Mamani Adhikari

Award-winning pickle-maker fights back

You won’t find Mamani Adhikari’s pickles in supermarkets or online, but they are a steal at Rs 50 for a 250gm bottle. Try haats or village markets, fairs and shops in West Bengal’s Coochbehar district. Look for the Priyotama Aachar brand.

Mamani, 29, is a veteran pickle-maker, having been in the business ever since she got married as a teenager. A resident of Singhijani village in Coochbehar’s Dinhata area, Mamani dropped out of school after Class 4 and was married off at 18. Mamani and her husband Atul Debnath, 42, have a son nine years old.

The business was started by her husband 16 years ago, but Mamani runs the show today with a loan from the Dewanhat branch of Village Financial Services. Her husband taught her the art of pickle-making, using seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Mamani used the VFS loan to buy ingredients for the pickles, including cooking oils, spices and glass jars. She buys the raw materials from Malda and Coochbehar. She pickles kul or Indian plum/ jujube, chalta or elephant apple, tamarind, aamloki or Indian gooseberry, mango and chilly. The best-selling item is kul pickle.

Mamani buys mustard oil, sugar, methi or fenugreek, mouri or fennel seed, jeera or cumin and salt in bulk. Her husband takes his motorcycle to Coochbehar market to buy glass bottles, bringing home 25 dozen at a time.

They own around 15 cottahs of fenced-in land and use part of it to sun-dry the pickles during manufacture.

The COVID19 pandemic and the lockdowns that followed hit Mamani’s business as fairs were not allowed, and it was difficult to travel to other towns to buy ingredients. Her bank balance was wiped out. The effect of the shutdowns and the general price increase have forced Mamani to increase her pickle prices from Rs 35 or so when 2020 began.

Their monthly income is around Rs 20,000. They have no labourers. Atul works in a carpenter’s shop to bridge the shortfall caused by the pandemic.

Mamani’s happiest moment was in 2019 when she won an award at a sabala mela or fair for small-scale entrepreneurs. The next year, she won an award at another fair. The awards were for best pickle in terms of taste and flavour.

Published on Oct 1, 2021 | Updated on Apr 13, 2022