Rajini always liked to experiment in the kitchen, but when at age 18 she lost her eyesight due to the genetic condition, retinitis pigmentosa, her dream collapsed Fate then brought her to NAB India Centre for Blind Women and Disability Studies. Today, she runs the Blind Bake Cafe in Hauz Khas, where visually challenged women are provided with an opportunity to rebuild their lives.
It is amazing to watch Rajini and her colleagues — Heera, Rakhi and Tara — move effortlessly in the small kitchen; measuring their steps to reach the sink to wash the vegetables, chopping them like pros, weighing the ingredients to prepare various dishes, from pakoras, sandwiches, pizza and pasta to coffee and shakes.
The visually impaired have high perception skills which Rajini makes full use of. She was trained for four months after she joined the cafe last year. Now she knows how to place her hands over the boiling oil to sense the rising steam and then carefully drop the pakoras into the frying pan without any splatter. She counts the minutes to pull out perfectly crisp, hot golden-brown pakoras and plates them with green chutney and sauce.
In a short time, the 12-seater cafe has found its loyal customers who do not mind waiting few extra minutes for the food ordered. Many who walk in also talk to the women appreciating their work.
The women enjoy working in the cafe. Pursuing dreams can be challenging.
“Lekin koshish zari rakhna hai” (But, we have to keep trying), says Rajini.
The cafe is equipped with modified gadgets. For instance, the oven and coffee machines have bindis of different shapes and texture embedded that indicate to them the different temperatures and settings. A talking weighing scale helps with the measurements of ingredients used in a dish.
Another unique initiative, The Echoes was started by a group of friends in 2015 to help those with speech and hearing impairment. It deployed 45 individuals to begin with and opened the first outlet in Satyaniketan in South Delhi. The pandemic forced its closure and now the team is back, running one in Hudson, GTB Nagar near Delhi University North campus. Another new outlet was opened this March in Rajouri Garden where a typical cafe menu with pizzas, shakes and loaded fries are served.
The Echoes is equipped with sign boards and cue cards that help the customers and servers interact. Each item on the menu has a code, and customers are given a notepad to write their orders. Walk-ins at the 33-seater are still low and three specially-abled staff seamlessly manage the Rajouri Garden outlet.
Cafe co-founder Sahib Sarna says, “The deaf and mute employees get an opportunity to interact with people and not feel alienated”.
Blind Bake is at L-25, Block L, Kharera, Hauz Khas; approximately ₹300 for two and; The Echoes is at E-1, Block E, Rajouri Garden; approximately ₹600 for two.