Muscat: Even when he is in India, in his traditionally built home in Porbandar, Naranji Maharaj, ensures that his namesake shop in Muscat doesn’t change the signature quality and taste that he so painstakingly introduced. Maharaj made freelance cooking a thing 56 years before it actually made inroads in the mainstream.
He arrived in Muscat from Mumbai on a steam ship in 1966, and it wasn’t until four years later the late Sultan Qaboos took reins and brought in the period of Renaissance.
At that time, very few Indians had moved to Oman. Those who did were mostly Gujaratis. Seeing his natives in a foreign country, Naranji realised the potential of what his cooking skills could get him.
On special occasions in the 1970s, these families had Naranji as the special kitchen master, to whip up traditional goodies. Encouraged by the feedback, he started the Naranji Maharaj business in 1978 that sold special Indians sweets and snacks. The flagship store, which resembles a bustling Indian bazaar, saw a footfall that has only been growing.
COVID-19 did impact the business but home deliveries to patrons and regular customers continued, whenever it was allowed. Such is the popularity of his snacks and sweets that it offered many in Oman a sense of normalcy even during the abnormal COVID-19 times.
Naranji did not get a chance to go to college or university. That instilled in him the drive to provide the best possible education to his two sons. Today, his eldest son Alkesh Joshi is a chartered accountant and is a partner with EY. He has been working in Oman for the past 20 years and has worked for EY for the last 16 years. The second son works in a senior position with a leading pharmaceutical company in Oman.
“When I started my first outlet, there were only three employees, including me. The working hours in those years were not definite and it would typically go on way past midnight with an early start at 6 in the morning.”
Charity was always an integral part of Naranji’s life and living. Anybody from Gujarat or Mumbai coming to Muscat, in need of food, would come to Naranji’s outlet in old Ruwi area where they would be given free food for as long as they wanted. This tradition is followed even today, and he is very keen on using part of the proceeds for charity. “I was also very particular about the education of my staff’s kids and would donate money for their welfare and studies.”
“Today both my sons are settled in Muscat and it is a dream come true for me to continue to stay as a family in Oman as well as in India. I come from Porbandar, Gujarat and that is where I have built a small house for me to live and spend the retirement years. I have retained my ancestral agricultural land in Porbandar where I indulge in small-scale seasonal farming.”
Pillar in his life
His wife Manjula would help him not just to run the kitchen with her expertise in cooking but also manage efficiently the support areas. “Hospitality is a very labour intensive business and during the year there are periods when the demand for the products is very high such as festival time and weekends. During such periods, I have had to rely heavily on my wife’s support, who would efficiently handle those busy phases. I would say that 50 per cent of the credit for what I have created should go to the contributions of my wife.”