Dr Viegas Street at Chira Bazaar is a busy place. Handcarts are parked in the middle of the road as the pullers — clad in vests and lungis — hurriedly unload gunny bags, ignoring the honking tempos and fuming taxi drivers.
The workshop of Divinite Chocolates, housed past a shaky blue and wooden door in a narrow alley, is buzzing with activity of a different sort — helped along by the generous smell of cocoa.
Six women, dressed in colourful salwar kameezes, heads covered in hairnets, pick up chocolates — coffee, mint, vanilla almond, chilli and ginger, among other tempting flavours — and place each on a double layer of wrapper and butter paper. A fold here and a fold there, followed by a deft turn, all in 10 seconds, and the wrapped chocolate is dropped into a coir basket, and they get started on the next.
Run by 27 year-olds Prachi Shah and Rashi Podar, Divinite Chocolates, which started in 2010, has, this year, employed 30 tribal women to assist them in various processes from preparing the ingredients to packaging and pricing the chocolates.
In 2003, the two met at HR college, and bonded over their passion for making chocolates. Soon, they were taking orders for friends and family. By the time they graduated in 2006, the duo decided to turn their hobby into a career, and went to Sydney, Australia to French university, Le Cordon Blue, and returned to India as pastry chefs. “There are so many girls and women who do not have the freedom we had — to study and choose a career of our choice. We wanted to make a conscious effort to reach out,” says Podar.
Shah was aware of Shramik Naari Sangh, better known as Sa’Ni’Sa, an NGO in Khopoli, which works for the employment of tribal women in India. Today, Shah and Podar employ 30 tribal women from the nearby villages in Khopoli and women from lower middle-class families who have migrated to Mumbai from Maharashtra’s at their Mumbai factory and the NGO’s Khopoli centre, where they make boxes and pack the chocolates. “We could have invested in machines to do the job, but our intention was to provide employment. Many women are working for the first time and were not being allowed to take up other jobs. Here, they are happy,” says Shah.
The women are aged between 24 and 33, and wrap, put the chocolates into boxes, and prepare ingredients by chopping and roasting nuts. They work for eight hours and are paid between Rs 150 to Rs 200 per day.
They are hired on a one-week trial basis for which they are paid per day. “The process is simple but you have to be neat. Most of the girls have been with us for six months, and they train the new girls. In the beginning, they fear breaking a chocolate or doing a bad job. We lighten the mood by playing music. Once they are familiar with the drill, they share jokes, laugh aloud and work like a family,” says Podar, adding that six to seven workers, pack up to 40 kgs of chocolates a day.
Twenty year-old Namita Mahi, who joined the workshop three months ago, says the women who were here before her took her through the process. “Yaha mann lagta hai (It feels nice here),” she smiles.
At: Divinite Chocolates, Radha Niwas, 2nd Dadyseth Agiary Road, Babulnath
Call: 9930023260 or email firstname.lastname@example.org