“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…