Women turn small-scale entrepreneurs selling ‘pithas’, ‘larus’

For Moromi Talukdar or Bijoya Das, ‘pithas’ and ‘larus’ are not mere traditional Assamese sweets, these are also means of livelihood, especially in the urban landscape where avenues of earning are limited to definite skill sets. They are among the scores of women in Assam’s largest city Guwahati who have turned into small-scale entrepreneurs by making ‘pithas’ (rice pancakes), ‘larus’ (coconut/ sesame laddus) and other such delicacies and selling them to the general public.

“I had started my business in 2008. There is a demand for pithas and larus here as people in the city don’t have the means to get the ingredients and also many lacked the time,” Das said.

After starting the venture from her own kitchen, Das said she now employs four women for making the orders and two men to help in the packaging and delivery.

Talukdar is part of a 10-member women’s group which engages in various activities for income generation.

“In villages, we can grow our own vegetables, help in farming, etc, and help save money. But in Guwahati, as women, our means to contribute to the family income are limited.

“In such a scenario, this business of selling pithas and larus has helped us earn money and help the family,” she said.

Buyers are aplenty for these entrepreneurs as most city dwellers find it difficult to get the ingredients like rice flour, grated coconut or sesame seeds.”I know how to make pithas and larus, but getting the ingredients is a big headache. Also, with the daily schedule of looking after the household, time becomes a constraint,” Mina Sharma, a Guwahati resident, said.

She pointed out that in villages, making these delicacies is almost a community affair as women from several households come together and make them.

For youngsters like Sumi Tanti, who have settled outside the state due to work, the packaged goodies are a reminder of home.

“We really miss home, especially if we can’t visit during the Bihus. With the pithas and larus now available in all major cities in packaged form, we can at least relish these delicacies,” Tanti, who lives in Bengaluru, said.

These women entrepreneurs have been helped by self-help groups and NGOs working for gender empowerment by training them in packaging and helping in marketing their goods.

Archana Talukdar, who has been working in this sector for over a decade, said, “We do basic hand-holding of these women. They have the skills and we help in monetising it.”

Talukdar, who has been organising a popular fair of pithas and larus before Bihu every year in the city, said there is no dearth of buyers.

“We have witnessed the popularity grow, in fact. Not just Assamese people, but people from other states who live here are regulars at our fairs. We also try to ensure that at least a few women can make these sweets at the fair ground itself and serve right in front of the buyers,” she added.

As these women earn a few bucks themselves, they have also ensured that skill of making pithas and larus continue to flourish and the taste of these traditional delicacies appease their customers.

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