Welcome to our section, FSChangemakers, where we bring you stories and conversations of inspirational women. These women have changed lives and given back to the community in their own way. Every day, they stand up and push through challenges to imagine and create a better future.
Today, we bring the story of Mrs Harbhajan Kaur, a 94-year-old entrepreneur, who launched her brand Harbhajan’s- Bachpan Yaad Aajaye (Made with Love) at the age of 90.
It all started in 2016; when while having a conversation with her daughter, she experienced an epiphany. The conversation made her realise her unfulfilled desire to earn a living by herself. That is when she began making her famous ‘Besan ki Barfi’ — using a 100-year-old recipe that she had inherited from her father.
In no time, she started receiving immense love and appreciation for her sweets. Her customer base grew, and she even received a lot of support online on her Instagram profile. Her team started expanding and members of the family also took up key roles to grow the brand and the business together.
So far, she has sold over 500 kgs of barfi and this number itself shows her 8 decades of expertise in making this delicacy. Along with her signature besan ki barfi, there are other ranges of seasonal products like achars, chutney, sharbat, which she makes and takes these orders on-demand.
Harbhajan Kaur is now 94 years old, and her business now sells pan India and is only growing in scale. We got in touch with her team, and below is the full interview about her journey, as answered by her granddaughter, Supriya.
Harbhajan Kaur & Her Daughters
- How did it all start? At the age of 90, what gave her the confidence to begin this new journey?
One fine day in 2016, near to her 90th birthday, she happened to have a candid conversation with her youngest daughter, Mrs Raveena Suri. She asked her about how her life has been so far and if there is an unfulfilled desire.
That’s when Mrs Harbhajan spoke her heart out. Seeing her family, well-settled and busy in their respective lives, she expressed her desire to make a living for herself. “Apne hath naal kirat kamaai karan da ji karda hai!” (I want to earn on my own). She wanted to experience how it feels to be independent. Her daughter suggested that she should do what she’s been doing all her life happily and make the world taste her delicacies. It started off with one or two fortnightly pop-ups within Chandigarh, and other sweets would sell over the counter instantly. Thereafter, orders started pouring in and we fulfilled them all from our hearts and our home kitchen.
- What was her childhood like and what kind of family environment was she raised in?
Coming from Tarn Taran, a small town near Amritsar, she completed her school education till Standard 8, which was considered sufficient back in the day. Unfortunately, girls in those times were not given opportunities to go out of the city for further studies. So, she learnt her way through and got involved in household chores, learnt knitting and cooking.
She was and remains to be an avid foodie, and food was of prime importance at home. The focus was on making everything from scratch and having a great time as a family. Her father had a factory and was also a great cook. And that is how she inherited her skill of cooking. She got married at the age of 20-22.
- What made her pick sweets as a category for her business?
Since her childhood days, she has always remained fond of food. And growing up in a family where all the delicacies were homemade meant that she inherited a lot of recipes from her family. Besan ki barfi was one of her father’s recipes, the legacy of which she is now continuing at a much larger level.
She has been instrumental in binding the family across generations through her food, which is not only limited to her signature Besan Barfi. Beyond that, seasonality is a key element in all her dishes including Aam ka Achar and Badaam Sharbat during summers to different kinds of Halwa during winters. This also reflects in everyday cooking at home, where she emphasises the importance of eating local yet rich food.
- When it comes to sweets, there are many big and established names in the market. What makes her sweets different?
Love! And, of course, many special memories that are attached to the recipes, make these delicacies more special. The recipe is over 100 years old. Her father used to prepare them and she has been making them for over 8 decades. The consistency, as well as the rich yet simple ingredients, are some of the other reasons.
Behind The Scenes
- In these past 4-5 years, how has the brand grown? What is the response of the customers to these delicious treats?
Over the years, we have put a lot of focus on keeping the taste of the sweets consistent and authentic. Because of this, we have had a high number of customers giving repeat orders, and with word-of-mouth, we have been getting new customers on board as well.
Her efforts towards this little endeavour and her story have managed to attract people’s attention at a massive scale. Last year, when she was covered across the national press, we felt the need to have her face put to the audience. And to do that, we launched her Instagram handle – @harbhajansmadewithlove.Over the years, she has received so much love from people, whom she hasn’t even met. She is absolutely camera shy, but once we started posting her behind the scene pictures and videos, she was very natural and really authentic. This is what struck a chord with people across and we’ve been flooded with love and respect beyond order requests.
Apart from that, this year we have reached another big milestone — we have retailed her products exclusively at our home-run supermarket by the name of Stockhome based in Chandigarh. Today, her whole family, across many generations, is involved with her in terms of packaging, R&D, production and fulfilling orders. We now ship pan India directly and are working towards launching her products on an eCommerce portal. We are also looking at re-branding all the SKUs for them to reach as many households as possible.
- How did Harbhajan survive the pandemic and how did it affect her, and the business?
The first phase of the pandemic last year was rather a blessing in disguise. Our orders started peaking in June 2020 and by November 2020 we started shipping pan India. Like it’s said, every cloud has a silver lining – she found her amidst the darkest of times.
But this time around in 2021, as the second wave approached, she, unfortunately, got affected too. By God’s grace, she emerged stronger and proved it again that age is no bar for her. We are now back in full swing and working on how we can have our products reach maximum people across the world. And she’s happy to make those small steps back in the kitchen.
Behind The Scenes
- In this entire journey, what is that one moment that stands out as her proudest and most special?
Her proudest moment by far was the first earning at the local pop-up. That feeling was beyond explanation. In her own words, “Pehli vaar apne hath naal kamaai jeeti, te meri zindagi di bahut vaddi khwahish poori hoyi. Bahut hi changa mehsoos hoya.” (For the first time, I earned on my own and a big desire of my life was fulfilled. It felt good.)
That day, she made her offerings to the almighty and then treated her daughters at ‘Indian Coffee House’, where she has fond memories with her husband. When she was growing up, women were not given many opportunities. The last few years have been her bonus years and she is living them to the fullest and conquering whatever is coming her way.
- If she had the chance to, is there any part of her life which she wishes she could alter?
In small towns like where she comes from, unfortunately, girls were not imparted formal education beyond the age of 14-15 years. She feels that this has been a void in her life. She would have ideally wanted to be fully qualified and perhaps learnt within this profession further.
But like they say – it’s all in the destiny. She also feels that this time of her life is perhaps the best learning phase.
- What motivates her and what keeps her going every day?
Her simple mantra in life is to never give up. Try once, you might fail. Try again you might not achieve it all together, but definitely by the third time, you will find success. She has followed that and reached where she is today. And, that is what she wants the world to know. It’s the persistence, patience, hard work, never give up attitude and wanting to learn more that has proven to work for her! She truly believes that success comes when you step out of your comfort zone! That vigour and desire to learn every single day, keep her going.
- What message do you wish to give to the readers, home chefs, and housewives?
“Whatever talent you have, use it to the optimum. All of us have potential and all we have to do is believe in ourselves. If not you, then who?” She also believes that it was her family’s support that made this journey easier for her. She believes family support is extremely crucial – they are truly her army, along with her extended family, which she has received in the form of her followers and customers.
She extends her gratitude to the universe and believes in the thought of manifestation.