By Roshan Shah
‘I love it when big groups come visiting’, said Raju Anna the other day. ‘It’s wonderful then, being busy, doing things—washing and cutting vegetables, cooking food, rolling laddus, making chapattis. When there are no groups, it’s terribly dull, and I don’t know what to do with myself then!’
Raju Anna is—and I can vouch for this personally—definitely among the best cooks in the whole of India. He works in the hostel where I presently live, which doubles up as a guesthouse for groups sponsored by various NGOs for training progammes.
Raju Anna is just a little older than me—perhaps 55 or so—but he looks much younger than his age, and he’s almost always bursting with energy.
‘I just LOVE my work!’ he says. He’s still a temporary worker—which means his salary isn’t very much—but I’ve never heard him complain about it. He gets only a fraction of what he might have got elsewhere for the work he does.
‘You could earn lakhs if you opened an eatery of your own,’ I told him the other day. But he just laughed it off. ‘God has blessed me with enough money. I have a house back home in my village. My son drives a truck and gives enough money to his mother. What need do I have to earn lakhs? I’m content with what I already have,’ he replied. ‘The more money you have, the more problems you have to face.’
It’s truly amazing, Raju Anna’s passion for his work. It’s made me unlearn some things that I thought were plainly obvious—for instance, that it’s only if you are paid a hefty salary that you can truly enjoy what you do for a living. Or that for all poor people, their work is necessarily, and in every case, an imposed drudgery, and that, therefore, they are doomed to always being agitated, unhappy and discontented with life. You simply can’t be happy as long as you are poor, I used to think.
But Raju Anna has taught me that it’s not just people with fat salaries and jet-setting lifestyles who can enjoy what they do for a living. You can see that Raju Anna puts his whole heart into his work as he sweats it out on a hot summer afternoon frying samosas in a giant vat or rolls two hundred rotis for a special lunch. When you hear him talk about the many things he can cook—from Kashmiri palau to Tibetan momos to Kerala parathas and stew—you can see his eyes light up with sheer joy!
‘Do you know why Raju Anna’s food tastes so special?’ said Salim, his co-worker, the other day. ‘It’s because he puts so much love into it! If you cook mechanically, without any enthusiasm, it spoils the taste. You can make out when someone’s cooked something like that. But when you cook with love and passion—as Raju Anna does—it makes such a difference!’
‘I love cooking, not only because it’s my bread-and-butter and it keeps me busy,’ Raju Anna says, ‘but also because it’s my way of helping others. I feel happy when I think that because I do the cooking, so many other people who live in the hostel or spend a few days here are spared the need to make their own food and so they can focus on doing other things. My cooking is an expression of my gratitude to God for all that He’s given me. It’s also my way of paying back to society for everything that I’ve received from it.’
How many of us think like Raju Anna? I hardly do, I have to admit.
How many of us, even those of us who’ve been blessed with a well-paying job, passionately pour our hearts into our work, as Raju Anna does?
How many of us see our work as a means to express our inner selves, and not simply a way to earn money or a routine exercise that we think we simply have to go through, day after day?
How many of us consider our work as a means to help others, and not just ourselves?
How many of us, even those of us who have jobs with hefty salaries, never complain about ‘low’ pay?
How many of us aren’t driven by perpetual dissatisfaction with our work and aggressive ambition to ‘make it big’?
How many of us regard our work as an expression of our gratitude to God for all that He has given us?
Raju Anna—thanks for all the many things that I’ve learnt and unlearnt seeing you going about your work.
And yes, as I never fail to tell you whenever you make it for breakfast, your uppuma is just SUUUUUUUUUUPERB!
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