It was in 1995 when Shree Ranganadhan decided to run a bakery in Ukhrul Town. Ukhrul was then, deserted and less developed. Ranganadhan saw that Ukhrul needed a bakery and Ranganadhan himself needed to do something to earn his livelihood. Far away from his hometown Alappuzha, Kerala, Ranganadhan opened a bakery in Ukhrul which is famously known as Kerala Bakery. 1995 was a year of good fortune as the business began thriving but Ranganadhan’s affair with Ukhrul, Manipur started way back in 1980 when he first landed in Marem village of Ukhrul district, Manipur.
During the 1970s, Shree Ramanan, the younger brother of Shree Ranganadhan had come to Manipur with his friend who was Border Roads Task Force (BRTF) personnel. Ramanan came to Marem village with his friend. While his friend worked as BRTF personnel, Ramanan opened up a tiny grocery shop in Marem. Business in Marem started thriving.
Meanwhile, the responsibility to run the household fell on Ranganadhan who had just completed a diploma in Civil Engineering. Being a responsible brother, Ranganadhan felt the need to look after his five sisters. Dowry was a big thing then and Ranganadhan needed to earn for his sisters. In order for his sisters to have a respectable married life, Ranganadhan decided to join his brother Ramanan in Marem, Ukhrul instead of pursuing a professional line of work. With lack of employment opportunities in Alappuzha, Kerala, the decision to come to Manipur was the best thing for Ranganadhan.
With the hope for a better living, Ranganadhan first set foot in Manipur in 1980 where he was welcomed by his brother who was already running grocery business in Marem village, Ukhrul. Ranganadhan and Ramanan, without looking back, started working very hard with perseverance. Well, the journey to success is never simple. Perilous as the journey may be, the duo persisted. Marem which is 53 kilometres from Ukhrul town lies in the North of Ukhrul. Ranganadhan and Ramanan got their supplies to Marem from Ukhrul by foot. It was indeed a challenge.
“Back then there were only two buses (Manipur State Transport) plying in Ukhrul. One of the buses used to cross Nungbi. Aniyan (younger brother in Malayalam) and I used to board the bus sometimes on our way from Ukhrul to Marem. But then the transport service was very irregular. So most of the time aniyan and I walked by foot carrying heavy loads on our shoulders. All the shop supplies were fetched by foot. Those were the days.” recalls Ranganadhan.
Ranganadhan and his brother would travel from Marem to Ukhrul early in the morning to shop for supplies. There were times when they travelled by foot at night. But most of the time they seek shelter in the villages which are situated on the way to Marem. The villagers were kind enough to lend them a hand with their load. In most instances they frequently stop by for food and shelter on the way.
“The people we met on the way were kind enough to even offer us food and shelter whenever we go shop for supplies in Ukhrul from Marem. We’d often meet people returning from paddy fields and I remember a woman who helped us carry the store stuffs in her sopkai. I’d like to make a special mention of the people of Lunghar Village. Their hospitality is something I’d never forget. We were never made to feel like an outsider. We were treated like their own kind. This is what I love about the Tangkhul people” Ranganadhan exuberantly expressed.
The duo shifted their joint business to Namrei village and then to Nungbi village. There were ups and downs in business. While all the more searching for profit and stability, Ranganadhan and his brother then took their business to Nagaland. They were able to run business in Meluri, Phek District of Nagaland for only a few years. The duo then decided to head back to Manipur again. This time they set up their business in Kharasom. For 15 years, the business unfurled in Marem, Nungbi, Namrei, Meluri (Nagaland) and Kharasom. But the major setback while in Kharasom, which Ranganadhan felt, was the need for them to travel to Ukhrul Town whenever they needed supplies. It was then that Ranganadhan set his eyes on Ukhrul.
The year was 1995 when Ranganadhan and Ramanan took the greatest decisions of their life to shift their business to Ukhrul and Jessami respectively. Ramanan found his way to Jessami and started Kerala Hotel and Lodging while Ranganadhan chose Ukhrul, and opened Kerala Bakery in Viewland bazar. That was how Ukhrul’s beloved Kerala Bakery came to Ukhrul, Manipur all the way from Alappuzha, Kerala.
Ranganadhan, with the help of Hiralal who also owns a business in Ukhrul, was able to set up his business in Ukhrul. Somi Sareo of Ukhrul was kind enough to rent out a room to Ranganadhan for a bakery shop. Thus Ranganadhan opened the famous Kerala bakery, which was later expanded into a hotel, in the heart of Ukhrul district in Viewland Bazar.
Running a business for 25 years came with setbacks and successes. Learning from the setbacks and celebrating the successes, Ranganadhan persevered and made it big in Ukhrul. Bakery items like bread, cream toast, puffs, cream ball and birthday cake made a hit. Later when the bakery expanded into a hotel, items like poori-sabji, samosa, jalebi, rasagulla, special Kerala coconut bread became bestsellers. Kerala Bakery’s mantra is quality over everything. Ranganadhan himself closely monitored the business and was successful is delivering value and quality to the customers.
“We did face setbacks and challenges. But by God’s grace, love from the people of Ukhrul, especially residents of Viewland, and by efficient management of the business we were able to sustain. There were many competitions around us like the Bihari Hotel, Kalu Hotel, Bablu Bakery and others. But I remember one of the greatest setbacks we faced. It was the coming of ALC Hotel in Ukhrul. That hit us hard. But what kept us going during that time was our loyal customers who supported us. They never let us down. Eventually we were able to recover and business began flourishing again.” Ranganadhan declared emotionally.
Ukhrul became his second hometown. Ranganadhan and his wife Anila were able to raise and educate his son, Sachin Ranganadhan in Ukhrul while his daughter, Lakshmi was brought up in Kerala and educated in Kerala and Ukhrul. His son Sachin is fluent in Tangkhul language and he was often applauded in school for always scoring the highest mark in tangkhul subject.
Ranganadhan, rather, tearfully uttered, “Ukhrul will always be in my heart. The people of Ukhrul, the Tangkhuls are the most loving and kindest people I’ve ever come across. They accepted me, took me in and never made me feel like an outsider. I’ll forever be indebted to the Tangkhuls. I have been in Manipur for almost forty years now. My children are settled now. I have been meaning to retire and this pandemic came in favour of my wish. Ukhrul will always remain my second hometown. But time has now come for me to move to my first hometown where I was born. Today, with a heavy heart and full of gratitude I leave my beloved Ukhrul.”
Ranganadhan’s Daughter Lakshmi, a BSc Nurse by profession is married and blessed with a son. She’ll soon be shifting to Saudi Arabia with her family. His son Sachin, who is an Electrical Engineer by profession is also married and settled in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Ranganadhan with his wife is now in his hometown Allapuzha enjoying the coastal breeze where coconut trees lined the shores. His house in Allapuzha which is nestled along the Kayamkulam Kayal is a peaceful abode—a perfect place to unwind.
With a heavy Malayalam accent, Ranganadhan expressed, “Ninghsinahairei Ukhrul.”