SALEM: Near Gorimedu in the bustling Salem city, a motely crowd of workers and youngsters gather around ‘Namma Kadai’ as the day draws to a close. Most of them are regulars at the push-cart food stall. The two youngsters behind the counter already know what to dish out to each one of them. Thattu vadai, the shop’s star dish, is among the most preferred. The humble but delicious spread of grated carrot, beetroot and onion between two thattu vadai that are creamed with mint and chili chutney, belies the dreams of the duo behind the counter.
V Kishore and M Dhanakodi, both aged 19 years and studying in class 12, have their minds set on becoming IAS officers. Knowing well that their financial background doesn’t support their dream, they both set up this road-side shop, to save up for college fee. Kishore, a student of a government-aided school near Gorimedu, resides in Tiruveni Garden. His father earns a living driving lorry, and both his siblings are in school. From the age of 14, Kishore had begun working at construction sites during weekends.
Dhanakodi studies in another aided school in Salem town and resides in Panamarathupatti. His family hails from Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, and they moved to Salem after Dhanakodi was born. He lost his father while studying in class 1, and soon joined an orphanage. He was enrolled in an aided school in Gorimedu, and this is where he first met Kishore. Till class 10, they studied together and then, Dhanakodi moved to another school.
“Our problems back home brought us together and we have been thick friends ever since,” Kishore told TNIE. “With the onset of pandemic, I found no work at construction sites. So, I joined a thattu vadai shop in our locality and learned how to prepare various types of dishes. Meanwhile, we faced losses and the shop had to be closed. I then discussed with Dhanakodi about opening a similar shop on our own. Both of us had Rs 10,000, which we had saved from construction works. Our friends also chipped in with some money, and we managed to put together Rs 40,000.” Thus opened the shutters of ‘Namma Kadai’ in the last week of November.
“We both earn around Rs 500 daily now. Our aim is to earn enough money and then move to Chennai or Coimbatore for college studies. In due course, we will begin preparations for the civil services exam. We might also start another roadside shop soon to double our earnings. When we move to another city for higher studies, we will take our push cart there and resume business,” Dhanakodi, who had secured 412 marks in SSLC, said.
Initially, police had ordered removal of the ‘Namma Kadai’. However, after coming to know of the youngsters’ dreams, the officials permitted the shop. “They just warned us not to cause any trouble for the vehicle traffic. It also took time for the locals to begin frequenting our shop. Now, we have good business. We don’t use plastic items in our shop, and since we don’t have a refrigerator at home, we buy vegetables daily directly from farmers or the market,” they said.
In a city like Salem where there are at least 500 thattu vadai shops, what drives crowd to ‘Namma Kadai’ is their special vadai. Rumoured to have originated in Yercaud decades ago, the dish is known to keep the body warm during cold nights. Much like the dish, the dreams of the two youngsters fire up their grit on sombre nights.