“Isn’t it fun to go completely insane and then come back, that means you have blown your brains completely apart and when you come back you put your brain together bit by bit. In a way going insane is very important to retain your sanity.” – Anonymous
Since we are sitting at your ‘dhaba’ right now, Grey Talks would love to know your journey about food…
Well, that’s basically my love for food! I thought that it is a very simple business to get into. In food business you can sell food during the day and count your profits in the night. But, as they say the grass is always greener on the other side, you only know the truth when you actually get into it.
Are you a foodie?
Yes in a way. I don’t eat much but I like to eat different things and taste different dishes. I keep trying on whatever I lay my hands on.
Your love for food drove you to start a business, did you pursue any special course or got educated in the field or is it just passion?
Well, you can say that it was more out of necessity, I learnt about cooking when my mom passed away. The domestic helps and cook, after my mother’s death, weren’t really doing a decent job; I used to love food because my mom was a very good cook. Eventually, I started cooking myself and you can very well say that I ‘learnt on the job’. I was kind of employed as a cook in my own house and that’s how I learned about cooking.
There’s a very common saying “The belly rules the mind”, how far are you in agreement with this?
I wouldn’t say “the belly rules the mind”. I would rather say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It’s very simple and true. Like when you eat good food, don’t you feel good? The same is for cooking, if you want to cook good food you have to cook from your heart because somehow our emotions do get mixed up with the food. In Greater Noida, the place where I run my business, there are a lot of locals; people who are not very educated but have a lot of money. Some of these guys are quite rude and aggressive and as soon as they get good food at my dhaba, they melt down. Even in our ancient literature, like The Bhagwad Geeta, the food has been categorised into various categories on the basis of the kind of emotions they evoke. Even though we eat food for our physical gratifications, I would say that a delicious meal is food for our soul as well.
You mentioned that the place where you are running your restaurant right now is not a very ‘easy-to-go-with’ place…
Well! it is not a very upmarket place, and what I am running right now can be called as a ‘roadside dhaba’, the clientele that I have apart from the students is mostly the people who have been living in the nearby villages.
What hardships have you faced while running this business? How many years has it already been?
I have completed two years this June but not at this location. Earlier I had my place at a different location, but customers were not really coming there so I had to shut down my place in three months and reopen it here. It has been a year and nine months at this location; about the hardships, I hope you understand that if you are starting any business in India, there are road blocks to almost everything because it is not a very business friendly place for the small-scales. So, whether it is the food license or any other such thing, you have to pay for it. Like our very amiable government comes out with new rules and guidelines ensuring good food to the citizens , but actually they are giving power to the bureaucrats, who eventually misuse it according to their convenience .
So this was your face-off with the government, rather interesting I must add… what about the local factors?
Yes, the locals are another problem here. Since we have this booze-shop nearby, what happens is, a lot of people tend to pick up booze and then they come in hope of some ‘chakhna’ which also happens to be the name of my restaurant. The cops would blame me for promoting all the socially drinking habits in the area.
What do you think about this whole situation..?
Well, the thing is that I can’t stop people from drinking. I promote a healthy lifestyle, I never drink before I get home. But I can’t stop a person from boozing. Basically Greater Noida is a ‘Gujjar’ dominated area, I personally feel from my experience that they are very cool people, they don’t really misbehave. They don’t have a nice, polite, and flowery language but that does not mean that they are uncultured. It is only few of these assholes who tend to misbehave, eat and run away, but rest of them are very cool guys. We are so well acquainted now that these folks invite me to their houses, weddings.
I find that all the employees that you have at your place are very well behaved. They are not from the area, could be a vernacular problem but still you have managed it very well. How do you cope up with that?
All these boys that I have at my place are Nepalis and they all have started working at a very early age. They have worked at various places and have been exposed to various kind of employers. When it comes to me, there is a very simple rule that I follow, I put myself in the place of my employees and I think which way I would like to be treated myself. My employees are family for me, they are living in a different land away from home. They are very simple guys, down to earth and above all very beautiful people. If it comes to honesty, I would say I have never seen anyone showing this kind of impeccable honesty. As far as I understand them, their hotel is their life for now and they protect it at all times. They can’t even imagine any kind of disloyalty towards their livelihood. From my side what I can do best is to ensure that their salaries are always paid on time. In this industry fooding and lodging is supposed to be on the hotel owner, so I ensure they get the best that I can offer. In summers, they like to have banana shakes, and I make sure it is available for them, It’s fun because we can decide every day what we can cook for ourselves, we plan staff parties every other day. We keep celebrating all the milestones, now I have got this other place running too – the Chinese restaurant. Though I was running short on cash I thought “Fuck it! The party comes first! If it’s a milestone, we have to celebrate.” I think these guys have understood the way I work and they are having a good time too. Now as we are getting more stable, I have started giving them benefits which otherwise were not possible, like I give a 15-days’ paid leave. People don’t think that much for them and I make sure that these guys get enough time to visit home and meet their folks from time to time. It makes me happy. These guys work hard, they are doing the real work and I want them to grow with me. As my little establishment here grows, these people grow with me. These guys understand now that I am not here to exploit them, it is a partnership that I have created with them. When I make money, they’ll make money but if I don’t make money, they’ll still be getting their salaries but they will also not be ‘making money.’
At the end of the day, what do you have in life? The people you are constantly in touch with, like me and my employees, we work together for around 12 hours a day, If we are not going to share an equation, which is a happy equation, how can we expect anything else from each other?
I must say everyone should take a lesson on human bonding and leadership from you…when did you start your entrepreneurial journey?
I started my first venture as soon as I passed out of the college in Calcutta. At that time satellite TV was just entering in the market. I was 20 years old, I got together with a couple of guys from my locality and that time you couldn’t even get an antenna, nobody was really manufacturing antennas. We managed to get hold of this Bangladeshi guy who made a massive 18-feet antenna for us which we installed in one of the partner’s terrace and then started the venture of cabling. We couldn’t hire technicians so we started going down to the roads ourselves, climbing ladders, fixing cables and all that. It was all trial and error. We learned from few books because we did not have the technical expertise. We wired up our locality and I still remember we went live on 24th of December. We were at this old Anglo-Indian lady’s house who wouldn’t let me leave because she wanted her cable connection desperately, she was desperate to watch a Christmas program. At 9 in the night we were still at that lady’s house and my girlfriend kept calling me because I was supposed to take her out.
Then I got into leather goods manufacturing in Calcutta itself. I did a lot of things initially. You have to when you are sampling in the manufacturing business; my first breakthrough came when I started working with Wilson’s, U.S.A., they were buying a lot of raw material from Calcutta. The agent’s nephew had just been appointed and I happened to meet him in my German classes. He suggested me to start giving them small orders and then we started doing some good business together. Eventually I established my own factory. I did that for almost 10 years. Then a series of bad mistakes, and I went bankrupt. That was around the time when my mom also passed away.
I was exactly thirty then. So I decided to take a sabbatical and went off to Pondicherry where I utilised my time in meditating and contemplating life. That was when I started realising the value of money because before that I had never felt the greed for money. My dad was making enough money and I never had the shortage of anything. I didn’t work for a couple of years, most people thought I had gone mad. Frankly speaking I had gone mad also. If I look at it, clinically people would have called me mad, yeah why not. Whatever I was doing, I was doing for my own reasons which I did not expect anyone to ever understand.
Interesting! Were you able to justify those reasons to yourself?
There was no justification for being yourself. I experienced certain things physically as well as mentally, and for me carrying on with those was much more important than anything else in my life at that point of time. So basically, I wasn’t working for about 5 years and I obviously had run out of money. I was living off my dad. I asked him to fire all the servants of the house and told him that I will carry on with all the household and I am not interested in anything else but I want my grass, cigarettes and my booze. Period!
Whoa… and what was your dad’s reaction?
He didn’t really like the idea obviously, but he had no choice. I think after sometime my dad also gave up because I knew that he had been consulting doctors behind my back as he basically thought that the I have become a drug-addict or something. Finally he told me one day that he is broke and can’t afford to keep me like this, so I went and happily sold off my computer and went looking for a job. I managed to get myself a job at EXL in Noida. It wasn’t a great job and I forgot my own English during the training period. I worked with them for about three months. My dad had health problems and he had to be operated so I went back to Calcutta and joined WIPRO. I was 36 then and my pay package was just 7000 bucks a month. I worked with WIPRO for three years. I didn’t knew shit about computers and the first thing I was working on was troubleshooting DELL computers.
Thats pretty Ironical…how did that turn out for you?
My colleagues were all like 19, 20 or 21 maybe and I was the old man. I became a quality analyst within a year’s time and enrolled myself for the distance MBA program. WIPRO was offering corporate MBA through Symbiosis. They reimbursed all my money also. But the corporate culture is quite pathetic you know, all the ass licking and everything.
Are you ambitious?
I used to be very ambitious. The difference is I was hasty before and I am not hasty now. I never appreciated Einstein’s theory of relativity and time but I feel that time could be a major ally if you can make it your ally. When I look at the organic growth today, I understand that if you are going to plant something, it will take time to grow. I treat my life as I am retired now and whatever I am growing I will keep growing it, as much as I can. The world seemed to me like my oyster. I always treated it like that, I still feel the same but there is difference. The way I look at it now is not the same. It is like a game of snakes and ladders.
What if the snake bites you at 99?
Oh that has happened to me a couple of times now and I have gone down and came up again. However, now it has taken a longer time and I like the pace. Maybe I am at 95 and it can happen again but that is something I am prepared for. I am ready for the ground. I know, I will survive.
Dwelling into your personal life, why are you still single?
This is something, I would call as destiny. I was about to get married also when I went bankrupt. I had broken off my engagement, In fact my ex fiancé is in Bangalore and she is also single. We still talk, we are friends. I was broke and my mind was not working properly then, that was not the right time to get married.
Did the thought ever occur to you sometime later in your life?
No. Once I spent those couple of years in Pondicherry, you can say I kept myself in solitary confinement. I was not really interacting with anybody. I did when I needed to but I did not go seeking out people for conversations. It is something that didn’t enter my psyche again. I think I was not meant for marriage. I don’t know… maybe I get bored, or maybe I tend to move on easily and at this stage my thought process is very different too. I am not indulging with anyone either because on today’s date the way my life is. I am alone and I am okay with it. I am sure that I can’t share my life with anyone . It is just that maybe I don’t want to share myself, or maybe I don’t have anything to share.
What does your father think about your choice?
He is cool with it. He has always been. He has never interfered in any of my businesses nor my life. The only time he got paranoid was when he saw that I was doing nothing at all. He must have because when I moved to Delhi he calls up tells me that he had been mixing some medications in my drinks so I might feel some withdrawal symptom. Maybe whatever he did got me back to working again, I don’t know.
Are you contented with your life?
I would say I am very contented but the quest for few answers are still haunting me. That quest shall continue. The journey that I started is still going on. It has been 15 years since I started this quest. Part of it has been spent in complete isolation and without money, other part in slavery and what I am today is similarly poised to what I was 15 years before, though the way I look at things now has completely changed. When I look at my physical body, I feel a connection that I have with it. It is not necessary that the physical body acts the way you want it to. It can go completely against what you want it do and you cannot stop it. It is like being possessed. But I feel we can be possessed while retaining our consciousness, if you allow it to happen.
You talk like you really understand what you are saying…
I live like that. Physicality is something that I totally ignore because I know that the body of mine is something which can be controlled and manipulated against my own will. It can be used to harm myself at times if I am not conscious about it. These are the things that I have learnt while I progressed down the path. For me this world is magic and really there is a lot of magic around us. It is up to us whether we want see and work with it, or do we wish to fight against it or become an ostrich. In my way of looking at the world, there is one hell of a game going on here. We don’t realise but there are in built meters in our bodies which are recording each and every single thought and emotion and after that what happens with this body is based on what we are doing. It is all cause and effect. I read somewhere that all these natural things that happen like the earthquakes and all, they are all connected to the emotions of the species. Nature has a way of maintaining its balance. This physicality is like the God’s way of playing the ultimate joke where we think we are in control!
Your spiritual transformation is reflected in you thought process, are you trying to say that materialism is eating us up?
I look at it a little differently. I have this body, now whether it’s under my control or not, as long as I have it I have a connection to the physical world and the minute I don’t have this connection to the body my connection to the physical world is gone.
So it is just serving as a medium…
It is a medium. I can experience the world through it. I am having so much fun and I don’t want to dissociate myself from the body till the time I have to. The machine is running fine and so is my trip. Why disturb that? But when it comes to materialism, that time that I was telling about my isolation was the time when I was not earning also, I had completely rejected money. For me money was like the worst possible thing that has happened to the world but then at the end of it the very simple fact had to be realized that to keep the body and soul together in this world, in today’s date, you need money. If it was like hundred years ago, it would have been doing a barter. If I am earning a lakh or two a month, my own expenditure wouldn’t be more than 15,000 because I still spend on the same things – on grass, booze and cigarettes. Rest are the necessary expenditures like the fees, bills and other things. For me I am conduit, whatever is coming in is going out. If I can make a certain surplus out of all this, I am okay with it. And if tomorrow I can add more to it, I’ll indulge myself. If I lose this tomorrow again, well, I know where to start from.
What should I consider you as – a religious or a spiritual person?
Well, religion if you talk about Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity etc. I am not that person. Even when I had applied for college, if you pull out my form you will find an N/A written over there. Religion has always been non-applicable for me. For me religion is not about following a certain person, or ways or certain principles and all that. It is about believing that there is something above you and which can actually control you and your life or you don’t believe in something like that. I believe that there is something above me that can control my life completely. I say this from experience and even right now sitting here in front of you I could be thrown up 6 feet in the air without moving a muscle.
Can you share some incidents that could make us think over what you have been talking about?
There is no specific incident as such. I say it is the whole process. Every day your faith will be reconfirmed if you start observing things. There is an ‘Aurobindo Ashram’ in Pondicherry. Shri Aurobindo’s consort was a lady named Meera Alfasa who was of Algerian descent. She had travelled to Pondicherry and had been a practitioner of magic, she had been initiated into it when she was a child. She knew how to do magic or whatever. Maybe she realized that she was more conscious. She had a vision of Shri Aurobindo and she had come to Pondicherry and they started working together. The little bit of their work that I read was also a lot to do with the metaphysical. There was another book that I picked up on Tibetan medicines and Psychiatry. I read about grass also and it was very truly written that these substances, if a person cannot handle, can lead to madness. Isn’t it fun to go completely insane and then come back, that means you have blown your brains completely apart and when you come back you put your brain together bit by bit. In a way going insane is very important to retain your sanity.
I remember few incidents too. We went to this monastery once in Sikkim, it was their new year I guess, and we had escorts. They had cameraman with them too. When we reached the monastery and were seeing around, the escort asked the cameraman to click a picture of the monks that were sitting lined up meditating. The cameraman could not capture them, the photo was always blurred. It was like they had a veil or something in front of them and they could not be captured.
What was the last book that you read which had a severe impact on you?
It was Bhagwad Geeta and that too a very abridged version of it. It was an interpretation of Geeta done by someone from the Pondicherry Ashram. It took me couple of years in understanding d the little bit I could, out of that book.
How much do you think literature matters in a person’s life?
A lot. Because literature is what shapes you. For me books have been windows to worlds. When it comes to reading, you can say, I was a bookworm completely. When I was in Class IV or V, I had a room where I kept the books and comics because that was how much we used to read. I would read about anything and everything under the sun but fiction is something which I have loved. When it came to serious literature, I find myself culturally very lacking. I find them boring.
If you were to phrase life in one sentence, what would you call it?
A journey. (I am wondering how I got caught up in this journey though.)
With a destination?
No, no destination.
Do you question your existence at times..?
Yes. I think every time. If I question my physicality, I do question my existence too.