The Amazing Bhimabai!!

I met one of the most amazing persons of my life today in the form of Shrimati Bhimabai Sampat Jondhale. Bhimabai is the promoter of a unique “Ajjichya Pustakancha Hotel (Grandmothers Hotel with books)” which is a unique format restaurant which has more than 8000 publications on its premises to encourage clients, especially youngsters, to read or browse as they eat or drink the ethnic local cuisine served on the premises.

The Hotel is at the 10th mile between Nashik and Ojhar village on the Mumbai-Agra Highway. It was almost half full when I visited it at around 3 pm in the evening. I found it amazingly easy to talk to this phenomenal entrepreneur as she walked down from behind the counter to chat with me and 2 of my friends. I have tried to put together her story for the benefit of my friends here.

Bhimabai was only 5th class pass out when she was married off at the age of 11 in 1967. Because of penury and household work, she wasn’t able to complete her education. She, however has an astounding memory and can rattle off poems and many things she learnt in school in her limited stint at school. She was and still continues to be very interested in reading.

To maintain her livelihood, Bhimabhai was forced to set up a Tea Stall on the highway in 2010 because of the leaching of chemicals into her land by dumping of toxic chemicals nearby by some local industry which made the land uncultivable for Agriculture. Along with the stall, she took up the work of distribution of newspapers in the localities nearby Nashik and in proximity to her Tea stall. She even started supplying meals to labour that was working on the expansion of the highway.

Eventually, she expanded the tea stall into a hotel/restaurant, and since the beginning, her concept was building a library within the restaurant. In the first 7 years of her stocking books and magazines at her restaurant, people made fun of the concept. Eventually, many of her patrons took to browsing through the 8000-odd individual books/magazines on her hotel premises. The initial stock of 1300 books came from her son’s publishing business. Bhimabais Hotel runs well enough for her to have 4 full time employees and her 3 family members work full time on the project.

Bhimabai likes gifting books on every available occasion and opportunity. She is very worried about the usage of mobiles and especially the internet by today’s youngsters. She is keen that they take up reading as a habit. She gives gifts of books to children of the poor who are keen on receiving them from her.

Bhimabai gained limelight and prominence especially in Maharashtra after she was covered by the BBC. She has worked in relative anonymity for 12 years before the documentary was done. She has won 73 awards since her coverage on the BBC.

Bhimabai is now 73 and her husband is 84 years old. She sleeps at 11 pm and wakes up at 5 am daily and works round the clock through the day. Everyone in her family including the grandkids got Corona. Bhimabai didnt not get Corona and has apparently not seen a hospital in her entire life. During corona, she would prepare huge quantities of tea and food stuff and make it available free to whoever needed the same while traveling on the highway.

Magnanimous that she is, Bhimabai accepted payment from me and my friends with lots of coaxing and cajoling. The stunning generosity of village folks never fails to surprise me. The limited needs and the tendency to give a larger percentage of their net worth away is in the DNA of most farmers in India.

Bhimabais son is Pravin Jondhale and those who wish to reach out to donate books etc. or plan a visit could reach him at 09922946622

Published by Sunil Khairnar

I have been working in the agribusiness, commodities and development sector in India for more than 27 years. I have a B. Tech in Agriculture Engineering and a Management Post Graduation from IIM Ahmedabad.