Raja Sekhar Reddy (PGP 1994) along with his friend, Shishir Gorle, both being first generation entrepreneurs, conceived and conceptualized working with the deaf and successfully created two ventures, one – a restaurant chain – with four fine-dine restaurants in Mumbai by the names of Mirchi & Mime and Madeira & Mime (Powai, Andheri & Thane), and another – a salon – Mirror & Mime (Chandivali). Together these outlets employ over 110 speech and hearing-impaired staff (deaf-mute), providing respectable, sustainable livelihoods for them. Their purpose is beyond business. They have a vision to provide sustainable and respectable livelihood to the deaf, along with providing them wages higher than their abled peers, and other facilities like medical insurance, ESOPs, etc. The duo is raising funds to open 20 more outlets of restaurants and salons, thereby providing employment to over 750 deaf-mute youth in the coming few years.
Actions speak louder than words, is a phrase everyone has heard and is familiar with. But this phrase hit me at an all new level when I entered this restaurant with a unique concept.
It was a warm and humid day. And we entered this place looking for some calm and quiet and coolness. Needless to say, we got all that we were expecting and also a big dollop of the warmth of the serving staff. We were shown to our table by the manager and were introduced to this young man named Pramod, who is deaf, who would be taking care of us. And he introduced himself to us in sign language. And that was the beginning of an absolutely enchanting afternoon. We all were eager to learn this sign language and Pramod was doubtlessly an excellent teacher.
The whole afternoon was filled with fantastic food and some great conversations sans words. Pramod, born deaf, did his schooling from a deaf school in Mumbai. After his education, he did some odd jobs here and there and ended up as a server at Madeira & Mime. And has been with them ever since.
Pramod was an excellent server who made us feel immensely welcome and at home. The manager explained about the restaurant, that they employ only deaf waiters, and how the ordering worked, and told us that he would be available any time there was a communication gap. But there was hardly any need for that. That is how simple and easily navigable the menu was, we could use the sign language to order the dishes or simply point to the dish on the menu. And I was quite intrigued by myself that I could communicate seamlessly with him even without knowing the ABC of sign language.
The place didn’t scream but rather whispered gently that one could come here to relax, unwind and sit back and enjoy the eclectic mix of delectable food and fascinating cocktails. The ambience was amicable and pleasant but it was the servers who added copious amounts of warmth to the place. It was a delight to interact with them. The way they were going about their work with an effortless smile on their faces was heart-warming indeed. They were having a friendly banter amongst themselves and unbeknownst, we still ended up laughing along with them. The serving staff added their own personal charm and panache to the atmosphere. And it was magical, to say the least.
The back of their shirts had this saying – I KNOW SIGN LANGUAGE. WHAT IS YOUR SUPERPOWER? And that is pretty accurate to say that they were indeed people with superpowers, ordinary people living their lives in extraordinary ways. They were just regular people teaching us, subliminally, how to live life in a special way. And that is the kind of superpower the world needs more of.
It was a warm and humid day which ended in the most heart-warming way. And how can we not click a picture with all of those people with superpowers, right? And so we did. And our server, Pramod, asked us, in sign language, if we were going to post the picture. When we replied in an affirmative, he shared his Instagram handle with us and asked us to tag him. Well, when I did tag him, I found that he has a large following on Instagram, much much more than my account. And I wasn’t surprised at all, remember those superpowers, right?
I saw that Pramod was following a page which was of a salon, Mirror & Mime, where the services were provided by SHIs. Now, I was intrigued. And after going through their page, I knew I had to visit them and see for myself how the experience would be.
I made an appointment with Mirror & Mime for the subsequent week. I was pretty excited and curious as to what it would entail. But one thing I was sure of was that it would be an impeccable experience because I knew it was served by people with Superpowers.
On the said day, when I entered the salon, the same warmth engulfed me. The manager greeted me and explained the concept of the entire salon. The beauticians and hair stylists were SHIs and they would be the ones giving the services. I was then introduced to Sheetal, who would be giving me a facial. She welcomed me in sign language and with a beautiful smile. The manager then told me that in case there was something I wanted to communicate, there was a bell placed in the facial room and I could ring it and one of the speaking staff would come to the aid.
Trust me, there was never any need for me to ring the bell. Sheetal was extremely proficient at her job and the facial she gave me was outstanding. I walked out of the room thoroughly relaxed and feeling fresh. Now, it was time for my hair spa where Deeksha was going to be my hair expert. I was super impressed with the care, attention and dexterity with which she handled my spa treatment, the whole time with this lovely smile on her face. It sure was a wonderful experience with wonderful people. I was a satisfied customer with a perfect spa day.
One thing I noticed is that these people with superpowers, both, at the restaurant and also at the salon, they smile a lot. It was not a fake smile for the customers or patrons, but a heartfelt, genuine smile that reached their eyes, always. Every single time. They are a happy lot, working alongside us, and making this world a bit brighter and cheerful, by just being themselves and their actions. Actions do speak louder than words, and we all know that.
As I reached home, I couldn’t help but use Google to search for some statistics. To my amazement, I found that India has almost 13mn employable deaf people and a dismal 15% had formal jobs. The reasons were simple – no one to train them, no one wants to employ them, and even if employed, no one wants to include them. Not because it is difficult. Just because they don’t know how. Here are two organisations that have literally created businesses around deaf people, not by just including them, but rather including speaking people into the deaf’s worlds. SHIs are highly efficient because they deliver from memory and not by logic. So once well trained, there is little chance that they miss out or make mistakes unlike speaking people. My study revealed that they are best suitable for roles in hospitality, logistics, and professional services.
Only if there are more organisations like Madeira & Mime or Mirror & Mime that can realise the potential of SHIs and their skills, offering them jobs that don’t need them to use the regular talking skills and still work super efficiently, and most importantly – without compromising on their productivity!
(The Author is a die-hard fan and a regular customer of Madeira & Mime restaurant and Mirror & Mime salon)