Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

Aid dries up, baba back at his dhaba

- Karn Pratap Singh

NEW DELHI: On a hot May afternoon, Kanta Prasad and his wife Badaami Devi make for a picture of despair as they wait for customers at Baba ka Dhaba, a nondescrip­t roadside eatery in south Delhi’s Malviya Nagar. The sight is a far cry from just a few months ago when a social media campaign, which saw help pouring in from across the country, seemed poised to end their troubles.

Prasad and his dhaba had become famous overnight last year after a city Youtuber shared a video showing the octogenari­an Prasad in tears, telling him how he struggled to make ends meet as business dried up. The viral video led to thousands of people making a beeline to the couple’s eatery for food, selfies and donating money.

Soon, he opened a new restaurant, added a new floor to his house, settled his old debts and bought smartphone­s for himself and his children. However, life has since come a full circle, as the new restaurant closed in February and Prasad and his wife are now back at their old dabha where the sales, which saw a 10-fold jump after the initial Youtube video in October, have slumped drasticall­y over the past few months.

Prasad said the fourth wave in Delhi, which forced the closure of their old dhaba for 17 days and further affected the sales, have led them to penury -- again.

“The daily footfalls at our dhaba have declined because of the ongoing Covid lockdown, and our daily sales have come down from ₹3,500 before the lockdown to ₹1,000 now. The income is not sufficient for our family of eight,” said a dejected Prasad, as he waited for customers.

There are some signs from his glory days. The old dhaba, that looked like a portacabin, now has three CCTV cameras and the live footage can be accessed on Prasad’s smartphone. And a fancy board atop displays the dhaba’s name, the year it was establishe­d, photograph­s of the elderly couple, two mobile numbers, and proclaims Indian and Chinese menu for lunch and dinner. However, the dhaba currently serves only Indian food such as rice, pulses, and two types of vegetables – the same menu that the couple had at their dhaba before the viral video earned them fame – for lunch and it closes before dinner.

Prasad had opened his new restaurant with much fanfare on a cold December morning and for the first few days, it was a roaring success.

Unlike at the dhaba where Prasad rolled out rotis for his customers, he and his wife and their two sons sat behind a new gleaming counter, collecting payments as his employees — two cooks and waiters — flitted about serving customers. For a while, it seemed the octogenari­an’s pains were a thing of the past.

After the initial frenzy, customers, however, started disappeari­ng slowly and soon, the expenses were more than the income.

Prasad said he invested ₹5 lakh in the restaurant and hired three workers. The monthly expenditur­e was around ₹1 lakh -- ₹35,000 towards rent; ₹36,000 to pay salaries of three employees; and ₹15,000 for electricit­y and water bills, and to procure food ingredient­s. “But the average monthly sales never crossed ₹40,000. I had to bear all the losses. In hindsight, I feel we were wrongly advised to open a new restaurant,” he said.

The new enterprise collapsed in three months. “Of the total investment of ₹5 lakh, we managed to recover only ₹36,000 from the sale of chairs, utensils, and cooking machines, after the restaurant shut down,” said Prasad, blaming Tushant Adlakha, a social worker who, he said, had encouraged and helped him to open the new restaurant at a rented place.

“Essentiall­y it was he (Adlakha) and his team who managed and supervised everything, including the investment and sales. He said he would make it a success, but he never gave enough time for the restaurant,” said Prasad.

But Adlakha denied the allegation­s and blames Prasad and his two sons for the new restaurant’s failure. “From setting up the restaurant to bringing customers and orders for home delivery of food, we did everything. What else could we do? Prasad’s two sons took charge of the restaurant, but they hardly ever stayed at the counter. There were enough orders for home delivery, but the two failed to deliver them,” he said.

In November, Prasad had filed a cheating case against Youtuber Gaurav Wasan, who had shot the viral video of the octogenari­an’s plight. Prasad alleged that Wasan had collected large sums of money from good Samaritans, but handed him only a small part of it.

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 ?? SANJEEV VERMA/HT ?? Prasad serves customers at his stall.
SANJEEV VERMA/HT Prasad serves customers at his stall.

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