Goan chef behind meals served on Kargil Vijay Diwas, cooks for free as homage to martyrs

DRASS (Ladakh), Aug 6: Goa’s Sarita Chavan, who turned to cooking to make ends meet after her husband’s death, is the chef behind the delicious meals served on Kargil Vijay Diwas, a service she offers for free to pay homage to the martyrs.
Chavan travelled from Goa to Drass with her eight-member team for the annual event in remembrance of the martyrs at the war memorial.
From pastries and pan pizzas to Dalgona coffee for breakfast and a lavish north Indian spread for lunch with phirni as the sweet dish, Chavan cooked for over 1,000 people who attended the various events to mark the occasion on July 26.
However, the journey hasn’t been an easy ride, she said.
“I came to Goa in 1980 after my marriage. I started reading cookbooks as my husband would motivate me to cook until I could perfect the dish. In 1994, after my husband quit his job and was later bedridden due to illness, I was forced to take up cooking to earn for the family,” Chavan said.
However, she didn’t start cooking from the outset and sold readymade masala paste door-to-door in Margao, Panjim and Vasco.
“A few years later, when my husband passed away, I began preparing tiffins for neighbours. Soon, my tiffin meals rose in popularity and I started getting bulk orders from companies for packed lunches for their employees and, later, for catering at big events,” she added.
However, the lack of a professional degree was an impediment for Chavan’s confidence to dream big.
“It hasn’t been easy. I always had this apprehension whenever I wanted to expand that I don’t have a professional degree, why would someone hire me? When I visited Kargil for a personal trip, I went to the war memorial and that is when the idea struck me. I reached out to Army officials to give me a chance to cook for the guests on Vijay Diwas,” she said.
Chavan added, “Initially, they weren’t sure. So they asked me to cook for some small events. When I successfully executed those, I got a chance to cook for the main day last year and I plan to continue it every year,” she added.
While Chavan was offered payment for her services, she refused to accept it, saying it would be huge disservice to the soldiers who laid down their lives during the war.
“I was offered to at least cover the travel costs for the team from Goa to Kargil, I said no. It will be a huge disservice to our martyrs. Their families come here every year and they still break down. The least I can do is provide them some comfort with a good meal,” she added.
On July 26, 1999, the Indian Army announced the successful culmination of Operation Vijay — a fierce counter-assault launched to push back Pakistani forces — declaring victory after a nearly three-month battle at the icy heights of Kargil, including locations such as Tololing and Tiger Hill.
The war saw the Indian Armed Forces fight in the most challenging terrains amid harsh weather conditions in the Drass, Kargil and the Batalik sectors.
Kargil Vijay Diwas marks India’s victory over Pakistan. (PTI)