Eatery's rent gobbled by birds for 90 years

Bhadresh Gajjar, TNN Aug 22, 2012, 03.44AM IST
AHMEDABAD: Subhash and Mahendra Patel - brothers who own Raipur Bhajiya House, a popular Ahmedabad eatery - begin every working day by placating a flock of rent collectors. The rent is paid in the form of gram, lentil, and millet. And the collectors are birds that swoop down on the feed even as the brothers begin to spread it on the roof of their shop.
Feeding birds is a sporadic gesture of compassion for some, but for the brothers it is a ritual that honours a commitment made nearly a century ago.
"The tradition started in 1922 when our grandfather Somabhai Patel went to Chandanben Somnath Bhudar Trust, which looked after a Shiva temple near Raipur Darwaza," recounts Subhash Patel, 52. "He wanted one of the shops owned by the trust in the vicinity on rent. The trustees said that they did not want money for the space. Instead, they asked him to feed the birds for a value that would cover the rent." The bird feeder chosen was right opposite the proposed shop. "He agreed to the condition and started the Raipur Bhajiya House," Subhash Patel said.
The brothers, who live in Kankaria, said that the rental condition may seem strange now but when it was settled, it was based on entirely practical considerations. They said that in the age in which the agreement was accepted, Ahmedabad was defined by the wall surrounding it. The bird feeder was located out of the walled city and hence was difficult to maintain.
"In those days, the gates of the city would open at 6 am and close at 6 pm," says Mahendra Patel, 50. "Thus, the trust decided to appoint our grandfather as the custodian of the birds. The fact not only highlights the city's love for animals but also shows that residents thought of practical ideas to sustain their love." The shop expanded and now functions from two adjoining outlets. The bird feeder perches atop the roof of the shops.
Today, the fourth generation of Somabhai Patel carries forward the legacy even as real estate prices have skyrocketed. Currently, property near the area can fetch anything between Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 per month. But the brothers refuse to divulge how much is spent on the feed every day. "For us, it is not about the money, it is about keeping the birds happy and keeping a promise," says Mahendra Patel.