Rajan from Delhi Kitchen

Looking at a seed can you tell what tree it is going to grow into? May be if you are an experienced gardener. In life we hardly ever can imagine what a moment or person is going to transform into till time unfolds and lets you peep back into its alleys to search for the truth it had long held. The first time I met Rajan at his roadside food joint in Pune I had no inkling that I would witness this man grow into owner of a series of food joints in the city within a couple of years, which would have a proper base and name. But one thing had struck me even then, that one of the three, Rajan, his wife and his cook really knows the recipe to a delicious food. It was year 2000, when pune was still coming up as a IT city with major players like Infosys, Wipro, TCS, IBM etc. having set their bases there and slowly expanding their employee base, which was leading to a change in the economic environment of the city as well. New localities were becoming popular, food joints, fashion points etc, were burgeoning to cater to new young crowd which had disposable money. A big chunk of these employees came from north India and hungrily sought a genuine north Indian taste. Rajan had just moved to the city after having to close his previous business, dealership of Xerox machine in Rampur due to losses. A commerce grad from Delhi university he had decided to get into business and had chosen city of Rampur for it. If what he told me was indeed true then he was one of the most successful dealers of Xerox at one point and they had sent him on African Safari as an incentive. Well, he did share photographs of himself on the safari. “They offered money or tour packages. I chose later because otherwise you would never be able to spend money on yourself”, he had told. May be it was this adventurous spirit of his, which made his life flow despite its sudden knocks. He apparently ran into some trouble at Rampur, due to dispute with locals and also lost a big sum of money trying to help out a friend in crisis. He was worried, was nervous and was looking for answers and place to hide and decided to visit his relatives and friends to give himself a break from life.  On one such trip he met a group of Sardars who had migrated to Canada. “It is while talking to them I felt if these people can leave their country and start life afresh, I cant even leave a city?”, he told me once while cunningly making me eat his new dish which he had pushed me for saying that I do not need to pay if I do not like it, knowing fully well that I would pay eitherways. Or may be he was confident of his recipe, I never came to know. He visited several cities and while on trip to pune he felt it’s a place he would not mind spending a few years of his life or may be all of it, God willing. He had no place and no capital but business acumen he still had and so it looks like in the hindsight. He started a small food joint on the roadside by setting up a tandoor in a small place between two shops. In the evening when shops in pune would close, he would put table and chairs on the pavement and serve north Indian thali and dessert. Within a couple of months, business was thriving as like me there were many other who would travel a few kilomters to eat at his place. Sometimes we would wait for couple of hours to get a place but no one really bothered. I am sure it was not just the food, there were other things involved. Luck for one, may be, but then it is always present. We define whatever our intelligence lets us do, and everything else gets covered by luck and destiny. Rajan’s demeanour, friendly smile and a cunning business brain behind it were a few of them. But life is never a fairy tale story, nor is it one thing at a time. It is good, bad and ugly all at once, we may not be able to see all of them though and we can never understand them in unity for sure. As his business grew, it invited envy and also legal issues as he was pretty much running business on road, a public property. He was asked to and forced to move his business from there and find a permanent place with a roof. He shifted it to a place at some distance in collaboration with another restaurent but had to soom close it as the partner felt that he can run it himself and make profits, which he tried and eventually failed. From here onwards story was much more on a straight line with some curves along the way as far as business went. He had around three joints running by the time I moved out of Pune, around three years later to the first time I had eaten at his roadside joint. It always puzzled me that how can he combine a very strong business mind with such refined human spirit. I never saw him ill treat his workers, was a family man, balanced work life with other interests like swimming, once on questioning where was he for a week responded that he had gone to donate his one kidney to his friend. He used to stand outside his shop when I would try and start my bike which I was still learning to ride as it used to be a spectacle, it would first go into air throwing me into panic and then come back on ground as I will speed off, embarrassed. When I would go to his joint with girls in tow, he would wink and politely offer the most costliest dishes along with some new ones introducing new price range along with them. Either he knew that I was sucker for stories of values higher than life, so created them playing with my curious nature or he just had good human sense, which some of us name business sense the moment it begins to earn money as well, partly out of jealousy and mostly out of ignorance and cynicism towards human spirit.


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