In Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, the pizza is certainly not Italian. Enterprising Gujarati entrepreneurs have converted the oven-baked, flat, round bread, which took birth inNaples, into a desi delight. It has a crunchy and biscuit-like crust, is laced with sweet tomato puree (no seasoning, just black pepper to flavour it), and has a humble topping of finely chopped onions and capsicum (no jalapenos, olives ormushrooms), which is covered by local white cheese – just the right recipe to suit the local palate. Having been a patron of the American and Italian varieties for over a decade, my taste buds revolted to the Gujarati peeja. And my first encounter withJasuben Pizza nine years ago also turned out to be the last.
But that one experience gave me my first glimpse of the famed Gujarati enterprise and the lessons one could take from it.
I landed in Ahmedabad in 2004, when the state was limping back after the riots of 2002, and the destructive earthquake of 2001. The fault lines were still in play – people were torn between the cry for justice for the hapless riot victims and the need to move ahead.
One evening, I asked a friend to introduce me to some street food. He took me to a place called Law Garden. He showed me around the food stalls. It was quite an experience. There was the humble Vada Pav and Dabeli and also the innovative ChinesebhelBSE 2.62 % and garlic noodles to chose from. Then my friend asked me if I would like to have some pizzas instead. I knew that the Pizza Hut outlets in the city were the American company’s only vegetarian outlets in the world. So, I guessed what was in store. But I was in for more interesting revelations.
The Jasuben Pizza outlet in the food market was like some pilgrimage. It was one noisy place — with toddlers, youngsters and grandmothers creating a cacophony at dusk. There was a big queue and its double baked pizzas were flying off in minutes. I noticed that the outlet had a peculiar, tall oven, in which pizzas could be stacked up, one on top of the other. Curious, I asked the gentleman at the counter where he had procured this machine from, and he told me that the store’s owner Andarben had designed it herself and got them manufactured locally.
Andarben was 40 year old then. She and her husband Jorawar Singh had started this business some twenty years ago with Jasuben, with whom they lived. They began making pizzas in the early 1990s. Jasuben had moved to Pune, though she would visit them once in a while. Andarben later developed a secret recipe of the sauce and has continued to run the business. They were doing brisk business, and presumably selling more pizzas than Pizza Hut and Domino’s put together. They were now planning to sell burgers and hotdogs (Veg) from their outlets.
I was amazed by this story of Jasuben and Andarben. I had heard about the womenfolk of Anand, Gujarat’s milk revolution. But designing and developing indigenous pizza ovens and beating the American brands in their game were no mean business. It took this idea to the office news meeting next day.
My colleagues first thought it was a ‘known’ story. After some debate, they began telling me about other similar women enterprises – Induben Khakrawala, Derani-Jethani’s ice creams and Maasi’s Panipuri. And about how all these women had taken on the might of the likes of Haldiram, Amul, Havmor or Pizza Hut and created their own loyal clientele with years of hard work. We decided to tell these and similar stories to our readers. They were fresh, interesting and inspiring. And positive.
I spoke to Andarben’s son-in-law Rajendrabhai today. He was busy being interviewed by news channels after Narendra Modi mentioned Jasuben Pizza in his speech at a Ficci event this morning. “I didn’t know we were so famous. Time has come to expand my business,” he gleamed. We may see him in Delhi soon.