Hyderabad: When it comes to domestic cooks, Brahmins continue to demand a princely premium compared to others. Multiple caterers in the city said Brahmin cooks are extremely hard to come by, and the demand for them is only increasing.
The internet, which is often celebrated as an egalitarian equaliser, has only legitimised these casteist preferences. There exists an entire ecosystem, with marketplaces that boldly display the availability of ‘Brahmin cooks’.
When entered in a search engine, the term ‘Brahmin cooks in Hyderabad’ returns hundreds of results. Many caterers advertise with pride that their food is only cooked by Brahmins. For instance, Poojalu.com, a swanky website which offers a priest-booking service, also offers catering by ‘Brahmin chefs: Since 2016’.
There are many other websites, albeit less sophisticated, which provide the same service. There are also special daily services which deliver two ‘Brahmin-cooked’ meals to homes and workplaces.
The going rate for general, non-Brahmin cooks ranges from Rs 6,000 to Rs 12,000. This is for cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for a family of four. The corresponding rate for their Brahmin counterparts starts at around Rs 13,000. Some cooks, especially in the swanky neighbourhoods of the city’s west zone, go for nearly Rs 20,000. Catering services are proportionately expensive.
Bordering on this thin line between peddling casteism and meeting consumer demand, the caterers are full aware of what they are doing.
Kumar (name changed), a Brahmin cook-caterer from Malkajgiri, said he was never short of clients. “It is next to impossible to find a reliable Brahmin cook in this city. There is a huge shortage,” he said.
Kumar said there were many cooks who “pretended” to be Brahmins to work at a higher wage.
“The males simply wear a jandhyam (janeu) and show up for work. This is why many clients prefer people they know personally,” he said.
Most homes seek to know cook’s caste
A caterer from Nallakunta, who “supplies” Brahmin cooks, said non-Brahmin cooks were generally better. “In my past experience, non-Brahmin cooks generally do a very good job. They are very professional. But the market is such that they cannot demand more than Brahmin cooks,” he said.
Indeed, the market is quite brutal for non-Brahmin cooks. Kumari, who has her roots in Nepal but has lived equal amounts of time in Pune and Hyderabad the last two decades, works as a maid-cum-cook. However, she only charges `1,300 per head to cook two meals a day, much less than what Brahmin cooks typically charge. She said she is often asked if she can cook South Indian food, even though she speaks chaste Telugu. “I usually cook for bachelors, who aren’t particular about my background and don’t care about my caste. Almost all homes ask me my caste. They refuse my services once they know I am not upper caste,” she said.