Vol. XII No. 15
Friday April 9 - April 15 , 2004

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Updated every Friday
by Saichon paewsoongnern

 

WHO’S WHO

Local Personalities: Avninder Khanijou

by Dr. Iain Corness

One of the driving forces behind the new ‘Indian by Nature’ fine dining restaurant in the Chateau Dale Plaza is an energetic Thai/Indian woman, Avninder Khanijou (“Just call me Av”). She is an example for many women, showing that liberation comes from within, and success comes from hard work.

Av was born in Thailand, in Bangkok. Her father was of Indian descent, and he too was born in Thailand, while her late mother was an Indian immigrant. “She was a real smart lady,” said Av proudly, but it soon became evident during the interview that her mother was not the only “smart lady” in the household.

Av’s initial home was Phitsanulok, where her father was at that time a cloth merchant. She was the eldest of his three children, and when old enough was sent to what would be considered a ‘good’ convent school in Mussoorie in India. This was a fairly standard educational practice in those days.

When she was 14 years old she returned to Thailand to continue her schooling in Bangkok, where she chose to enter a commercial college, as her ambition was to be a teacher. After graduation from there she did not sit back, but she continued with her own personal education, doing a bakery course and then going to cooking school. This was a very personal choice for her, as she enjoyed cooking. She did also say, “Indian wives and daughters-in-law are expected to be able to cook,” but for Av, the study of cooking went much further than just getting chicken vindaloo on the table for the evening meal. In between she also worked as a teacher for the St Theresa Secretarial College, so she was already showing the fact that she was an energetic young woman.

By this stage, the family had moved to Pattaya, where her father had opened King’s Tailors in South Pattaya. “This was the first tailor shop in Pattaya,” said Av, obviously proud of the fact, and she also worked there in the family business. She is very appreciative of the upbringing she received as well. “My father was a very modern man. I grew up (in a family) with a very broad view. Not narrow minded at all. They (her parents) encouraged me in every way.”

She met a young man, whose parents were also in the Indian tailoring business (Jack’s International) and they began a very long eight year courtship. This in itself was different from the norm for Indian communities. “There is pressure on Indian girls to get married,” explained Av, though this is prevalent in many ethnic societies, I believe.

She was in her mid-twenties when she and Jack finally got married and this produced an even busier life for Av. She now had two tailor shops to work in! “It was a very busy time for me in that transition and adjustment period.” She also continued to add to her own skills, particularly in the cooking sphere. “I got tired of doing run of the mill dishes,” so she went to India to do a culinary course with one of the most eminent cooks there.

With the birth of her first son, life did not slow down either. She was a mother, helped out in the shop and then went on business trips abroad with her husband. Life was so hectic that she and her husband decided to wait for a little time before having another baby. However, after five years the maternal urge was too strong. Her second child was a son and so was her third.

In between working in her husband’s business, she began to hold Indian cooking classes eight years ago. These classes are six weeks long and she has now had hundreds of graduates, mainly expat ladies with an interest in cooking who would like to know how to put chicken vindaloo on their dining room tables. But there was more in her heart than just passing on her culinary skills. “I wanted to start a restaurant.”

Planning for this new venture began some years ago, and Av knew exactly where she wanted to position her Indian restaurant. “It had to be fine dining. That’s our style. We want to be at the top. When you do anything, you have to do it with passion.” It was also very easy to see where Av’s passion lay too. “The menu is 100 percent my work,” she said with an obvious pride. Having dined at Indian by Nature I can attest to the variety offered in the menu, and the quality of the food.

I commented on the fact that Av seems to have a very active lifestyle. “Active? I’m too active!” she said with a laugh. Her day begins with a work-out at the gym, five days a week, though she admits that since the restaurant opened she has been getting there at rather odd hours. She is also the vice-president of the Parent-Teacher Association at the International School of the Eastern Seaboard (ISE) and has been taking piano lessons, something she wanted to do as a young girl, but the tutors were not available then. In case you think she might be otherwise taking it easy, she still helps out in the tailor shop, and then goes to the restaurant to ensure that this new business runs smoothly.

I asked Av what was her aim in life and she immediately deflected this to be what she wanted for her children, saying she wanted them to grow up to be happy with whatever careers they chose and to be accomplished in whatever their choices were. I persevered, asking what was ‘her’ aim, to which she replied, “Right now I can’t think beyond this restaurant, but I do want to be happy and I would like to travel and maybe have a holiday?”

This very cosmopolitan and intelligent woman might have to wait just a little while longer for that holiday, I fear, but it will be well-deserved!



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