Kaha Aisa Yaarana
March 21st, 3 p.m., Aamby Valley. It was just the two of us. Ritu had dozed off. I kept staring at the ceiling. Our vacation home wore a lonesome look. This place had seen good times. There was a time its’ walls resonated with laughter and it happened every time the eight of us were together. It was an era when the kids were young and the two families, practically, lived in and out of each other’s lives. But now, times are different. How I miss those wonder years! “Everything has changed,” I sighed with a sinking feeling.
Destiny doesn’t play by rules. The hand of fate doesn’t seem to care about fairness. Some get unlucky, not because they were undeserving, but because they happen to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Then there are others who hit a jackpot—they start believing that they have earned their success more than others, and in the process, end up growing distant from the ones left behind. Unless, of course, these lucky ones can figure out a way of keeping old relationships uncorrupted from the intoxication of power, fame, and money. This blog is an attempt to discover the secret ingredient that allows climbers to stay connected with those with whom they were once inseparable.
Start Line. Turn of the century. It was the kids who met first. Our daughter, Misha, and the Chandani twins, Simran and Sakshi, were in kindergarten together. The mothers, Ritu and Usha, usually met during pick-ups and drop-offs. Shortly thereafter, Ashish’s mother got admitted in the ICU. The twins were left at our place. Unfortunately, his mother never made it back home. The first time I met Ashish was on the third day of the rituals.
His small apartment was close to my small apartment. Although we lived within close proximity, we both hailed from different planets. He was from South Mumbai’s coveted Campion School while I was a product of the North’s Kendriya Vidyalayas. His cafe, Hot Breads, was popular in Pune’s social circles whereas I was a geek lost in an IT startup. He was witty and had a great passion for all the good things in life such as drinks, food, music, and dance. I did not understand much about all this as my life revolved around my family and work. So, it was the two wives and the four kids who ensured reciprocal dinners.
First Turn. Ashish’s cafe was facing headwinds because of its’ inconvenient location amidst growing competition. So, he wrapped up his business and took up a CXO’s job at a leading banqueting company. Cybage’s journey, on the other hand, galloped and we began the construction of our campus in the heart of Kalyani Nagar. I bought a bungalow plot just steps away from Ashish’s apartment—much to the delight of the Chandani family. The eight of us excitedly sat down for the Bhoomi Pooja.
Meanwhile, my sedentary lifestyle had led to obesity. I was diagnosed with high cholesterol. Ashish volunteered to play squash with me. After six months of workouts and a stringent diet, I became fit again. Somewhere, during those games, we rubbed onto each other. He slowed down on his indulgences, while I picked up his passion for living. He now spent more time with his family while I started humoring in the occasional “boys nights out”, including embarrassing instances where it would be just the two of us blocking four seats at a restaurant, pretending we are waiting for others to join!
Second Turn. We moved into our new bungalow, Aroma. I joined the Young President’s Organization. My social circle had widened. We started entertaining more people. Ashish was a permanent feature as the curation of food, music, and guest experience was his department. Cybage by now was a local brand known for its’ Annual Bashes with magnificent banquet services provided by Ashish’s company where he would constantly run around as if he was the host, while Usha would be helping me backstage with my speech and stage entries.
By then, the kids had entered their teens and Aroma was their hangout—karaoke, games, and movie nights (with Sholay topping the list) were the usual suspects on the agenda. Whether it is Ashish being there for me when I lost my father, or him staying by my bedside in the hospital when I fell ill, or his twins tying my son, Aneesh, a Rakhi every year, we have been through many lows and highs together.
Goa and Aamby Valley were popular destinations for family getaways. Here is an anecdote, I was once caught by Ritu in the act of packing very old clothes for our Goa trip and was forced to come clean – “But I don’t want to waste my new clothes on my besties!” was all that I had to say in my defence.
Third Turn. Cybage continued to leap forward and now we had moved into a massive new campus. With several thousand employees, it had outgrown Ashish’s banqueting venues. Ashish’s role was no longer at center stage, but more as a responsible and proud family member, who softly monitored the smooth functioning of big events. We still went on vacations together, but they were few and far between. My social obligations had grown, plus our gang had a dropout: Misha flew overseas for her undergraduate studies.
As fate would have it, the company that Ashish worked for pulled down its’ shutters on its’ Pune operations because of sky-rocketing rentals. The timing coincided with my own ambition to tap India’s eCommerce market. I offered Ashish sweat equity to lead my new venture. This was his shot to make it big. Ashish delivered brilliantly, and for six years, he gave it everything he had. However, it was not enough. The fiercely competitive landscape of the eCommerce market showed no mercy as our startup became one of the casualties of the Amazon-Flipkart war.
Finish Line. With crumbled dreams to make it big, Ashish retreated to his original passion and started a beautiful boutique restaurant named Switch. Then, COVID-19 struck and darkness descended before the sun could rise on his new business. The IT industry, on the other hand, crashed briefly and then miraculously made an ‘I’- shaped recovery. My hands were full and my friend’s hands were empty. With his back against the wall, Ashish reinvented his business model with his never-say-die attitude and started a cloud kitchen to deliver gourmet experiences.
And that’s where our story stands today. Switch is already creating ripples in Pune’s home delivery market and I know in my heart, it is a huge brand in the making. But for now, it’s a bumpy road ahead. I am super busy from dawn to dusk on weekdays with my established business while Ashish’s life is super packed during evenings and weekends with his food startup. We don’t meet that often. And with two out of the four kids overseas and one slated to be married soon, our wonder years at Goa and Aamby Valley are behind us.
Back to March 21st, 10 p.m. Pune. Ritu and I decided to cut short our Aamby trip and gatecrash Ashish’s place. Even though the kids were not there, it felt like a full house. Ashish was in his element, laughing, cracking jokes, and listening to Ritu’s stories. With my shoes off, legs folded on the sofa, and no baggage in the air, I silently watched the unconditional affection in his eyes, his fondness for us eclipsing his personal stress. It felt as if the clock had turned back 20 years. “Not everything changes,” I heaved a sigh of relief with a soaring spirit.
As I walked home, a realization dawned upon me. Indeed, there is a secret ingredient that helps ‘fortunate’ ones retain the luster of their old associations. However, that ingredient doesn’t reside with the climbers, rather, it resides with those who held the ladder steady even as they waited for their own turn to climb! The secret dwells in their smiles as they cheered their friend to climb higher. And that purity of soul, that complete absence of envy, is perhaps, at the heart of timeless relationships…