Raghavendra Singh has a unique designation - ‘Halwai Expert’ at Courtyard by Marriott, International Airport, Mumbai. He talks about how he aims to make halwais famous on a global platform.
If you have a sweet tooth and are in particular need of a quick fix while travelling, the ever-bustling international airport at Mumbai has one for you. An unassuming chef and halwa expert works at the Courtyard by Marriott, whipping up delicacies. From pillowy soft malai barfi sweetened with natural fruit, making it okay for diabetic patients consume, to the increasingly popular fusion desserts like kaju katli macaroons and baked gulab jamuns, Raghavendra Singh has been making it all. He says,
“It has taken me 16 years to reach here, I have even gone against my family to pursue my dreams but, in the end, it has all been worth it. I have made everyone proud and made millions happy. There is no greater happiness than to be able to make someone happy and to spread love. I have trained people who now work in Canada, UAE and other countries across the world. My dream is to make the Indian halwa famous worldwide and recognised on a global platform.”
However, for someone hailing from a middle-class family in Fatehpur district, Uttar Pradesh, becoming a halwai was considered taboo. The son of a supervisor at Kanpur Municipal Corperation, Raghavendra was the youngest in the family.
His father was not happy with the idea of Raghavendra being a halwai— a traditional sweet maker. The word also refers to a caste or community of people making sweets. He had fostered different plans for his son’s future, hoping he would study further, but Raghavendra was stubborn. Reminiscing his early years and his first foray into sweet-making, Raghavendra says,
“During my childhood, my father used to often bring home sweets like gulab jamun, rasmalai etc., and they used to be so delicious and would instantly bring happiness to all my family members. Ever since then I always had a fondness in my heart towards Indian sweets. I was 15 when I made my first sweet dish, which was malai gilori, a very famous sweetmeat in Kanpur that people are always crazy for.”
Raghavendra started work at Rama Sweet House in Fatehpur near his house, and put in 13 months there. “During my initial days, I used to clean tables, wash utensils, etc. I am very grateful for those days and it has shaped me into the person I am today,” says Raghavendra.
When he was 17, Raghavendra boarded a train and came to Mumbai. He had realised that in Kanpur the growth of his career would be limited. “I’ve always wanted to see halwais take the global platform,” says Raghavendra.
He knew that the right step towards achieving his dream was to shift to the City of Dreams. When he came into the city, Raghavendra didn’t have food to eat or clothes to wear. “But being a halwai and preparing mithais took care of everything and made me forget about my struggle,” says Raghavendra.
He worked at a famous local sweet shop in Mumbai for seven to eight years. Raghavendra says there would be close to 250 people working at the shop. He worked under Nathu Maharajji, a famed sweet-maker. “Whatever I am today is because of Nathu Maharajji. I learned everything there and am most grateful,” says Raghavendra.
Not completely okay with his son’s choice of career, Raghavendra’s father, when asked what he was doing, would say he was working at a five-star hotel in Mumbai, and never reveal that he was a halwai.
“I used to work continuously for 17 to 18 hours a day in order to make ends meet. I have learned that if someone has passion in their hearts towards a certain direction, they will achieve it no matter what. The key is to just believe in yourself and work hard. Today, my father happily says ‘my son works at Courtyard Marriott and is a halwai who is loved by all," says Raghavendra.
From working at sweet shops, Raghavendra went on to work at different hotels and restaurants and finally got to work at Courtyard by Marriott. On following one’s dreams and not giving up hope, Raghavendra says, “I would say just be sincere and work hard towards your goal. Don’t think even for a second about the struggle, focus on the destination while working hard and you will succeed. Be creative. Just think that I have to make my way and reach where I want to, no matter what. No excuses and no negativity,” he concludes.