FIFTY-EIGHT-YEAR-old Smita Joshi sits cross-legged on the floor, hunched over a paper plate onto which she lays dough, carefully crafted into shapes of chakali — a Maharashtrian snack. Dubbed the ‘chakli expert’ by her colleagues, Joshi chats with the women even as her right hand deftly turns the chakli-maker at precise angles to achieve the desired shape.
Around her, a dozen women are busy kneading and shaping dough, mixing spices and frying a variety of snacks that are part of an important Diwali tradition in Maharashtrian households. In a small kitchen inside the S K Patil Park in Charni Road, the women from Kutumbsakhi — a women’s self-help group — are working 10 hours a day to deliver ‘faral’ — Diwali sweets and snacks— to households as the festival approaches. Their movements and pace stand testimony to their experience in the business: some of them have been doing it for more than 25 years.
The group, which will complete 40 years early next year, caters only to households and the snacks are almost always made to order. Sitting among mounds of packed chakalis in the small room beside the kitchen, Sandhya Belvalkar (76), the chairperson of Kutumbsakhi, says, “Chakali is the most sought-after item among other ‘faral’, as you can see.”
“The packets are ready for pick-up,” she says, while showing a menu card that lists the traditional snacks and sweets such as karanji, shankar pali, besan laddoo, rava laddoo, chivda and shevya. These items, traditionally made at home, hold cultural importance in the Maharashtrian household. “Some of these items are even offered during Aarti on Narak Chaturdashi. Shared with neighbours and guests at home, faral brings the community together,” says Belvalkar.
Preparations begin only a fortnight before Diwali, but orders start coming in ahead of that. “We start the process around three days ahead of the delivery date so that the customers can store the delicacies for a longer period,” says Belvalkar.
From grinding different varieties of flour — chakali for example is made with wheat, rice, jowar, bengal gram and soya — to mixing spices and frying, the women work with precision.
“The measurements are important. This has what has helped us to maintain quality over the years,” says Joshi. The process is tedious and time-consuming and hence, many families have started buying the ‘faral’ from the market instead of making them at home.
“Chakali requires the most effort. It requires at least two people to prepare it at home,” says Joshi. Belvalkar says that since the ‘faral’ prepared by Kutumbsakhi retains the traditional flavours, they have enjoyed a loyal yet growing customer base.
To gain an edge over ‘market products’, Kutumbsakhi has added several customised items for ‘modern consumers’. The 70 women on payroll of Kutumbsakhi look forward to Diwali and the heightened demand for the delicacies they prepare, means a 25 per cent bonus for them.