The Hunger Inc Village | Part 2 | Chitranjan Keshri
The Bombay Canteen opened its doors in February 2015. At the time, a small battalion of incredible people helped bring our fledgling institution to life. Some of those special individuals still work with us today and ensure that our restaurant remains as vibrant and exciting as it was on the very first day of service. One such person is Chitranjan – or, as we know him - Chittu.
Chittu came to Bombay in 2012 from his home in Ranchi, Jharkhand. For three years, he worked at the backend of a small restaurant in Chembur. Then, one day, a friend told him about this new restaurant that had just opened in Kamala Mills. They were looking for young and enthusiastic food lovers to join their staff, his friend said. Curious and hungry (in more ways than one), Chittu interviewed for a steward role at The Bombay Canteen (TBC) only a few weeks after it had opened.
When Chittu describes his journey at TBC, he speaks about how much he has learned and the many teachers he has found at the restaurant over the years. Our conversation is filled with constant expressions of gratitude for the chefs and bartenders, for the managers and service staff, and of course, for the guests who constantly keep him on his toes.
Chittu did not know how to speak English when he began work at TBC. Yet, his curiosity and desire to learn was so evident that Yash, our co-founder, helped him find and pay for an English-language class. Chittu practiced his English in the restaurant regularly. Before service, as the chefs described the details of the menu each day, he would furiously scribble down their words, ensuring that he never missed anything they said. He would then stand in a corner of the kitchen and memorize the words to ensure he could confidently speak about the dishes to guests.
Even today, after a long day at work, Chittu reads the TBC recipes over and over again, for more than an hour, to make sure he understands the ingredients of each dish. If he sees a word or sentence he cannot figure out, he asks the chefs or managers to explain them to him the next day. Chittu describes how this process of reading and occasional memorization has a dual purpose - not only does it help him learn English, but it also ensures that he can talk about the menu to guests when they ask him questions.
It was exactly this kind of dedication to the restaurant, and to his own learning that helped Chittu move from a steward to a captain. Both roles are critical to the smooth functioning of any restaurant, but there are some key differences between the two. A steward is the first person who interacts with guests at a table, bringing them water and welcoming them to the restaurant. A captain takes the guests’ food and drink orders. A steward may or may not know the menu well, but a captain definitely will!
When Chittu became a captain, his ability to describe the tiniest of details on the menu with the greatest enthusiasm made him stand out. When we speak to guests who have interacted with Chittu, they mention his attention to detail – he would warn them of a hidden step, or ensure that they are seated comfortably. But Chittu remains humble! In fact, he admits that he has made many mistakes at TBC. Whether it is accidentally bringing a vegetarian guest a non-vegetarian dish, or mixing up orders unintentionally, he never claims to be perfect. He explains that he feels bad when he makes these mistakes, but that he learns from them and accepts that he cannot fix what has already transpired – he can only aim to do better next time!
When we ask Chittu about life outside of TBC, he cannot help but describe the other places he loves to eat! There is Thai Baba in Chembur where you can get a delicious chicken keema and two parathas for a grand total of fifty rupees – yum! There is also Jhama in Chembur (which is where Chittu lives till date) where he indulges his sweet cravings. His days off are often spent eating scrumptious food, exploring Juhu beach, visiting the Gateway of India or just hanging out with friends.
An avid food lover himself, Chittu often makes his favourite TBC dishes for friends. Whether it is the crispy Arbi Tuk or the Eggs Kejriwal, he often tries to replicate TBC dishes at home. He tells me that he has even cooked these dishes for his family in Ranchi so that they experience a tiny bit of his life in Bombay. He admits that he misses his family a lot, especially during festivals, but that he is grateful to have spent a lot of time reconnecting with them during the COVID-19 lockdown when he was forced to return home.
Chittu’s family consists of his parents, two sisters and three brothers. They are all farmers who grow corn, mustard seeds, rice and other grains. During lockdown, Chittu used his earnings from TBC to help buy more seeds for his family so that they could survive the tumult of the pandemic. In fact, Chittu sends much of his earnings back to his family even now as he wants to ensure their security and stability. The below are images from Chittu's farm.
When we ask Chittu about his future aspirations, he tells us that he loves The Bombay Canteen and wants to remain here. He aims to become the restaurant’s general manager someday. With his determination and dedication, we are sure that he is well on his way towards achieving his goals. We most definitely hope that his dreams come true!