The tastiest meal I ever had

It was my 3rd day at the flat – baby’s day in you can say. I had locked myself down from Friday night itself. Yes, people had started the lockdown thing in Bengaluru much before they got implemented in the country. My company had started it last week but few of us had to go as the mission was important. Yes proudly call our work as a mission. To actually make sense out of locking myself in the house, I had stopped taking food deliveries and also the cook/maid were asked not to visit. Both my flatmates had left for their hometowns. For these 3 days, I tried my hands on the famous 2-minute noodles and some ready to eat food at this time. 

I work at Jumbotail – it is a food and grocery e-commerce company for retailers/Kirana. Because of the sudden panic, the demand from Kiranas had changed suddenly. At the same time, the reality on the ground to supply had been quite different. So suddenly the three days I had practically done nothing but to work and read the news. I hardly moved from my bed once in a while. By the end of the third day, finally, my panic buttons were turned on. I started messaging my friends that the world is about to end. How do you control this thing when there is no solution. blah blah blah. Somehow few of them calmed me. (Without my consensus but because they angrily asked me to do so 😛 ). I managed to sleep.

On fourth day I woke up late. Finally, my hunger started taking priority. The noodles no more looked like a long term solution. But I had never cooked myself (except Poha and Upma long back during my 12th standard. So I thought I will at least have Poha, Upma. If possible will try my hands on other stuff as well. So I stepped out. It was all quite. Hardly any shops were open. Even the vegetable thelas were not there. I panicked even more. I finally found two Kiranas open. Suddenly in 3 days, the world had changed, so do Kirana owners. Their behavior had changed. They were making sure the rows were well maintained, there was a distance between customers, hygiene was taken care of, etc. I realized they were struggling a lot to serve the customers. Regular items were not available to them. So I stuffed anything and everything I thought is used in the kitchen and also matched with availability in the shop.

As I came back I thought I will cook. But suddenly the phone started ringing. There were enough things going on that kept me going for 5 hours on the laptop or the phone. Because I had seen the struggle of those Kiranas (my customers) myself I felt the need to work even more. Every one of my colleagues was on war front to make sure people do get the essential in such times. Then I finally found my little pause. Obviously the ground staff much more than us. 

I somehow thought as it was 4 pm the Poha and Upma will not work anymore. I really need a proper meal. It’s not that I hated cooking. I always had thought of learning it but I guess I had more excuses than motivation. Today with no option left I directly jumped a few steps and decided to make Roti and Sabji. I called one of my friends and took some steps to make ‘bhendi ki sabji’ (Lady’s finger). Then I called my sister to understand how to make Rotis. It turned out quite an experience. All the fears I had turned out to be false that day. It was turning out to be much smoother than I had imagined. Rotis even turned much more circular than I could wish for 😉

Somehow it took 1.5 hours just to make 4 Rotis and sabzi. By that time, I had spent enough time. There were tasks at hand so I served myself and I started working on those parallel. While working I took a bite and could not believe myself. The Lunner (in between lunch and dinner) had turned out to be amazing. It never tasted better than this. I am quite a demanding person when it comes to food. I am so demanding that I used to be very specific about what kind of food I needed, who need to cook what, etc. Eg. at home milk/tea shall be specifically prepared by dad, rotis should be of specific thickness and prepared by my sister, etc. But today without being it that way it tasted so much amazing. It was the tastiest meal I ever had, definitely without any complaints.

While I kept working on the thing for the next few hours. Late-night I started thinking, why it went well. Why the food tasted so well. Maybe it was taste was not just of food, but of the efforts and of that small accomplishment. Or maybe it was out of sigh of relief or the way we say it when you are actually hungry everything it tastes well. One thing for sure, having a feeling of being engaged in a much bigger purpose-made sure there were no complaints.

I understand the Corona crisis and the lockdown will be tough on many of us. But then it is an opportunity for us to understand what is really important in our life – with respect to people, things we spend money on, things we spend time on, etc. I understand it looks like a hurdle to do regular things but it may be an opportunity to work on that one thing you always dreamt of or are afraid of the most.

Stay strong guys. The times are tough. As they say, going gets tough, the tough get going. I believe you all will explore a stronger side of you during this time.

PS: Even if it may not have been tastiest the way I say, I will definitely appreciate someone’s efforts taken in preparing food next time. 

The little things

We went on a trip to Coorg, a few months back. It was a road trip with 4 people going from Chennai to Coorg in a car. We all were happy to go on a trip as it was a break from ‘day to day routine’ after a long gap. I was a bit conscious, as the company I had was totally different from my ideal travel companions. I am the person who would like to visit as many places possible, at a tourist spot. The other three wanted to cover the least possible places and relax at hotel/Zostel for the rest of the time.

If you know, there are very few hill stations in the south. So we had a very specific recommendation about a place Mandalpatti from many people. First two days, we visited a few places, but I was more concerned about the ones we were skipping. Finally, We went to Mandalpatti on the third day. It was a pleasant experience with clouds in front of our eyes and cool breeze touching our skin; while standing on the edge of a mountain. 

As soon as anyone reaches the top he/she could see a small structure. Everyone wanted to be on that last stretch of height even after reaching 4050 ft. Everyone had that urge to climb those stairs and go up by a meagre 10 ft. Like everyone else, we too had to try this!  We tried, there was no such difference. We laughed at ourselves, and others, on how we aren’t satisfied with what we are getting. With this experience, I also reflected on the last two days trip. I thought that I should have been more worried about whether I was in that moment or not, when we went to a spot, than being constantly concerned about missing others. 

The discussion extended on how we always want something different. While we may have good work and money, we might miss the culture. We shift for an organisation with a good culture, and with that change we generally end up missing good work or the salary part. This is just a small example

 It can happen with our relationships with people. When we are around someone we might be busy in the virtual world, only to miss them while they aren’t there. We want to be like our dad in childhood, only to miss it while we grow up. 

Though we will only know the value of something in hindsight, I thought let me start enjoying the little things that I am part of. Maybe next time, I will try to absorb the smell of tea at hand, or enjoy my everyday calls with family more, or enjoy the stay in south Indian city more. Maybe!

Honesty in Dishonesty

I had to travel from Delhi to Indore. I was already late to reach the station. It was almost the time and I was afraid that I might miss it. I was rushing with two bags in my hands, One of which was quite heavy. I saw that the train was delayed by 30 mins and took a deep breath. The train was at the 4th platform. So I had to take carry the luggage to the 4th platform using overbridge. This was a bit irritating after a journey in state transport bus from Rohtak for 5 hours. 

Just as I was taking my last few downward steps, I saw a guy, he was visibly very much helpless. He was asking two men about something. He was somehow now able to converse with those men. Out of pity feeling, I asked him what happened. He tried to talk in his broken Hindi. I somehow sensed that he might be Marathi speaking guy. I said few words in Marathi n suddenly his face lit up. He was indeed a Maharashtriyan guy. He then told me that he had been traveling with his family (He, his mother, father and a sister) before they got separated from his father. His father was having all the cash and they literally have nothing .

Then I probed him, “Which place in Maharashtra?”

He reverted “Nanded.”

I said, “I am from Hingoli district (which is near Nanded) where are you exactly from?”

He reverted, “Sengaon in Hingoli district”

I was surprised as it was my place. So I asked him an exact place and he was from a village 6 kms from mine. I couldn’t believe it, so I asked him for his I’d proof. He showed me his driving license. He was indeed from a place near me. I also got to know that he and I have someone mutual known person. I tried to call that person by taking the number from my dad. I couldn’t reach him and my dad to advised me to not to help unless the uncle ask to do so. I had also heard stories from my friends about people making excuses at Delhi station and then taking money. But, my heart wasn’t listening, it wasn’t accepting that it was a just another coincidence – a person met me at Delhi station, who is in need n is exactly from a place 1500 kms  in Maharashtra. It can’t be just coincidence. I shall definitely help him. I took all my luggage, looked at my watch, I had 12 mins to afford which was a short duration. Still, I went Out and got cash from ATM and gave him 2500 rupees.

I didn’t ask him for return but he himself promised me to return it. He took my dad’s number and address. Hence I admitted to my dad of helping him and asked him to take money whenever this guy visits. Few days went by and my dad kept telling me that no one came. I was asking him to keep patience as it will take time for this guy to arrange money. Finally after months of not turning up, we accepted that this guy isn’t going to return it. It was a bad experience for me and a lesson learnt.

3 years down the line, I was coming from Rishikesh to Haridwar on my bike. I stopped in between just to check a call. By the time I ended my call, I find a couple waiting next to me. They told about how they came to Haridwar looking for work but due to fog there in no work. The couple too was from Maharashtra. Once again I thought what a level of coincidence that I stopped my bike at random outskirt point and found someone looking for help. But due to my past experience, I told them I can only help by a few bucks for a meal and extended 150 rs which I had in my wallet. This guy immediately replied, “I don’t want to lie to you. But I had food in this temple (pointing at a temple nearby) So if you are giving money for food, I can’t take it. I need money for the ticket. 500 is something that shall do”. I told him that I don’t have and shall check if there is an ATM in next 500 meters stretch. If I find one I will come back and give money otherwise I won’t. He said OK. Though I didn’t find an ATM in 500 mtr stretch I found one after it. Somehow I didnt had enough motivation to return from that long. There was one side of me telling not to leave someone in the cold of uttarakhad. The other side of me was reminding about the earlier incident. The later side finally turned victorious.

That night I kept thinking how dishonesty in an honest work broke the chain completely. At least few things should be kept pure. If someone wants to cheat there are so many other ways than taking blanket of some pure things. There should be some honesty even in dishonest things.

Associate director – Jumbotail, IIM Lucknow, VNIT Nagpur

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