There’s something rather allegorical about people who do just one small thing all their lives, but do it better than anyone else. Somehow, I see more of such people in small towns than I do in cities, where perhaps people want to hedge their bets by having their fingers in many pies. But when I was in Jodhpur last week, I chanced upon someone like this. A man who has made eggs and nothing else since the 1970s. He’s known quite simply as the Omelette Man.
How can anyone, thought I when I first read about him, make a living out of selling only omelettes? That was, of course, before I saw the Omelette Man’s shop (obviously called the Omelette Shop). A tiny kiosk right along the imposing gate leading up to the Clock Tower, all it consisted of was a couple of plastic chairs by the roadside for people to sit on, and stacks of egg cartons and cold drinks as the only décor elements. His kitchen had a single frying pan on which, he swore, he got through as many as a thousand eggs a day. Errant cows and autorickshaws added that extra dimension of excitement and danger to the process of eating the famous omelettes.
“These omelettes,” said his young son as he took our orders, “changed our life. Until Lonely Planet mentioned our omelettes, my father used to make a modest living selling mutton curry, some pulao and a few other selected dishes.” The Lonely Planet reference suddenly catapulted him into a fame he didn’t expect. “Overnight, all people wanted to eat were omelettes,” he said, “my other items began to go waste.” At that point, Ramkishan Gawlani transformed from a regular small eatery owner into the Omelette Man.
The move proved to be a masterful one. The more omelettes he made, the more he sold. “Everyone else in Jodhpur does good business only in the tourist season,” he said, “but we started getting good business even in the off season. Locals also began to enjoy our omelettes, and to cater to their palates, we introduced masala omelettes — today, the masala and cheese omelette is our mainstay, even the foreigners like it the best!”
Over the years, the Omelette Man’s techniques have been honed to perfection. Priced moderately at Rs 15, the omelettes are bursting with flavour and a refinement that only years of practice could have brought. “For example, earlier we used grated cheese in the omelette, but we have discovered that cheese spread makes for a much creamier flavour,” he said. Indeed, when I bit into the cheese omelette and the warm liquid cheese spread on my palate, I found myself in an egg-heaven I didn’t want to leave. Another trick he uses is to mask the egginess of the omelette with a pinch of turmeric.
Everyone knows him in Jodhpur. Patrons can pass many convivial hours at the Omelette Shop reading testimonials in the 15-odd notebooks stacked somewhere between the egg cartons and the cold drinks. “Every three months, we need a new notebook,” he said, “that’ll tell you how many customers we get daily!” There were also bundles of postcards he’s received from travelers, all of them addressed to: Omelette Shop, under Clock Tower, Jodhpur India. That’s all it took for the mail to reach him!
Pretenders to the throne have sprung up everywhere. The one next door declares that it too is highly recommended — by a Japanese guidebook relatively unknown in India. But Gawlani’s unperturbed: “They can sell as many eggs as they like, I’m the only one who the world knows as Omelette Man!”