Invitation

ConfRm-BLR-1st Floor – Tanjore

It is 8.30 pm in the night. You are at office, working on that issue customer reported two hours ago. It was a small change in configuration, and you have emailed the customer, keeping all the required people in CC. It is Thursday, and you really want to head home now. The cook didn’t turn up today, and so tonight’s dinner is going to be Barbecue Chicken Pizza, your flat-mate has messaged.

You are about to shut down your laptop when you see a meeting reminder from Outlook. The meeting doesn’t have a subject, but it says “ConfRm-BLR-1st Floor – Tanjore”, starting now. You are surprised, you don’t remember accepting any meeting invite for this late in the evening. You check for the email Invitation , but you can’t find it. You are annoyed, but you might as well go and check once, isn’t it? So you head to the 1st floor from your cubicle at 6th Floor, taking stairs of course, to compensate for the beer you would be having later with your pizza, and reach the conference room.

The room is dark, and there is no one on 1st floor. You switch on the lights and decide to wait. You fool around with your laptop, look for the email again. And this time you find it, it is from project@company-name.com . But that is an alias for automated emails, how could an invitation come from it?

15 minutes pass. The meeting is officially over. You decide to leave, you need to ask the IT guy about this tomorrow. You go to your cubicle, taking the lift, pack your laptop and leave for the parking lot. Once you reach the ground floor, you hear some commotion. A lot of people seem to have gathered outside the office. There is a tempo standing outside the parking lot, but you don’t know what is that for. You come out of the office gate, and ask the security guard who is standing at the outer edge of the crowd, “Kya hua Bhaiya?”

“Arey Sir, that tempo was over speeding and came from opposite direction in the one-way street, ramming into the tree. Fortunately no one is hurt, because had someone been leaving from our parking lot 15 minutes back, they would have died on the spot.”

You freeze. You think about that invitation. Or was that an intervention?

Image courtsey : Outlook

 

Free

It had been a tiresome day

It had been a tiresome day. She was up since 5 in the morning, out on the roads. She had been struggling with a photographer’s block from past 2 weeks, and so she clicked everything and everyone in her sight. She absolutely had to finish the photo assignment by tomorrow, and she was short of one last “magical” picture. It was already sunset, she would have to figure something out later. She booked a Uber from Nariman Point – going to Malad would easily take her 2 hours in the evening rush.

“Kamal? You in there?”, she spoke as she opened the door to her humble abode, a 2-bhk with a posh builder in the city, something her father gifted her on her marriage with Kamal. It has been 7 years since they married – he worked with a talent agency and she was a photographer. Their friends often marveled at their compatibility – no one remembered them arguing about anything. They understood each other perfectly, they supported each other through all thick and thin. Due to crazy demands of their respective jobs, they had mutually decided to not have children. Of course their families and friends weren’t happy about that, but they had made their choice, and didn’t have regrets.

As she stepped into her apartment, she knew something was amiss. The house seemed – disturbed. There was a three-quarters’ full bottle of Jack Daniels on the table, and a glass with a last sip left. The sofa rug was lying on the floor. And their picture, the one they took while holidaying in Seychelles last summer, was lying face down.

“Kamal? Where are you?”, she didn’t even bother to put down her apparatus, and rushed to the bedroom, her camera flying across. The closet was open, and half of the hangers, were empty. Kamal sat at the edge of their bed, face down, staring at the packed suitcase in front of him.

“What’s wrong? Where are you going? What’s going on?” All the questions ran through her mind, but she knew better than to ask. She stood at the doorstep, waiting for Kamal to speak.

“I called up Dad today, told him all about us.”, Kamal spoke, not even looking at her.

She waited for him to go on.

“More like me, I told him all about me. He was shocked, I hope it is not too much for his weak heart. I was fed up of hiding it from everyone, and I felt too guilty when you lied on my behalf to all. I feel so… unburdened. Is it wrong to feel so?” He looked at her, and there it was, her cue. She took several pictures, all close-ups. Her photographer’s block finally freed her, as she captured the glitter of freedom.

 

Featured Image : 3rd Perspective Photography

Him

 

I saw him today. He had come for the evening Aarti. He looked just as I remembered him – unassuming, quiet, unremarkable. The kind of man you wouldn’t give a second look in a crowd. He is dutifully religious, he comes for Ganga Aarti every full moon day and Ganga Snaan on Thursdays. It is hard to believe he is the owner of Rajshree Jewels, he bears no airs of a rich man.

They say he started small. His father had a small shop in the old market area, but he made what Rajshree Jewels is today – opulent, regal and one of a kind. Apparently, Bollywood stars specially order jewels from his shop; his daughter’s wedding graced by so many VIPs was a testimony to his powerful network.

His daughter, they say, is a splitting image of his wife. His wife was the daughter of his gardener, and she was so beautiful that he fell in love with her the first time he saw her. He fought with his traditional family to make sure he married her; his parents gave up in front of his strong will. They were tied in a wedlock in a quiet ceremony, and were blessed with a daughter within a year of the marriage.

Nothing is forever though, isn’t it? The wife died in a terrible incident 10 years ago, she was on her way from her morning walk when she was shot three times in the chest at point-blank range. Paid assassins, the police said. The motive was to kidnap her apparently, to seek a ransom. But when she resisted and fought back, she was killed. The police, despite all sorts of political pressure, couldn’t find anything about her murderers. People speculated that they were foreign nationals, who ran away to their respective countries after the killing.

The man was bereft at her funeral. He turned to religion to overcome his grief, and hence began his faithful evening ritual at Har ki Paudi, followed by feeding orphans and beggars.Today is his wife’s birthday, so he will distribute Moong dal halwa with Matar Poori. My dinner for tonight is already fixed. Sometimes I feel guilty though, shouldn’t I let him know how his wife stopped screaming the moment I fired the first shot into her heart?

Featured Image : 3rd Perspective Photography

via Moody . My dear friend at 3rd Perspective Photography asked me to write something for this photo and though I have been crazy upbeat post the dance showcase on 17th (more about that later!), this picture made me write something very dark and melancholic. Maybe I had a not-so-discreet mood swing 😀

The Conundrum

If you had a choice, what would you pick?

He moved through the tunnel gingerly;  a flaming torch in one hand, and the other numb from rubbing across the cold walls, looking for some support for his tired hands. The water was knee-deep, he had no choice but to do this. He continued his cautious walk, startled once or twice by strange noises that were probably rats scurrying around, or so he hoped. There was no time or place to rest for a while, the water made sure he had to keep moving.

There was a flicker of light, in distance. He blinked hard and fast, to check if the flicker was his imagination – but it stayed. Hope started to grow in his heart, the end was near. He quickened his pace, and began to move faster , oblivious of the splashing water and darting bats.

As he moved faster, the source of light grew brighter. He had a spring in his step now, his exhausting journey was drawing to a close. The dark walls had finally began to get illuminated, the water level receding. He ran, to touch the warmth that proliferated the confines of the tunnel.

He had finally reached, he could see the sunlight coming inside. But he realized he was behind a gate, of glass, that allowed him to see outside. Suddenly, a melodious voice spoke.

“Hello! You are about to enter your land. Please do the last task and you will be free to go.”

Pumped with adrenaline, willing to give his best to the last challenge, he asked ,”What is the task?”

“Please watch one of the movies from the list below. The gate shall open after the closing credits roll off:

1) Mohenjo Daro

2) Ghayal Once Again

3) Housefull 3 ”

via Conundrum

Featured Image: Pixabay

Piyaar Khaan Leyi – III

For the love of food.

Two strangers, two separate nationalities , one thing in common – their love for food. Can food conquerth it all?

Taj Palace Hotel, Dubai is located at one of the most sought after locations in Dubai. It overlooks the famed Burj Khalifa, and boasts of 296 extravagant rooms. One look at the hotel, and you know why is it a called the Taj “Palace” Hotel, for its lavishness and magnificence was no less than that of a palace befitting of an Arab prince.

dining_tesoro_tesoro_terrace

For the first day, the kitchen interns were to report at 8 am sharp, followed by which they would be guided through paperwork, and their various responsibilities. But Agamjeet arrived at 7.30 am itself, awestruck at the marvelous sight of the palace in front of him. For a minute, he forgot his surroundings, for it was only him and the Taj, and how close he was to fulfilling his dream of being a chef there. His reverie was broken by a husky voice in Punjabi “Kinna sohna h, nahin praaji?”(It is so beautiful, isn’t it, brother?). He turned around to find a handsome, fair, tall boy staring  with the same reverence as himself.

It was not the first time that Aahil was seeing Taj. Unknown to his friends, he would often steal visits to it, whenever his rigorous college hours permitted, and would stand there as long as time permitted, reveling in the beauty and majesty of the hotel. It was his dream to work here, creating delectable gourmet for its various connoisseurs. And finally, his hard work paid off. He was among the 10 interns selected for an internship, out of which though, only 1 would be selected after a demanding training of 6 months for an apprenticeship, and the others will carry the glorious experience of Taj Dubai on their resume, to become the most sought after possible apprentices around the world. He had to arrive early on first day, there was no way he would ever miss gawking at his dream, but he was pleasantly surprised to see a Sikh, slightly heavy boy already there, mesmerized by the first sight of it. Dadamiyaan often used to talk about Sikhs, his school time best friend was a Sikh and his next door neighbor. They used to spend hours together, running on the roads, eating choley kulche from the street corner, and drinking the legendary lassi his friend’s mom made. They had even gone to Delhi once together, and stayed with his friend’s uncle for 15 days, roaming around Old Delhi and its by-lanes on a cycle, watching in awe the British ladies in their finery in Lutyen’s Delhi. And then, partition happened. One night later, his friend and the entire family was gone. Some said they went to India, while others said they were killed in riots. No one knew what happened, and the communication channels in those times weren’t reliable enough to know the truth. Dadamiyaan still missed his friend, even after 70 years of Indepndence.

“Han sohna tey bahut jyada h, tussi Punjab tou ho?”(Yes it is very beautiful, are you from Punjab?), asked Agam of Aahil, curious. “Haanji Punjab tou, lekin Pakistan wala”(Yes brother, but the one in Pakistan), smiled Aahil, waiting for a change of expression from a smile to apprehension. To his surprise, Agam smiled even more broadly and said ,”Oye hoye, fir toh tusi Bhuna Mutton de expert hoge!!”(Oh then you must be an expert at Roasted Mutton!) Aahil beamed at this unexpected turn of events and laughed, “Main tey ni, lekin Dadi expert hain!”(Not me, but my grandmother is!)

And hence began a beautiful friendship between Agam and Aahil, united by their common culture and their mutual love for food. They spent hours together slogging in the kitchen, sometimes spending 14 hours altogether, butchering meat, chopping vegetables, making stews or listening to chefs and sous-chefs, hoping to skim at least the surface of their enormous knowledge about food. Every single night, they passed out on their beds, exhausted, and yet would be the first interns to reach every morning, sharp at 8. Aahil was used to waking up early, thanks to his cricket training, and he would make sure that Agam would wake up too.

Time flew and suddenly it was time for the final assignment. All these six months, the interns were being trained for the New Year’s event, to be held on 31st December’s evening. Each of the interns was required to create an absolutely astounding dish, all by oneself, in a span of 2 hours, which would be tasted by a special team of 6, the identities of which would remain undisclosed till the results were announced. The winning dish would feature in the special dining experience on New Year’s eve and its creator would be rewarded with a prize money of 2000 AED and an opportunity to be a part of the Taj’s team of chefs.

Aahil and Agam were very excited for their final assignments. Agam wanted to replicate his idol Reynold of Masterchef Autralia Season 7’s signature dish – The Forbidden Fruit. It was a dish that was amazingly tough even for a trained chef to make, but Agam had his heart set on it. Aahil was, though confused. On one hand he wanted to go to his roots, make something that reminded him of home, which he badly missed, but on the other hand, he didn’t want to come up short in the competition. The thought kept him awake for nights thereto and he filled the waste bin with his discarded ideas on the paper. But just a night before the competition, he had sudden stroke of inspiration, and he knew, what he was going to submit as his final assignment.

mc7_rx06_invention-test_reynold-1_001

What would Aahil make for his assignment? Who would win the competition? Agam? Aahil? Or someone else, whom we don’t know about yet? Watch out this space next week for the next part of the series – “Piyaar Khaan Leyi”, a.k.a, For the Love of Food!

Image Sources : Taj, Forbidden Fruit, Featured Image

Piyaar Khaan Leyi – II

For the love of food.

Two strangers, two separate nationalities , one thing in common – their love for food. Can food conquerth it all?

“Run Aahil run! What are you doing? The ball is right there!!! Oh God, how could you miss this?”, screamed Aahil’s father from the benches of the cricket stadium of Aahil’s school in Lahore. Every morning it was the same rigorous ritual; Aahil was dragged out of the bed before sunrise, made to run 2 kms, followed by cricket practice at his school stadium at 6.30 am. He hated it, but had no choice but to comply to his father’s wishes. His father was a province-level cricket player, now working as a lawyer at Lahore District court. He couldn’t make it to the national team due to politics of Pakistan Cricket Selection Board, but he was determined to get his son into the team.

Aahil was the only son, born to his parents after 7 long years of marriage. His mother, due to the pregnancy complications, died soon after. He had been raised by his loving grandparents. His grandfather was a retired Military officer, and Aahil loved his grandfather the most. He too, was apple of his eyes – his prince, his “Aahil”. Aahil spent all his childhood in the lap of his loving Dadamiyaan, listening to umpteen stories of his school days, college days, partition, wars with India. He always wondered how different his father and Dadamiyaan sounded while speaking of India – his father was always bitter, cursing their cricket team each time they won over Pakistan, and his grandfather was always compassionate, regretful of the Partition and wars, the troubles between the two countries; fuelled by ISI and corrupt leaders.

Little did Aahil’s father know, as he trained his son to become a world class cricketer; that though Aahil was naturally talented, he despised cricket. His cricket ensured he could pass each class with bare minimum scores, under the pretext of various camps he attended. but his real passion was standing next to his Dadi in the kitchen, taking in the aroma of her delicate spices mix as she cooked Bhuna Mutton Masala (Mutton Roasted in Indian spice mix) with Naan (Flat bread). Aahil loved cooking, he found it to be an art – a skill that could be mastered only with practice, knowing how much salt to put and when. As his Dadi’s vision grew weaker due to cataract, Aahil went on to assist her, putting the various herbs as instructed by her, admiring her talent of determining if something is cooked just by the aroma.

When Aahil was 16 and preparing for under-19 selections of the national team, he heard about a show called “MasterChef Australia” from two of his female classmates, talking excitedly to each other about it. He looked for it at YouTube and before he could finish the fourth episode of Season 3, YouTube was banned in Pakistan. But Aahil had found his true calling in life – he wanted to be a famous chef with an established chain of restaurants across the world. He wanted to bring the secrets of his Dadi’s cooking to the world, and more importantly, he wanted to open a restaurant in the heart of New Delhi – his Dadamiyaan spoke a lot about the amazing food he had in the streets of Chandni Chowk on his delegation visits. He wanted to go there, eat their street food and be able to visit the Taj Mahal he had only seen in photos.

He inquired more and got to know about International Center for Culinary Arts, Dubai. He was scared, he wanted to join ICCA, but was worried about his father’s wrath at his disinterest towards cricket. But his Dadi-Dadamiyaan encouraged him to talk to his father.

“Abbajaan”, he entered tentatively in his father’s room.
“Oh, you are still up? It’s 11 pm already Aahil. You will be late for practice tomorrow”, his father lifted his head from his legal literature in surprise.
“Abbajaan..there is something I have to t.t..t..tell you”, he stammered.
“What is it Aahil? Are you alright? Are you nervous about the selections day after tomorrow?”, his father spoke as he called him closer and stroked his hair.
“Abbajaan..I d..don’t want to be a crick..crickter. I want t..t..to be a chef. I w..want to g..go to I..CC..A, in D..D..Dubai”, he spoke, shit scared of the severe lashing he was about to get.
“Are you out of your mind? Do you even know what you are saying? Please tell me it is just your fears speaking. I think it is the result of that stupid YouTube and that show that you used to see. Thank God they banned it. Go to your room, there is nothing called chef. You are born to be a cricketer, not a khaansaama ( a male cook/servant) at a hotel!!!”, his father yelled.
“What’s going on? Atif, why are you yelling at Aahil?”, Dadamiyaan came, limping slightly in the absence of his cane.
“Your beloved grandson wants to become a khaansaama Abbu, can you believe this nonsense?”, Atif cooled a little in the presence of his father, but the anger remained.
“Yes I know. And I also know that you love cricket, but he doesn’t. I think it is time you let him make his own decisions.”, Dadamiyaan replied quietly.
“Abbu do you realize how much money I have spent on his cricket training? And how much more we will need to send him to Dubai? Your love for Aahil is making you blind to all practicality!”, Atif lost his temper again.
“I have it all planned Atif. You need not worry about it. We shall sell a portion of our land in the village to your uncle. Anyway, we haven’t been there in years and he takes care of it as it is”, Dadamiyaan replied.

Atif didn’t know what to say. He knew his Abbu, if he had thought of something, he was going to see that things fell into place. He always had a feeling that Aahil didn’t enjoy cricket, but chose to ignore it. It took him two weeks but finally he relented, and Aahil applied to ICCA, Dubai. His application was selected and two months later, he joined the class of extremely talented students, some of whom even knew how to use those fancy kitchen gadgets!

It took a lot of grit and hard work for Aahil to make his mark at ICCA, cricket didn’t seem so tough! But he did well. And his ecstasy knew no bounds when he obtained the much coveted internship at the Taj Palace Hotel, Dubai. Little did he know that this experience was going to change his life forever.

Featured Image : Andie Mitchell

Piyaar Khaan Leyi – I

For the love of food.

Two strangers, two separate nationalities , one thing in common – their love for food. Can food conquerth it all?

Kota, a sleepy town in Rajasthan, is an important junction on the Delhi-Bombay route. Around a decade ago, this city became famous as the “Coaching Junction” of India, with coaching institutes for Medical and Engineering mushrooming at all corners. The phenomenon started with a couple of teachers taking tutions for high school students and soon manifested into a full fledged business. Every year, lakhs of students from all parts of the city come to Kota to try their destiny at the most prestigious competitive exams of the country. These young kids, merely 14-16 year old, stay miles away from home, study 12 hour a day under immense pressure, to crack these exams and become their parents’ pride note in front of all neighbors and relatives. Many crack under pressure, they start drinking, smoking, give up on studies and merely languish their parents’ hard earned money. Some thrive in it, they become better and better and become the faces of their alma mater when they clear the exams- AIR 20, AIR 50, AIR 200, so on and so forth. And in between them, is the clueless crowd, pushed into this hugely competitive scenario by ambitious parents, too scared to tell their parents that this is not what they wanted, trying to fight the losing battle.

Agamjeet was a classic example of this middle range of people, he had been mediocre all throughout his life, except in 10th, when his love for Social Studies and English made him one of the toppers at his prestigious school at Delhi. His father, a doctor at Delhi Health Services and his mother, a Delhi Development Authority employee, were ecstatic and decided to enroll him in Bansal Coaching Classes at Kota, just like their neighbors, the Kalras. The reluctant Agamjeet was packed off with clothes, tons of books, stationery and dozens of his Mom’s snacks in the Jan Shatabadi. 15 days later, he came back, with only his clothes in tow, he couldn’t take the high pressure classes and indulged into binge eating on a regular basis; the snacks that were supposed to last him for 2 months, got over in 10 days.

Agamjeet decided to pursue Arts; his parents were disappointed but gave in to their only son’s seemingly unreasonable demands. He loved his subjects, and continued to do well. Just like that one day, he stumbled upon season 3 of Master Chef Australia, a world acclaimed series of amateur cooks battling against each other to become the country’s top chef. Agamjeet was not interested in the competition, it was the dishes they prepared that interested him. The use of ingredients, herbs, meats, vegetables in unique ways seemed mindbogglingly amazing to him. He knew then and there what he wanted to do with his life – He wanted to be a famous chef with his own established chain of restaurants. He started following numerous food bloggers and began his stint as a cook in his Mom’s kitchen. His mother was pleasantly surprised to see him at her side everyday, observing what she did; his father showed no qualms in expressing his displeasure,”Sadaa eklauta munda khanaa bnaauna sikhna chaahunda hai? Lokki ki kehendenge, Dr. Chhabra da munda dhabaha chalaaunda hai?” (Our only son wants to learn to cook? What will people say, that Dr. Chhabra’s only son runs a Dhaba(roadside eatery)?) “Tucche college toh engineering karan toh better haiga ki main apna dhaba khol levaan, Keshar da Dhaba wala kinna kamaaunda hai twaanu pata haiga? (It is better to open a coadside eatery than to do engineering from a third class college. Do you have any idea how much does the famous Kesar da Dhaba of Amritsar, Punjab earn?), pat replied Agamjeet.

It took 1.5 year of incessant bickering, cold wars, and Mrs.Chhabra’s intervention (“Sadaa ikko hi baccha hai, karan do onno jo vi karna chaahunda hai, twaanu ki lodh har chiz icc bhasudi paan di? (We have just one child, let him do whatever he wants. Must you crib about everything?)), but finally Agamjeet reached Indian Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Mumbai. He battled it out against the likes of cutthroat pixie competitors, tough lessons and long hours to earn a coveted internship with The Taj Hotel, Dubai. Little did he know that this experience will change his life, forever and for good…

 

Featured Image : Andie Mitchell

 

How Blue is my Sapphire – 5

How far will you go for what you want?

Do you recall, not long ago
We would walk on the sidewalk
Innocent, remember?
All we did was care for each other

But the night was warm
We were bold and young
All around the wind blows
We would only hold on to let go

Blow a kiss, fire a gun
We need someone to lean on
Blow a kiss, fire a gun
All we need is somebody to lean on

[Major Lazer and DJ Snake – Lean On]

It was the third time the phone was ringing. I was sitting with my laptop, working on a pet project. The last 3 months had been quite life changing. I quit EatOrg, and soon after left to Canada for a month to travel and meet friends and relatives. The trip did good to me, and once I was back, I decided to go back to things I loved. My days were spent reading, writing, going to my contemporary dance class, cooking, coding and coloring. I joined Yoga Teacher Training Course at a premier Yoga Academy in the city, and that kept me busy.
I checked the phone, it was some unknown number. Truecaller suggested it was from Pune, but with MNP, one could no longer know. I finally picked it up.

“Vaani?”, the voice that I knew so well, spoke from the other end. “Aakaash? Where are you calling from? Whose number is this?” “I came down to Pune, you won’t believe whom I met here. Anyway, I am coming back tomorrow, and I want to see you as soon as I land. We will meet at the coffee shop near your house?”

From the moment I left the EatOrg premises, Aakaash had tried reaching out to me in more ways than one. There were incessant “I am sorry” texts, countless calls on phone, Skype and Whatsapp, and several emails on my personal e-mail ID. But I left for Canada soon, and avoided using any kind of mode of communication or social media – I was just not willing to deal with the mess I had left behind. The calls and messages eventually stopped, or so I thought, until today.

“Are you asking me to meet or ordering me to?”, I asked with a wry smile on my face. “I will be there at 5 pm. See you, bye.”, was all he said.

*****

It was 5 minutes past 5pm when I reached. Aakaash was already sitting there, but not alone. “Guess who I found at Pune.” It was Tarang. I looked at both of them, with utter disbelief. “Vaani before your eyes pop out, please sit down, we have already ordered your favorite Mocha. And yes, we all have a lot to say, and this is going to be a hell of a evening.” “Indeed guys, indeed.”, I was almost speaking to myself, but that came out aloud I guess.

“Guys I know I screwed it up”, started Aakaash. “EatOrg was our dream, it was a lovely idea, but in my greed to make money, I unintentionally sacrificed what EatOrg stood for – honesty and friendship. I lost two of my closest friends to my idiocy, and it has taken me a lot of courage to admit this, but guys, I was wrong. Vaani, soon after you left, we had another round of food poisoning incident. There were too many complaints this time, and someone informed the local Health Inspector, who along with his team, came to check our kitchens. Needless to say, our hygiene and quality of products resulted us to get slapped by heavy fines, and that’s when me and Dua had a fight. He blamed it all on my mismanagement and we, well he decided, that EatOrg needs to be sold off. Fortunately for us, a health and fitness cafe in Pune was willing to buy EatOrg, since they have been looking to expand to Bangalore as well. And guess what, Tarang is a part of Healthily.”

“Healthily is a family business of one of my B-School classmates,” began Tarang. “After I left EatOrg, I reached out to him. He too had been looking to revamp his cafe, and wanted some help to do the same. We found an angel investor who had faith in our vision and Healthily now has its own apps on all major smartphone platforms. When we got to know that EatOrg was up for sale, I convinced the investor to allow us to acquire them. We had only one condition though.”

“Which was??”, I was intrigued by now.

“That Ajay Dua would no longer be part of EatOrg.”, replied Aakaash. “Really??? And he agreed?”, I asked, flabbergasted. “Well he had no choice, there are several organizations after his tracks, his farm has had complaints of inhumane conditions and less than minimum wages being paid.”, said Tarang. “And that’s why we are here Vaani. I think EatOrg deserves another chance, and it needs you and your vision. And this time, nothing will go wrong.”, Aakaash shifted his chair and moved closer to the table, looking at me with anticipation.

I was quiet. None of us was saying anything, probably waiting for me to break the ice. After several moments of uncomfortable silence, I knew I had to speak. “I don’t want to be a part of this venture again.” Tarang and Aakaash stared at me, shocked. Tarang opened his mouth to say something, but I raised my hand and said, “I am not done yet.”

“From past 2 years, we have all been working towards EatOrg, equally hard. But for me, this journey has had a different meaning altogether. I realized that this is not my dream, it is you guys’. And while I have tried to do as good a job as I could, I realize that it wasn’t enough. In my bid to be a loyal friend to both of you, I continued to work for your visions, but I lost my own sense of self somewhere. In between your ego clashes, I got caught up for no reason. As much as I love you both, it is time I do something for myself, and myself alone. I think I am done sacrificing my dreams for your dreams.”

“But we need you Vaani”, began Tarang. “No Tarang you don’t. For if you had needed me, you would have stopped that day. You would have called me up, talked to me and we could have figured something out, like get another investor onboard, or something. For you, I was always there, but you chose to leave, because you have your own set of rules that you like to play by. Today you have come back, because the rules are your own. While there is nothing wrong with that, I don’t think I need that kind of drama any more in my life.” “Vaani I am sorry. I just needed time to figure out..” “Figure out what Tarang? That what is more important to you- your ambitions or your friends?”, I blurted out.

Tarang had nothing to say in his defence. He looked at Aakaash, and sighed,”Yaar, tu hi samjha isey, meri nahin sunegi ab. I think I should leave now.” “Let me drop you till the parking.”, Aakaash got up and left with him. Five minutes later, he was back.

“Vaani, dekh meri baat samajh, I know you are mad at him.” “No Aakaash, I am not mad at him. I am just tired, of fighting for others’ opinions. All this while, ever since college, all I have done is either fight for your opinion with him or vice versa. But in that process, somewhere, I think I lost my own voice of reason. There have been a lot of things that I did for the sake of our friendships, but it’s time I do something for me too.” I took out the ring from my purse, and placed it on the table. “You know Aaakash, they say a sapphire stands for honesty and wisdom. The more blue a sapphire is, the purer it is. I am your friend, and if you need me, I will always be there, but I need to do what makes me happy.”

Aakaash took the ring, and asked me,”So what are you going to do?” “A lot of things, actually”, for the first time in the entire conversation, I smiled. “I am doing a Yoga Teacher Training Certification, and will soon be qualified to teach. I have quite a few things in mind, some freelance coding projects and online articles, let’s see where it all goes.” “So this is it Vaani, for us?” “Of course not Aakaash, I will always be the friend you can lean on.” “Me too Vaani, me too.”, he held my hand in his.

“Acha listen, did you quit smoking?”
“Yes”
“Good.”

How Blue is My Sapphire – 4

How far will you go for what you want?

“I think the UI of the app needs to be brighter. It is just too “thanda”, you guys. Sit with Vaani, and figure this out. Vaani, get this done.” Ajay Dua bellowed, jolting me out of my day-dreaming. I stared at him, murderously. The man, with his expensive suit and even more expensive perfume, gave me his oh-so-special smirk he has reserved for me. Ajay was a total MCP (Male Chauvinist Pig). He was the kind of man every woman trying to make her mark in the entrepreneur world has to deal with more than once. Initially he thought he could play by his rules with me – the incessant flirting, uncomfortable stares, et all. But once he realized it wouldn’t work with me, he started undermining my authority. To him, I was just a pretty accessory standing next to Aakaash, good enough only for treating clients politely and nothing else. On more than one occasion, I had made sure I expressed my displeasure with his opinion about me and my working capability, but Aakaash always came in at the right moment to diffuse the tension.

Aakaash had always been adaptive, it helped that he was brought up in a household where there was always a flurry of strangers willing to meet his father and grandfather – ranging from the local laborers to the District Magistrate. People say when in Rome, do as Romans do. Aakaash believed that when with Romans, become a Roman. He would change his body language according to the financial and mental capacity of the person in front of him, and that allowed him to have a huge social and professional network. And perhaps that’s why, he knew how to deal with Dua. He would laugh with him boisterously, drink a glass of the finest Scotch and now even smoked at his behest. Suddenly, I was no longer sure if Aakaash was adaptive, or just unscrupulous.

Before I could pass another snide remark to Dua, Aakaash pitched in, “Sure Ajay, Vaani will look into the UI. Meanwhile, any updates on the food poisoning episode of last night? I saw #ShameEatOrg in several posts on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.” “Aakaash I told you, don’t worry. My legal team is there to help you. We have already reached out to the complainants, and their money will be refunded. We will give EatOrg credits in their wallet which they can use to order food again from us.” “Mr.Dua, do you really think that after last night’s fiasco, customers will accept EatOrg credits? How long are we going to play this charade with our customers?”, I couldn’t resist asking.

The room seemed to have gotten a little too cold. Everyone was either looking at me or at Dua. Dua’s face lost its color for a second, but he caught himself in time and snickered, “So what do you suggest Vaani Ji? Ask our delivery boys to visit every single household who ordered our food and hand the money personally, along with a Get Well Soon card?” There were a few polite titters across the room. “Yes that will be a start, followed by kicking out Dua Fresh Veggies from our list of vendors. ” I was livid .

“Guys we need a minute to sort some issues. How about we all meet up later some time and discuss more on the tech front?” Aakassh, the fire-fighter manager, pitched in as usual. The rest of the team left, with the three of us in the room. “Haan Madam, ab bataiye, kyu naraz hain aap? I think you need a break, why don’t you take a vacation to somewhere? Once you cool down a little, come back.” “I think Mr.Dua, my anger is not going to evaporate anytime soon. I am tired of the malpractices we are forced to follow because of you, and I don’t think this kind of dishonesty is for me.” “Aakaash yaar samjhaao Vaani madam ko, kya chaahti hain? Arey we are running a business, not a charity. If 2-3 people got food poisoning because of their sensitive digestive system, should we close our business? She wants us to change the business model, she doesn’t know that you can’t make money with honesty. Please explain it to her yaar, women get so emotional at every pretext.”

I looked at Aakaash, I could see the helplessness in his eyes. He had changed, gone too far, and there was no looking back for him. He had wanted to make money, and now he couldn’t stop. I knew what he wanted, but he knew it was too much to ask for, from me.

“Mr.Dua, I think it is time I take a permanent vacation. I don’t want to be a part of EatOrg anymore. I will mail you my resignation in an hour. Aap kisi aur kathputli ko le aaiye, mujse ni ho payega.” I got up, and reached the door, to look back once again at Aakaash. He was busy twiddling with his thumbs, he chose not to look at me, and I left, to never look back….

How Blue is my Sapphire – 3

How far will you go for what matters to you?

“This is insane! Saaley ka dimaag khraab hai! Has he lost it or what? Arey if we keep riding the high horse of ideals and morals at this initial stage, how are we ever going to break even!”, exclaimed Aakash loudly, probably shocked by the turn of events but kind of relieved to see the back of Tarang. “He has always been like this Vaani, I swear I am just so tired of him. And I am not budging from my stand this time, I can’t put up to his nonsense.” Aakash plopped down into the cushy bean bag, with his laptop, working on the presentation we were to have with the VC the next day. I took my laptop and sat with him, looking at the presentation, and trying my best to stop thinking about what just happened and how it might change our lives forever.

After that day, none of us ever mentioned Tarang. We informed our employees that Tarang had decided to leave over “incorrigible differences”, and that was the end of it all. No one talked about him, no one wanted to talk about him. We were busy and stressed, and we never contacted Tarang, and he obviously did not contact us. He was hardly active on any social media platform, and except the odd tags, I seldom heard of him.

A month after Tarang left, on my birthday, over a dinner of Italian in Chianti and red wine, Aakaash gifted me a sapphire ring. “Why sapphire?”, I asked and smiled. “There is something about that stone that reminds me of you, of how you have always been there, of how much you have done for me and the company. I want to say a lot more and I know you know about how I feel, but I want to give you some time to decide. The ring is to let you know that you are precious to me. ” There, he had said what I had always known. In that moment, just for a second, Tarang’s face came into my mind – how I always defended him, cared for him, and probably loved him, and how he never acknowledged it, and in fact chose to leave instead of listening to me and letting me reason out with Aakaash. But to Aakaash, the one person who never left my side, I said nothing and wore the ring happily on the ring finger of my right hand.

Months passed, we continued to work over EatOrg, but it was EatOrg only in name. We changed everything about it, from our business model to our basic principles. We scaled up all across the city, continued to source cheap ingredients and made tie-ups with corporates to provide “healthy eating”, by showing half-baked nutritional information.

But the biggest blow was when we got loaded with complaints by our customers for the dinner items for 5th January 2016. A lot of people developed food poisoning, with some of them even having to go to hospitals to get themselves treated. Some of them took to social media to air their grudges with EatOrg and the VC, Ajay Dua, called an urgent meeting at 4 in the morning, with Aakaash and me.

“Dekho, nothing to worry. I have called you folks to let you know that I have everything handled.” Ajay was a show-off, albeit fair and handsome with light eyes, dressed in his Armaani suit even at 4 am, while me and Aakaash looked like we were kicked out of our respective beds. “We will refund the money to all the customers, and I have already spoken to my lawyer, if in case anyone complains, we will figure it out. Meanwhile, you guys keep working on the app, and tomorrow morning you will get your supplies from my farm as well.” Ajay got up and left after giving us our instructions, and Aakaash went near the window to light up a smoke. He had started smoking after Ajay insisted him to “share a light” with him.

“Dua is a good man, isn’t he? ” Aakaash, spoke while blowing out circles of smoke from his mouth. “That guy takes care of everything, I don’t know what would we do without him.” “Can I have a drag at that cigarette?”, I asked him. “What? Seriously? You are the one who tsks at me each time I do it!!!” “You were more anti-smoking than I am, back in college. I want to see what is so addictive about blowing smoke rings like a pro” “Fine”, as usual he gave up, albeit sullenly and handed me his cigarette. I took a drag, and as expected, I coughed. Aakaash quickly fetched me a glass of water and said agitated,”I told you to not do it Vaani, you can’t handle it. Have some water now.” I took another drag, my eyes were welling up due to the smoke, but this one was better than the last one. I continued, and got better at it.

Couple of minutes later, I stopped. I felt light-headed and decided to head home. As I lay in my bed, I kept thinking how far had I come, and if this is what I truly wanted to do. I remembered how I was a simple girl in college, a chatterbox, keen to study only as much as required, but willing to do everything else – read, dance, act, write, even travel alone to dingy food joints for delicious Chicken noodles! I “fell in love” quite often, and got hurt too, but it just added to my strength and my spirit of doing things only for myself. What happened to me? When was the last time I read a good book? Or ate something I liked? When was the last time I went for a movie that I liked, instead of the usual team outings? Ever since EatOrg took off, it had just been work, work and work. I used to enjoy working, I loved my previous job. I thought having my own venture would provide me even greater professional satisfaction. But wait a second, was that venture even mine at the first place? It was Tarang’s idea and Aakaash’s money and scruples (or the lack of them), that made EatOrg. I was maybe just the third wheel, carrying along, but not really needed or sought after. But isn’t that what friendship is? Standing by your friends forever, supporting them in everything they do? Not everyone has to be a hero, and I was quite happy being behind the scenes. But was I?

EatOrg, producing finest dishes with locally sourced organic ingredients, it sounded like a joke. Everyone who was working with procurement, knew that our definition of locally sourced organic food was limited to the sprawling farm of Ajay Dua at Coorg, where several laborers worked day in and out to get maximum produce possible. Fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals, you name it and Dua used them in the farm. We had no choice but to abide by his rules, he was our venture capitalist only at this condition. Dua was a man who thought only about profits. Hence he conceived the horrendous idea of marrying EatOrg to his farm and its chemical produce. So many times, because of poor storage and transport conditions (cost cutting), the vegetables we received would be rotten. And we had no choice but to make do with them, since we were bound by our contract to not source our ingredients from any other place. The quality of ingredients was such that it seemed surprising to me that we got food poisoning issue after 6 months of using Dua’s produce – the insect-filled cauliflower and the black mushrooms can put even the best of stomachs to test. No wonder all our good chefs left, no one wanted to touch rotten vegetables!

The thought-mill in my head was running hard and fast, and with these thoughts I looked at the sapphire shining from my ring on the bedside table. It looked intense, so blue, that for a second I got intimidated, it felt like the blueness of it pierced through my eyes and penetrated into my soul, asking me uncomfortable questions about my allegiance and honesty, the answers to which I knew, but didn’t want to admit…