Circle of Life
Circle of Life15 mins 178 15 mins 178
ACT 1 - Growth
The huge billboard on the road approaching St Mira Women’s College in Koregaon Park was glowing with energy. It was a digital one with the live video of multiple restaurant kitchens all across India. With various dishes being prepared simultaneously, it made for a visual delight. Then a cut-screen comes where the final message is displayed “WTF now in Pune, Drop in at Foodcity, Yerwada”. This was the 1st outlet in Pune and the 20th of WTF or What The Food!! Chain of restaurants, the brand name of Shastri Hospitality. It belongs to me.
I am Anuj Shastri, restaurateur extraordinaire, most eligible bachelor in the country.
At an early age of 24 after I did MBA, I started my restaurant business with a small food truck which I drove to various lanes and bylanes of Sector V, the corporate hub of Kolkata. It was one of the early unique concepts in the city and people were fascinated to see fresh food being cooked on a truck. Soon word of mouth got around regarding the unique tastes we offered, the business flourished and I had enough money and confidence to start a restaurant of my own. Thus, started What the Food!! Or WTF as it came to be known popularly in a small lane of Ballygunge. The first two years were hard but we managed to break even. By third year, we were churning profits. Two more branches opened in Kolkata before we took Delhi by storm with our first outlet in Okhla. Within 10 years, we were operating 22 restaurants in 5 metro cities. We were on an almost impossible upward curve and it totally felt like unnatural but i was very happy and through all my success, my constant companion was Stanley Lobo, my chef and eventual head of operations who was the backbone of this business. He is with me actually from day 1 and it's quite unusual how he landed up here.
Lobo came to me on the opening day of my 1st restaurant in Ballygunge and started being friendly with me. He then passed on some tricks and gave some ideas about what to present in the menu. His face brimmed with confidence and it irked me quite a lot. After we conversed for a while, i asked him why he was passing on all those information to me and he replied that he wanted to join me. Seeing his knowledge, i couldn't refuse him but he was short of experience, working only on street side stalls but i took a gamble. I asked him for a demo of his culinary skills, expecting him to fail big time. By god, was I made a fool when he rustled up his signature dish, Chicken Lobotomy. A small dig into the dish and I felt high, like taking a psychedelic trip to the otherworld. I was sold and since that day, he has been a constant companion. He soon had the entire city eating out of their palms literally and ever since the, we had been on a rapid growth spurt.
I was very happy and six months removed from that day, I invited him to my house for a round of drinks. I confided in him my childhood while i was wasted and told him the struggles for an orphan to reach the position where I was today. He was courteous and supported me with motivational words. But when I asked him about his upbringing, he politely refused me and said never to bring this matter up again. It startled me and I thought of arguing with him but my senses got better of me and I avoided the topic.
We continued working with passion for the betterment of the company and were successful but Lobo’s unwillingness to allow anybody in his personal life troubled me. I tried many a times to know more about him but every time he would cut me off. After quite a few attempts, I let go of the subject as I didn’t want my curiosity to come in way of the success that Lobo had brought us. It soon faded away from my memory as a new phase of life started.
ACT 2 - A New Life
Sheena Bajaj was a budding reporter for the local lifestyle magazine, City Style. As part of their new spotlight segment where they report on the new hotspots around the city, she came to take my interview. Sparks flew between us right from the start and soon it became a regular affair where we were talking almost every alternate hour. We soon lost count of the amount of talk time that we dedicated to each other every day. I started getting lapses in work as more than the no. of dishes we sold, I started thinking about the no. of likes I was giving Sheena on her newly uploaded pictures on Facebook. She also reciprocated with as much vigor as myself and even got herself suspended for a week for failing to show up on proper time for three consecutive days. She was busy indulging in morning sex with me.
This was like a paradise for me as I wanted nothing else but to lose myself in Sheena. Even the rigors of running a food empire could not deter me and this could have been my downfall but Stanley became my guardian angel, managing my business and finances single-handedly while I was busy frolicking with my girlfriend. I felt heartfelt gratitude towards him. Even though there were rumors that he was siphoning off money to his own accounts, I never paid heed to them as my gratefulness besieged all other things.
The latest edition of Food Oscar Awards was in full swing and shortlisting was going on. We were present in the Top 10 National restaurant chain categories. For a week, we greeted a slew of committee members and crews – some coming for interviews, some coming for reviews and some coming plainly to enjoy free food. All my crew and staff were busy in setting up a grand luncheon event in our Ballygunge outlet which also served as our Corporate headquarters for the three-member panel who were supposed to shorten the list from top 10 to top 5.
While I was present during the review meeting and the official lunch, my eyes got fixed on Sheena who was taking the interview of the panel and she also kept seeing me from the corner of her eyes, teasing me with ample cleavage wherever possible. We had recently read Fifty Shades of Grey and our mind traveled back to the book. It became an addiction for us where we would indulge in some heavy body chemistry wherever possible. So, it came as a surprise to me when we made it to the top 3.
Stanley took the responsibility in my absence. I decided to present him a car and so I got up early and intended to call Lobo but before I did that, my phone started ringing, the tune of Here I Am from Bryan Adams reverberating through my house. I didn’t recognize the number but took the call anyway. A hoarse voice from the other end asked me if I was Anuj Shastri and then told me that WTF was getting disqualified from the Food Oscars and our ratings were being downgraded. I was shocked and I demanded to know why to which he answered that our staff has been caught bribing the Oscar panel with cash and kind for getting their approval and it was not the first time and they have got evidences of the tampering with every award that we had won over the last few months.
This shattered me and I found it hard to digest. I rushed to my office after leaving a message to Sheena about the fiasco. Further investigations from my company revealed that it was Stanley who did all this. I felt used, a wave of anger seeping through me. I summoned him to my room.
“Why Stanley?? Why. Why did you flush my reputation down the toilet Stan?? Answer me?? Why”. I was seething with anger and I let him know the same.
“What else was I supposed to do??” Pat came his reply which further elevated my resentment towards him.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?? Man, you prided yourself in doing things the honest way. Was all those talks a farce?? Did you really mean those words that came out of your mouth??”
“You were never present when we needed you the most Anuj. You were busy pandering to your carnal desires while I had to look after everything. Did you think it was easy?? Running around like a madman to keep control, to make sure everything was in place.”
“Fuck you Anuj. You left me high and dry and now you expect me to beg you for forgiveness. You can go back to your lecherous ways while we keep the house in order.”
That was enough for me. I fired him on the spot and then went around trying to erase the bad rep that we had earned in the press from this fiasco.
Though I had to do a lot of begging and pleading and shell out a lot of bucks for various arrangements, I finally managed to steer clear of the controversy and life once again moved on but I felt the pinch of Stanley's absence and though wounds were healed over time, we were not the same anymore.
ACT 3 - Back to the Beginning
Six Months Later…….
I had moved on from the bad phase and finally we were heading towards right direction. My love life has also gained meaning and we moved on from pure lust to happiness in each other’s arm.
While leaving my office one day in my swank new Audi which Sheena had presented me on my birthday few weeks back, I saw a man twitching convulsively on the road, with drool tickling from his mouth. I got concerned seeing the plight of the man and stopped my car, exiting it hurriedly and rushing towards him. I gently lifted his head getting down on my knees and asked him what happened. He slowly opened his eyes, giving a sly smirk and then in a lightning fashion took a needle from his pocket and drove it straight in my neck. I was startled by this act and left him to check the puncture of my neck which had blood guzzling out of it. I started feeling dizzy after only a couple of seconds probably from the fluid that had been injected and before I could understand, I dropped down like a bowling pin completely out.
24 Hours Later…….
My head felt heavy as if somebody has put a boulder through it. For what seemed like eons, I was unable to adjust to the bright lights that were shining on me like a spotlight. But then slowly, my eyes took in the lights and I woke up shocked to find myself gagged and tied to a bed post. I looked around finding myself in unfamiliar surroundings. Tattered curtains covered the windows which itself was old, the hinges creating a creaky sound whenever the window swayed in the wind. Stains of pan and gutkha adorned the walls making them miserable to look at. A king size bed was kept right at the center to which I was tied.
The other inmates of this room were a pathetic looking jug and a glass of water whose contents seem to indicate bodily fluid rather than H2O. I got nauseated, the grim surroundings and the unbearable stench started swirling in my mouth and nose and I vomited on the floor.
The door opened to reveal a bulky figure slowly walking inside. He grabs the glass of water, throws it in my face. Startled, I look at him.
“Back to the world sweetheart or still dreamy”
“Who the fuck are you??” I asked angrily.
“Your caretaker. From now on, you will be staying here under my guidance.”
“Why and who gave you the orders to keep me here and why should I be here”
“Because I got paid for it and in my profession, I don’t ask questions when I get cash”
He left me with a plate of food which looked fit for a stray dog who scurries for leftover scraps.
This was going to be my life for god knows how long….
Six Months Later…….
I woke up to a terrible stench. This had been my routine for the last 6 months. Shit food, shit surroundings and all other things had made my life miserable. The door opened to reveal the same man who I had met first six months back. I looked at him. He had the same smirk that he carried every day in his face like a photo frame abusing me physically and mentally. He will reveal to me every day about how somebody has taken my place and running my empire, ruining my life, banging my girlfriend and taking away my friends.These pieces of information kept stinging me like needles punching my body and coupled with the drugs they kept giving me made me weak and I never had the strength to fight back but more and more of these stories finally made my pain go away. A steely resolve swept in and one fine day when once again the bulky man entered the room, I managed to reverse the needle onto his body and then kept on punching the needle. Quickly with whatever pace I could bring to my drug fused body, I ran farther and farther away from this shithole and finally enjoyed my first ray of sunlight in a long long time.
It has been 24 hours since I managed to escape. I had gone straight to Sheena’s house but found it closed so I went to my abode. I managed to get through the window as I did not have my keys. I was surprised when I switched on the lights. It was the same as I had last seen 6 months ago. I put in a message to Tony, my longtime confidante from the mobile that I had grabbed from my captor but I got a series of surprising SMS from Tony asking when did I change my number and why couldn’t I tell him when we met yesterday.
I was shocked. How could I meet Tony yesterday?? What was going on?? I somehow managed to beg and plead Tony to meet me and he finally answered in the affirmative.
I checked my watch. Tony was supposed to be here 2 hours ago. It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back and started walking all the while, my mind racing with thoughts. Did my distress call get answered?? Was Tony here?? I opened the door and a loud shriek escaped my mouth.
Staring right at me was my own reflection, almost like a clone of my own self. My head started spinning on seeing this man.
Forcing myself to open my mouth, I could just about muster the words “Who are you??”
The conspicuous reply stung me like a bee. “Why?? Don’t you remember me. I am your faithful ex-chef who you just happened to fire so unscrupulously Anuj”.
Stanley…Stanley Lobo...but how is that possible?? How could he look just like me??
“What?? Stunned to see me?? Or my face??”
“You bastard. How did you do this?? What do you want?”
“What? You swine. You did the evil thing and when I acted upon it you are suddenly the dark brooding vigilante serving up revenge.
“You are wrong Anuj. I wanted revenge even before I came to you.”
He waited to get a reaction for me but I was too stunned to speak any words.
“Don’t get surprised Anuj. You know the Hope orphanage where you spent your childhood.
Your gang, the Merciless Four – Anuj, Vipin, Rahul and Anil. How you used to bully other children”
“How did you know all this” I asked stupefied at how he could know.
“Do you remember a small frail young child who used to be your favorite target and how you actually crossed all limits of bully-ism with him.”
“Yes, what of him.”, agitated I asked just wanting to get the truth.
“It was me.” answered Stanley.
I was numb by those words. Yes, I had been a bad child during my early days. I still remember how we used to attack other children, made them do unmentionable things and especially the dark-skinned child whose disobedience towards our orders irked us and we used to enjoy beating him, often inflicting serious wounds. He was so scared that he would never tell anybody about these incidents. One fine day, he left the orphanage and would never return.
“Yes, Anuj. I was forced to run away from the orphanage due to you and your friends. I decided that day that I would take my revenge once in my life.”
"So, this was all a grand design for revenge. Right from the day I met you to all the things that I did, everything was a small bit which added up to tonight.”
“I changed my face thanks to the marvel of plastic surgery and starting tonight I shall reign supreme over the world as Anuj Shastri forever”
He took out a small gun and shot me in the head. I fell into my pool of blood as my entire life flashed in front of me. I felt miserable and thought how my life would have been if things would have turned out differently.
The circle of life has been completed. For now, I was dead. I don’t know if I will return but if I do, I will make all the wrongs right.