The Here and Now: Vimala Rajendran
The Here and Now
A Few Moments With Vimala Rajendran
By: Tom Griffen
I sat down with Vimala Rajendran, owner of Vimala’s Curryblossom Café, at a four-top opposite the main entrance. It was lunchtime, and servers zipped back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room, arms loaded with trays of dosas, curries, and samosas. Entering patrons took a moment to breathe in the welcoming aromas that diversified the air.
Vimala answered my questions with great detail while simultaneously composing an urgent email on her laptop, greeting everyone who came in the door (one of whom referred to her as a “rockstar”), and keeping a close eye on the needs of her patrons. One diner needed something, a napkin it seemed, so Vimala graciously excused herself to deliver a stack.
This moment represents Vimala’s philosophy of life: The here and now is what’s most important. She urgently gives her full self to the immediate present. This personal vision permeates the very being of her restaurant. It’s embodied in the slogan: Vimala cooks, everybody eats.
Vimala’s website states, “If you cannot afford your meal, just let us know. We believe that healthy, delicious food is a human right.”
This isn’t just lip service, either. Twice I have witnessed people walk into Vimala’s to request a free meal and be treated with the utmost respect. They were seated at a table then offered an overflowing plate of fantastic food.
“I grew up watching my parents share even when they didn’t have a whole lot,” Vimala said. “It’s plain as daylight why we do this service. Nobody should be turned away. When they are, it’s a crime.”
Vimala believes that her restaurant’s value is not so much what is served, instead, it’s why she does what she does.
“There was a time in my life, twenty-two years ago, when I didn’t have the means to feed myself or my family,” she said. “So I went with my children to the Chapel Hill food pantry.”
Also in line for food was a man who looked just like her father whom she hadn’t seen in two decades. The man said he was sad to see her struggling. He told her he’d resigned himself to such a life, but she still had a chance to make a change.
“I was not who I had hoped to become,” Vimala said. “My family wouldn’t have recognized me. I had been to college and should have been fruitful. I felt like a letdown.”
She continued: “But that incident showed me that a poor and lowly stranger might have been Jesus in disguise.”
Right then, Vimala realized that everyone, anyone, is her family. This altered the direction of her life.
“Now I go to bed knowing that I’ve touched countless lives, one meal at a time,” she said. “But it’s not always with meals. Sometimes it’s through a validating word or just listening.”
During the next few minutes, I noticed Vimala kept looking at the entryway rug, her face crunching up while doing so. So I turned around to take a look myself. There was a small scattering of leaves that had blown in from outside.
“Odds are nobody is going to notice those leaves over there,” she said. “But I do. I can’t help it. It’s hard for me to see something that must be done and not do anything about it.”
“Sorry,” she said. “I won’t be able to concentrate as long as those leaves are there.”
So we paused the conversation while she ran to the back to grab a broom and dustpan. Then together we swept up the walkway scree.