'Mhadei', a kiosk in Kottayam that sells non-vegetarian dishes by weight, has an interesting connection with Abhilash Tomy who scripted history by being the first Asian to finish the Golden Globe race recently. Nurse-turned-entrepreneur James Mathew, the owner of the stall located near Panambalam at Arppookara, narrates the tale that began more than 10 years ago.
Taking risks, inspired by Abhilash
When he decided to leave his stable nursing job in Delhi in 2013 and start a food business in Kerala, James knew it was a big risk. “Regardless, I decided to go for it and started looking for a name for the venture. That's when I chanced upon the news in Malayala Manorama newspaper about the Malayali sailor Abhilash Tomy, who sailed solo, non-stop, around the world in a boat named 'Mhadei and became the first Indian to do so,” remembers James.
He was inspired by the sense of adventure and the risk Abhilash took. “I borrowed both the boat's name and his bravado from that news,” says the 41-year-old. James says Mhadei provides home-made food and uses ingredients like masala powders and oil made from scratch at home!Interestingly, he even made a logo for Mhadei Foods, and it is a yacht that has dosa as its sail!
An introduction at midnight
James started his second outlet by the same name a while later, near Caritas Hospital in Kottayam. In 2016, he had a visitor out of the blue and the man had a question about the name of James' shop. He recalls, “It was Sunish Thomas from Manorama. At first, I was intimidated when he came in and asked why I named my outlet thus. I just explained that 'Mhadei' is a Goan word that means mother, and refers to Mother Mary.”
But Sunish persisted and asked, 'I'm asking for your reason to name your shop thus.' “Then, I told him about the Abhilash Tomy connection. And Sunish said with a smile, 'Ok, I will tell Abhilash about it!' and I was quite surprised.” James told Sunish that he wished to talk to Abhilash, if possible. “He assured me to put in a word with Abhilash, and he did so.”
James was asked to call Abhilash at 5.30 pm on a particular day, but he forgot, being caught up at work. He remembered about the call around 12.30 am. Without thinking that it was past midnight, he rang up Abhilash! “He didn't pick up the call at first, but called me back a while later and said 'Hi James!' My joy knew no bounds that he had my number. We spoke for about half an hour and I was amazed to find how simple a person he is,” James exclaims. They kept in touch ever since.
A meeting early in the morning
On December 1, 2019, around 5.30 am, James got a surprise call. It was Abhilash, and he said, 'James, I will be at Caritas in around 20 minutes!'
It took a while for James to realise that Abhilash Tomy was travelling to Kottayam and they are getting to meet for the first time. He immediately jumped out of bed and made it to Caritas Junction. “Within a few minutes, Abhilash sir arrived with his mother. I got to show him my outlet and also the one at Kanjikuzhy, which was being built at that time. I asked whether he will be around for its inauguration, but he was about to go for his first Golden Globe race.”
Sunish also reached the spot and all of them ended up chatting for close to an hour, James remembers. “I forgot to ask him to even sit down. But all of us were so immersed in the chat that it didn't matter.” Funnily enough, James had planned initially to name his second outlet, Thuriya (Abhilash's second boat's name). “I happened to tell this to Abhilash sir too. He said, 'It's better you didn't pick that name. People tend to mispronounce it a lot.' James says, “He is right. Many already mispronounce 'Mhadei' as Madhavi and even call me Madhavi James!”
Regardless, James packed some food for Abhilash's family. “After reaching home, his mom called me and said that it tasted better than home-made food! That was quite an appreciation that I hold dear,” says James.
The COVID storm
Just like Abhilash was hit by the rough waves during his first Golden Globe race, James too suffered huge blows due to the COVID-19 impact on the economy and had to close down a few of his outlets. “Regardless, I drew energy from Abhilash sir again and I'm trying to bounce back changing priorities and opening outlets at other spots. I'm happy that he came back strong and won the second position this time. I could convey my congratulatory message to him through Sunish,” says James.
James’ wife Sunitha has just completed her post graduation at Caritas Nursing College. The couple has three children – Aadhina, Abiyudh and Ahana.