KUALA LUMPUR: Forty-five-year-old catering service chef Pari Pillay woke up on the morning of Jan 14, feeling gratitude and joy in his heart.
After all, it was the harvest festival of Ponggal.
And despite the pandemic, he was in high spirits at the thought of still being able to celebrate the yearly tradition of boiling rice, milk and brown sugar in a clay pot and watching it overflow.
Accompanied by his mother, they both cheered “Ponggalo Ponggal! Ponggalo Ponggal!” in The HoneyPot Food Caterer’s kitchen in Sentul.
Once the simple mother-son celebration was over, Pari watched as his mother scurried back to her home, located right behind the kitchen, and headed back to his own house to celebrate Ponggal with his family.
Unbeknownst to Pari, his life was about to be turned upside down in a matter of hours.
At 3.40pm, he received a distressing call informing him that his entire kitchen as well as his mother’s house were in flames.
By the time he arrived at the scene, everything was burned to the ground. Decades of hard work and a place he once called home were nothing more than smoke, rubble, dust and debris.
According to Pari, his mother had gone to visit his elder brother in hospital and had returned home at around 3.15pm.
However, Pari’s niece, who was sitting in the living room, smelled smoke and looking up, saw that a tree and wooden plank – both of which were located right next to the kitchen – had caught fire.
“At that moment, all they could do was run out of the house to save their lives because the fire was spreading too fast,” recalled Pari, shaking his head, still in disbelief.
“By the time we reached there, the whole place was engulfed in flames, surrounded by three to four fire engines and a huge crowd.”
During FMT’s visit, thousands of shattered plates could be seen in a massive heap in the rubble, and a tall, metallic, melted structure in the middle of the kitchen was all that was left of their fridge, Pari said.
The piece of land was also home to Thana’s Caterings, a separate catering service run by his elder brother, Thanaraj Pillai. Not only had Thanaraj’s entire kitchen been destroyed but also his lorry that was parked nearby.
To date, they are still unable to specify how the fire started. To make matters worse, Pari is unable to claim insurance for the fire.
Explaining that he did not apply for a restaurant licence when setting up his business – as the cost of opening a restaurant was too expensive – he decided to open a catering business instead.
In short, there was nothing that he could do.
“The authorities explained that since we were unable to claim insurance, there was not much point in identifying the source.”
Slumped in a chair, looking somewhat defeated, Pari explained how The HoneyPot Food Catering was well known for its authentic Indian dishes and their ability to cook for up to 5,000 guests at weddings.
He was also the first Indian chef from the Gastronomy Association of Malaysia to participate in a government-organised workshop to nominate Malaysian food for the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage listing.
On top of that, Pari, along with his brother, won the bronze medal for a nationwide fine dining challenge back in 2018.
Pari clearly had big plans for himself and his business, as well as Indian and Malaysian dishes in general. Now, even his dreams have been burnt to a crisp.
From chafing dishes imported all the way from India to 1,200 mini wine glasses with racks and 2,180 stainless steel spoons, a total of 226 types of items were destroyed in the fire.
Total losses, according to Pari, rounded up to more than RM350,000.
Devastated by these losses, Pari fell into a depression, refusing to return to what was left of the kitchen.
At home, he would often break down and his family would find him talking to himself in distress. His children became deeply concerned about their once good-natured father.
“I broke down in front of my son and told him I wanted to delete all previous social media posts of my catering business.
“But my son persuaded me against doing this. He explained that it was social media that helped my business grow in the first place, so I should turn to it once again for help.”
Even so, Pari worries no end about the future. He still has 16 events to cater for and although these were postponed due to the pandemic, his customers have already paid the deposits.
Fortunately for him, they have been more than understanding about his situation and are hoping he gets back on his feet soon.
“Right now we have submitted all the necessary documents to the Minister of Federal Territories, deputy minister and to the mayor, informing them of our situation.
“We are hoping to get their permission to remain on this land and to perhaps receive some financial help so we can rebuild our business,” said a hopeful Pari.
For more information on how you can reach out to this family, you can head over to The HoneyPot Food Caterer Facebook’s page or WhatsApp Pari at (016) 318 7601.