“Good Morning” screamed my alarm clock. It was 6 in the morning. I got up as I had to go to meet an 83 year old lady who starts her day at 5.30 in the morning. “What are you up to?” asked my wife. “I have an appointment with a lady entrepreneur.” I replied. She got up immediately and extracted every possible detail of the meeting. This was the only way to make her get up so early and so as to assure my breakfast. Yes! A wife will be a wife. I gave her the details and requested her to come along with such an innocent face that she couldn’t refuse. After 15 minutes we were on our way, singing the famous jingle of Lijjat. Mrs.Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat, popularly known as Maanji, is the only survivor of a group of semi-literate Gujarati housewives who founded Lijjat Papad 53 Years ago. After crossing narrow lanes we reached the Girgaum branch of Lijjat. And there she was, supervising day to day operations of the branch.
“Maanji, I am Vishal. We had a word over the phone for a meeting.”I said. She nodded in affirmation and recognized me. As we entered the small room she stood up to get a chair for us. I was awed at the energy and enthusiasm of Maanji at this age. After a formal introduction I asked her my favorite question “How it all started?” “It started in 1959. One certain Laxmidas Bhai started it by borrowing a sum of Rs.200 from Chaganlal Karamsi Parekh, and incurred a loss of Rs.120. We were seven at that time and we convinced Chaganlal that we could convert Rs. 80 to Rs.200 and will give him back Rs.200. We gathered on a terrace to roll out four packets of papads and sold it to Anandji Premji at opera house. After 8-10 days we bought a gunny bag of flour and the business grew day by day.” She replied. “This was possible because Bapa (PD Dattani) showed us the way and guided us in managing the business.” She continued
I was so mesmerized in her briefing that my wife had to shake me a little to bring me back to the discussion. I looked into the eyes of my wife and saw a sense of pride on her face of being a woman. Grasping my situation she herself asked Maanji “how many sisters (members are called as bens or sisters) are working with Lijjat?” “We started with a team of 7 sisters and after a month the number increased to 25 and now 45000 sisters are working with Lijjat.” Maanji replied. Now it was my wife’s turn to get lost in the story. As we were about to ask her another question, a man stepped in. Maanji introduced him to us. He was the store in charge. I looked at my wife proudly as if I was trying to tell her that men too work at Lijjat. “How much quantity of papad is prepared daily?” I asked. “Each sister can roll out 6-10 kgs of papad daily.” Maanji replied. While I was busy multiplying 45000 with 6, my wife asked Maanji “How much amount is given to each sister?” “They are given Rs 30 per kg.” Maanji replied. “We have 79 branches now and each branch has a supervisor. Training is given to newly joined sisters at the nearest branch. Each sister has to follow the rules and regulation of Lijjat.” Maanji continued.
“What is the turnover of Lijjat?” I asked. Maanji picked up the phone and enquired the figures from the head office. “It is above Rs.829 Crore which includes Rs 36 Crore of export turnover.” She said after confirming with the head office. Me and my wife, we both glanced at each other and gulped down in the hope of digesting such an enormous figure. “We simply believe in honesty and hard work. We are looking forward to have 100 branches.” Maanji continued. “We have our own Dal mill at Nasik and a flour mill at Vashi where flour is milled from Udad Dal and Moong Dal. We have a Masala Division at Cottongreen (along with a Quality Control Laboratory) at the same place where different kinds of spice powders like Turmeric, Chilly, Coriander and masalas like Ready mix masala, Garam Masala, Tea Masala, Pav Bhaji Masala, Punjabi Chole Masala etc. are prepared and packed in consumer packs.” Maanji continued.
“After retaining some amount for the development and operational expenses the profit is distributed among the members as per the decision of committee members.” Maanji said. “What are your other products?” asked my wife “Shri Mahila Griha Udyog has a wide range of Papads, Masalas, Atta, Chapati, Appalam, and Detergent. Sasa detergent powder is one of our product.” Maanji replied. I immediately recalled the familiar tune of Sasa’s advertisement on TV.
“How is Lijjat papad sold in the market?” I asked. “We sell the papads through distributors. Our distributors pick up the quantity of papad they require and pay cash on delivery because we pay bens every day.” Maanji replied
“Why the name Lijjat?” asked my wife. I looked at her shockingly as even I didn’t think about it. She looked at me and I conveyed my respect to her through my eyes. “A bank account was needed so a name was required. We made a kundli (Horoscope). The horoscope suggested alphabet ‘L’. 75 sisters participated in suggesting the names. Many names were suggested starting with alphabet ‘L’. Lijjat was one of them and after a unanimous decision it was finalized.” Maanji replied.
After having a cup of tea we decided to leave. As I was getting ready to leave, my wife touched the feet of Maanji. Needless to say I followed suit.