At first glance, 'Aditi's Corner' in Bhoomi Mall, CBD Belapur, looks like any other eatery: a couple of chairs and tables neatly laid out; packets of chips hanging on one side; microwave atop a clean marble platform and a glass shelf displaying pastries and cupcakes. However, there is something unique about this stall. Aditi Verma, 22, who runs the eatery, has Down Syndrome, but it is barely evident, as she meticulously takes down lunch orders, greeting every customer with an endearing smile.
"I always loved cooking, and would surprise my mom with dishes I picked up from YouTube videos," she says. Her parents and brother wanted to nurture this passion — besides making her self-reliant — and gifted her with the eatery on New Year's Day last year. Within the third month itself, Ms. Verma had achieved break even.
For her parents, it was heartening to see the distance Ms. Verma has covered. They were devastated when she was born with Down Syndrome. At the age of two-and-a-half, she was diagnosed with a hole in her heart and had to undergo surgery in Escorts Hospital, Delhi. "In the beginning, we were clueless about what we should do, as we saw the many challenges her disability presented socially," says her mother Reena Verma.
On the advice of the doctors, the parents decided to motivate Aditi to lead as normal a life as possible. "We never treated Aditi differently from her brother and encouraged her to pursue her dreams," says her father Amit Verma.
Aditi was sent to a special school in Jaipur where the family stayed till 2001, to another one in Pune till 2005 and finally to Swami Brahmanand Pratishthan, Belapur. Maths was her favourite subject, and she won the 'Best Student Award' in 2010 for her overall performance. Besides academics, Aditi loved dancing and dramatics, and in an inter-school competition in 2012, won the 'Best Actress Award'.
Once Ms. Verma had completed her studies, her parents were anxious to make her economically independent. She started helping her father with data entry in his logistics business in the mall. "She was very competent and handled her work efficiently," says her father, but Aditi's inclination was towards cooking. "She used to keenly observe the boy who used to deliver tea in the offices here," says her mother. "Besides, Aditi would always love to try out new dishes for us and would watch cookery shows or cooking during her free time." This prompted the parents to start an eatery for her.
What started as a small snack corner serving tea, coffee, soup, soft drinks along with sandwiches, Maggi and egg preparations, today also serves home-made lunch. Ms. Verma has two staff members: Sardar Paramjit 'Uncle', who takes care of cooking at the café and Ram, the delivery boy, who carries out deliveries to offices in the mall. "Every day we have a different menu for lunch. The bhaiyas and didis in offices just love it," says Ms. Verma.
A specialty of this snack corner is chocolates and cupcakes, which are prepared by Ms. Verma herself. "All the customers love my chocolates and cupcakes and take these home. I love to experiment with my chocolates and try to make a variety. So far all of these have been a big hit with the customers," says Ms. Verma with a smile.
Her customers bear this out. Says Sharad Rao, a regular at her stall, "I just love the rajma chawal and the egg preparation made here. More than that, I love the dynamism of Aditi and her respectful and humble nature."
"The first thing that comes to mind about 'Aditi's Corner' is the yummy Maggi there. The owner is such a focussed and well mannered girl; an inspiration for all of us. I call her the 'Little Business Woman', who has taught me how to face challenges in life with a smile," says Nisha Thakur.
Ms. Verma has taken her initiative further. She represented Maharashtra as an entrepreneur in the Self Advocates Forum of India (SAFI) in Bengaluru on December 9, 2016. "I even gave a lecture on my initiative and my desire to expand it." She has been nominated as the State representative for SAFI.
All in all, Ms. Verma and her family hope her example inspires many others to overcome their disabilities and pursue their dreams.
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