Devanga Pallav Saikia quit his steady corporate job in Delhi to come back to Guwahati to start ‘Kharkhowa’ with his partner Anupam Choudhury. They had little-to-no capital, but they had the zeal to do something, and so they cut banana trees from Anupam’s backyard, sun dried and burnt them, and prepared ‘Kolakhar’ which they bottled and took to peoples’ doorsteps.
What was your life like before Kharkhowa happened..? How did you take the plunge from being an English Literature graduate to an entrepreneur? Tell us a little about your initial struggles?
My life was very different before ‘Kharkhowa’ happened. I was a quality analyst in an MNC in Delhi, where a fixed not-so-bad income was trickling in, but I did not have the kind of satisfaction that I had been craving for. I had always wanted to do something innovative, which could help me earn my bread and butter, and involve two other people at least. In some way, I wanted to contribute to my maati (soil) and my people. And, one fine day, I packed my bags and returned to Guwahati. To meet my monthly expenses and pay bills, I had to join another corporate house here as well, but, this time, it was home-based, but the disquiet continued. One afternoon, I was cycling through Beltola Bazaar and noticed that a village green grocer was selling banana flowers at a much cheaper price. On my way back home through the same lane in the evening, I again noticed that some of the vendors were about to leave while the unsold vegetables were dumped at a dustbin nearby. So, the idea of doing something with our own local fruits which are easily available in our backyards came to mind. I shared this idea with one of my ex-colleagues, Anupam Choudhury, who happens to cultivate the same dream of doing something different utilizing our soil’s resources, our own market and our own people. At the same time, I was inspired by a documentary on Sri Mahila Griha Udyog Lizzat Papad on Discovery Channel, where rural women work in their own yards, yet earn a handsome income every month. Why could this model not be implemented in our rural areas? I could involve rural women to work from home and yet earn. Hence, Kharkhowa was born.
Tell us a little about your initiative Kharkhowa. As the name implies, it seems to be a completely home-grown product, yet it has been packaged and marketed to suit the demands of modern-day Assamese men and women..?
Kharkhowa, as our tagline says is “ethnic taste with ethnic love”. The products are sourced from local fruits and medicinal herbs, and cooked with care by our own people with love, often reminds customers of the magic of the hands of their grandmothers. Kharkhowa thus is not just a food product, it’s an emotion, I believe. These items are packed in containers with food grade norms, with eye-catching labels and served with love, most of the time by means of home delivery. And, yes, we deliver duck curry and other ethnic cooked items like Kusia with black pepper, etc, on Sundays. This venture is led by Diganta Madhav.
The State Govt. has been showing a lot of interest in skilling entrepreneurs in Assam. Have you mentioned to source any help from the Govt..? How have you funded your initiative? Please tell us a little about the economics.
We have not approached the Govt yet. I quit my job to dedicate myself fully to my dream. We had little-to-no capital, but we had the zeal to do something. We cut banana trees from Anupam’s backyard ourselves, sun dried them, burnt them, and prepared ‘Kolakhar’; we then bottled them and took them to our well-wishers (customers’) doorsteps. We prepared lemon fermented in salt by ourselves. A few really home-made pickles with little-to-no preservatives were outsourced from village areas, which had never seen a market before Kharkhowa brought them here.
What has been the initial response to Kharkhowa products? Please tell us about some of your satisfied customers and their thoughts on Kharkhowa?
I posted a photo of mine cutting banana trees on Facebook with a tagline “something is going to happen”. The response was unexpected. Later on, when we announced on Facebook about our initiative and how we were going to deliver our ethnic, home-made food products to people’s doorsteps, the response was terrific. We started taking orders through Facebook and WhatsApp and in just 3 days, we sold more than 100 combo packs containing Kolakhar, Lemon in salt, Elephant apple pickle, etc. Some of our first customers were emotionally attached to our products as they said they happened to see them after a really long hiatus away from their own home or village, and that too at a much cheaper price. To top it all, it was delivered to their doorsteps. They encouraged us a lot and we got the confidence that ‘yes, we can and we will’.
What are your future plans…? How will you ensure sustainability and quality, both?
We will continue to bring out ethnic items from our villages in maximum numbers to the concrete houses of towns and cities which have been deprived of those aromas which remind them of their childhood days. Our goal is to strengthen our rural economy by introducing a market for our local resources and promoting women empowerment. In every product, we are assuring quality and there is a guarantee of money-back if something is found not up-to-the mark and we have already implemented that. This exercise will be continued. I and Anupam regularly visit our rural areas from where we collect some of our items to make sure things are being done in the promised manner.
Some of your most popular products are?
Kolakhar, Sweet Olive Pickle, Star Fruit with Mustard Seeds Pickle, Elephant Apple Pickle, Mustard Seeds and Hot Chilly Pickle, these are always on high demand from our well-wishers.
Tell us a special khar khowa recipe for our readers.
Oh ! That’s something challenging! Next time, I promise.
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