We ran out of these yesterday. As I picked up new packets of the lentil flour biscuits for want of a better word, I thought of a brand loyalty that has lasted for over thirty years at least in my case. I also think of how the Anglicised name for these, the poppadom is used often as a racist term for Indians although I have seen Aussies digging into their curries using a papad as a scoop more often than I have seen my country folk. But then I remember the brand I am holding in my hands and I think, ‘Come on! This is Lijjat! And some yobbo redneck calling a subcontinental person poppadom is hardly an attack on our Izzat or prestige. Being called Lijjat is like a badge of honour, like long pants or being invited to Heff’s retirement orgy or something like that.’
I mean, just look at the brand and its staying power. It started with an investment of eighty rupees and today has a turnover of around ten billion rupees and counting. It is all about team work; teams of dough mixers, dough rollers, packers, quality testers. The list goes on and on. Quality begins firmly at home for Brand Lijjat and only those able to provide a clean kitchen to roll dough and dry it are given those duties.
Every employee is a ‘ben’ or sister and every employee gets paid her share in cash when the distributor comes to pick up her day’s production. Only women are allowed to share in the work and the profits. These are sealed into boxes each weighing 13.6 kilos. All across India the product costs the same. How do they do this and how come the Lijjat papad I have bought today will taste exactly the same as the one eaten in Calcutta thirty years ago and the one bought by a friend in Columbus Ohio yesterday? Easy, all raw materials are bought in the one place, Mumbai, and then distributed from Goa to Guwahati. Every papad is made to an original recipe that is guarded proudly.
The success of Lijjat stems from its insistence on remaining a small scale operation at its very core. The number might have grown from seven women to forty three thousand women today but the work ethic remains rooted firmly in Gandhian principles.It relies on the pride each ‘ben’ has in her work and her earnings, both from her work as well as her share of the profits. And like any Indian cook worth her poppadom will tell you, she will never send a less than top class dish from her kitchen into the world. In that, she and the other ‘bens’ are not that different from old Hugh and his dishy bunnies. Just don’t go telling them that. You might get a collective rolling pinning for your cheek!
(There may be a couple of statistics wrong here, but that simply reflects on how publicity shy the brand is and of course my rush to type this on the phone as I tidy the pantry)