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Nilgiri’s, Ganesha and a man called Thyagarajan

a clay Ganesha made somewhere in Sydney and a young 'fellow' in bronze

In 2003 nilgiri’s moved into its new, and current, premises.

This was the culmination of a dream that started in 1988 when I first came to this country.

My dream was to have an Indian restaurant, the kind that only exists in a dream . . . to have an open kitchen in the main dining room, to have five private rooms that served food from the five regions of India which also represent the fundamental five pillars of creation (jal [water], agni [fire], bhoomi [earth], vayu [air], and akash [space]), to have a small tiffin room that served thalis from different parts of the country and last, but not least, to do a take-home/home delivery wherein the guests could swing by and pick up their food or have it delivered just in time for dinner, all piping hot, of course!

This delivery service would be like the dabba service of Mumbai, with a little polish, and a van rather than a bicycle.

Ajoy, the Harbour dabawalla, delivering lunch to Sydney's Lord Mayor, Clover Moore!

This ‘black and white’ dream also had a few moments of vivid technicolour in it. I also wanted to have a cooking school where participants could travel to my ‘India’ through my food and also learn a thing or two about the different cuisines!

Very ambitious, but as someone rightly said, “Unless you aim for the stars you can’t go any higher!!”

So, here I was 15 years later living my dream . . . or so I thought.

The first month after the move was great. Everything was going according to the Business Plan that we had so meticulously put in place and things were looking up!

Then everything started to fall apart . . . and by the end of January 2004 we were looking to close the place down a mere three months after having first opened it. (I will do a blog on what I think went wrong, and how we brought it back to life, another time.)

In the back office at nilgiri’s, as we started to ‘relieve’ our staff (we could not afford to keep them anymore) both in the front of house and the kitchen, we were left with just eight staff members (having started with nearly 24!) to pick up the crumbs and see if we could salvage something out of this ambitious project which had all our money locked into it.

The banks and the financial institutions refused to lend us any money. The project was seen as high risk and there were no guarantees that we could survive the cut-throat competition of other establishments in Sydney selling so-called “CURRIES”!!

After much discussion Meera and I finally decided to speak to a man called S. Thyagarajan.

S. Thyagarajan

This man lives in Bangalore, in a place called Hennur Banaswadi. Thyagarajan is a civil engineer from Bangalore University and in the 60’s he was posted to Sikkim as a commanding officer with the Indian Army.

Thyagarajan’s life was a dream life! He had his work and his family – his wife and two young kids, a boy and a girl. Life was great, well, almost.

In 1984 all his ambitions were shattered when his wife, Indira was unwell. He brought her back to Bangalore for a check-up during the school summer holidays.

A simple operation was required that would take half an hour, at the most, and Indira would be ready to go back home to join in the post-operative family celebrations.

But the doctor, and someone ‘upstairs’, had other plans. The so-called straightforward operation went completely wrong and Indira started bleeding internally.

Thyagarajan and the kids, who were waiting outside to take their mum home for the celebrations, were now frantically trying to look for help. Indira passed away at the hospital.

Thyagarajan and the kids were devastated, as you can imagine.

Life had taken a complete downward turn.

Raja, as he is called, coped with this devastating event by starting a collection of Ganeshas, the elephant god.

two Ganeshas: the big fella made by an Australian artist and the little one is my son's favourite

Starting the collection did not bring his beloved wife back but it gave him the energy to live life and to look after his two kids.

Also, Indira was very good at Batik painting and had painted a few Ganeshas – and so collecting Ganeshas gave him the feeling of being close to his wife.

Today, Raja is close to 77 and though the void left behind by his wife’s untimely death can never be filled, collecting Ganeshas has helped him move on.

Until recently he was the single largest collector of Ganeshas, having featured in numerous magazines and media publications. The BBC has also featured him because of his collection!

'ganapati', 1st of the 108 in Nilgiris restaurant!!

So, back in 2004 when Meera and I spoke to Raja about the demise of our business, his advice was to make a fresh start.

He also recommended starting with collecting a Ganesha. He advised us that this might give us a focus and a renewed energy to fight back.

a hand-painted wooden Ganesha

When you are down and out, and there is no hope, any advice is like a pearl of wisdom.

So, this pearl came from a man who had been through a lot and we trusted him implicitly.

With our last $4000 in the bank, and no hope of survival, we started our hunt for a very unique Ganesha.

We looked all over Sydney, found some unique ones, some really beautiful ones and some were even from Sikkim depicted in a tantric form (an unusual form of ganesha with ‘consorts’!).

Gajanan!

We also found one that was made by an Australian artist.

It was’t until we saw this plump fellow sitting in the window of a shop in Willoughby, of all places, that we knew this was the one!

our coveted Ganesha! we call him 'Pitambara'!

It was a unique form of Ganesha sitting on top of a lion, possibly Narasimha.

But without even looking at each other we both knew immediately we wanted this particular one!

We went into the shop and were stunned! How were we supposed to start our collection which left us with, literally, only half our savings?You see, the asking price was a whopping $2000!!

Even bargaining didn’t work, who would believe our sob-story anyway?, so we decided to get another piece made of bronze.

This bronze piece was good but it was no substitute for that piece!

'bal' Ganesh, the young one. My son's favourite!

However, we managed to hold onto the business for another month and we also decided to buy another bronze piece to keep us going; but we still visualised the other Ganesha and wished we could somehow obtain it, but we didn’t quite know how.

It was’t until one day in March 2004, on our way through Alexandria as I was parking my car to enter a clothing warehouse, that Meera spotted the Ganesha that had eluded us for nearly two whole months.

He was placed on top of a wooden box just waiting to be picked up by someone.

The asking price?

$500.

I paid the amount, there and then, and brought him straight to my restaurant.

He already had a spot at the top of the stairs. Perfect!

It was at this stage we realised that if we were focused and channelled our energies we could even get out of the mess we were in.

So, once the spiritual side of the brain was assuaged we started to focus on the professional side.

"vakratunda'!

It took us a good five years to get out of the mess, but we are now back with a vengeance!!

Raja still lives in Bangalore.

Actually, he is my father-in-law and he is a great inspiration to people around him as his uplifting and wise philosophy and his “never say die” and ”never say never” outlook is so engaging!!

father and son!! shiva and ganesha!!

As for nilgiri’s and Ganesha, the bond is still very strong and we get one Ganesha every month, to remind us that unless there is a spiritual belief there can be no success!

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

Eggplant is one of Raja’s favourite vegetables. Please try one, or both, of these eggplant recipes, one stuffed with dry-roasted spices, the other a simple, yet delicious, coconut and eggplant dish.

About Ajoy Joshi

i've been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i've owned nilgiri's indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i'm on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a 'curry in a hurry'! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i'm enjoying exploring the new social media and as well as having published cookery books i'm now moving into videos. simple and easy to follow that don't go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

7 responses »

  1. Awesome blog dad!!! Tata is my favourite and I love all the ganeshas in the restaurant!!!! Nice work!!!

    Reply
  2. “awesome!!!”, as Aniruddh said.

    Reply
  3. It was a great thought

    Reply
  4. Ganesha works for me too, i go to him when i am HAPPY. A lot of my decissions are taken with HIM in my thought. Thanks for the blog it ensures that we are nothing but the blessings of GOD in whatever name HE is thought of by us humans.

    Reply
  5. Lovely post and so glad to know about Mr.Thyagarajan. All your Ganashas are beautiful. We have a good collection of Ganash idols, though not as unique as yours..will have to get those different forms..thanks..:)

    Reply
  6. good thought chef..

    Reply
  7. I loved your blog … each one is so mouth watering…. 🙂 🙂 Keep posting your best!!!
    I have met Mr. Thyagarajan whilst i was in college, visited his house along with my Aunt… after seeing his Ganesha collection I also dreamed of having such a collection.
    I never knew that there was such a story behind his collection…..

    I believe he is doing good.

    My prayers to all.

    Reply

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