If you go to Jodhpur, Rajasthan and happen to visit MV Spices as part of your tour, you will find the store, located in the Clock Tower area, brimming with curious foreigners and tourists. Step inside and you will find a few young girls selling a variety of spices, which especially cater to the tastes of visitors from outside India.
But it’s not the spices alone that make the store stand out. There’s a special story behind what makes MV Spices truly unique.
As Bhagwanti, wife of late Mohanlal Verhomal, co-founder of the business, tells The Better India, “My daughters and I are the only women in the spice business in Jodhpur.”
Bhagwanti and Mohanlal started the spice business in the late 1970s, with Mohanlal’s ambition being to sell products to foreigners and tourists.
“I married Mohanlal at the age of 22. He owned a grocery shop back then, but it suffered heavy losses as many relatives and acquaintances sourced groceries from the shop on credit and never paid for it,” she recalls.
Soon after marriage, Bhagwanti gave birth to three daughters in a row. The couple soon began to feel a financial burden as their family grew. “I convinced my husband that such losses cannot continue as we had daughters to raise, and that our living expenses would only increase over the years,” she says.
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After months of convincing, Mohanlal agreed to shut shop and look for an alternative business.
“I suggested we make traditional spices at home and sell them to tourists in Jodhpur. Around the time my fourth daughter was born, I began making 50 gram packets of spices at home and handed them to my husband to sell in the market,” Bhagwanti says.
Th 63-year-old adds that the business started with no significant capital in hand. “Mohanlal started selling the spices at the entrance of the famous Mehrangarh Fort. He would spread a bed sheet along the street and display the spices on it,” she says.
Bhagwanti says, “One day, a guard at the fort asked Mohanlal to meet Maharaja Gaj Singh. The king decided to dedicate a space within the fort where Mohanlal could set up shop in return for a monthly rent.”
Thanks to this, the shop saw increased visibility and business picked up. In 1980, the couple had enough finances to buy a shop near the Clock Tower at the vegetable market and named it MV Spices.
Bhagwanti says the mix of the spices is tweaked every now and then, considering the taste of the foreigners. “For example, the proportion of black pepper in garam masala is comparatively less than used for Indian taste buds. Such small changes helped foreigners accept the products,” she adds.
In 2004, tragedy struck when Mohanlal passed away suddenly due to a heart attack, making Bhagwanti the sole proprietor of the business.
“We had seven daughters by then and no son. Everyone, including my in-laws, believed the shop would shut as men traditionally owned and operated the businesses. They advised me to close operations as it would become difficult to manage my children and a business. Some relatives suggested I hand over the affairs in return for monthly rent,” Bhagwanti says.
But as bias reared its ugly head, Bhagwanti found that standing up for her beliefs at home was much easier than what was waiting for her outside in society.
“I was the only woman in the business, and competitors started spreading rumours and misinformation about me. They threatened us and even misguided tourists. Many of them named their shops starting with the letter ‘M’ to confuse customers. They tried to tear us down just because I was a woman,” she recalls.