“Profits make you happy but while doing business if you can serve your country or help making the place a better place, that will give you a real joy. A true businessman should not distinguish between his customers.” Arunabh’s short story delves into the inseparable bonds of pride and patriotism that make us go the extra mile to preserve our heritage.
“Tomorrow they will be thrown out from here,” Ran informed.
Ran Harry was a management consultant working with a multinational consulting agency and was deputed in India.
“I hope everything goes smoothly. I don’t want any hullabaloo around it. We are already struggling a lot,” Joy said to him.
“Don’t worry Ms. Joy Dey. It’s our headache now and please don’t think of taking any extreme step. You go to sleep peacefully and leave this to us,” he replied with a smile and left for the day.
She remembered the day when she was sitting in the nearby modern café, sipping her frappe and pretending to savour her book. The blood stained cloth lay under her handbag. She was waiting for the moment when she could drop the blood strained cloth and get out of the café after spreading the fear.
She got out of her past and thought of getting some sleep as from the next day loads of work were to be done. But as she retired to sleep her mind went back to the events that had occurred in past six months. The memories streamed in, as if yesterday.
Six months ago I was finishing my management course in the US and had planned to work there. But destiny decided something else. The sudden death of my father brought me to India. My father was the sole bread earner of the family and after his death, the responsibility of managing the family business fell on me.
We have a 70-year-old restaurant in the old lanes of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) named as ‘Joy India’. It was started by my grandfather in the British era, during the Second World War. At that time, it was centrally located. Since it was near government offices and military cantonment, it was frequently visited by the English populace and the elite. It was upmarket and did well.
We also stayed in the same building. The entry to our house was from the rear side and the front door entry was for the restaurant. Our entire family used to work in the restaurant in some form or the other. My father had started helping grandpa from his young age. And in all these 70 years ‘Joy India’ has become one of the landmarks of Kolkata city. It had also been featured in several city-related documentaries.
In the early eighties, my grandfather started showing signs of Alzheimer disease. My father took over the reins. Whenever we got time we would sit with grandfather and listen to his stories and experiences through the decades. But as the disease took control of him, his stories became incoherent.
As time passed, our upmarket restaurant became sidelined. However, because of certain loyal visitors the profits didn’t fall much. The best part of Kolkata is that people love their choices and remain stuck to their past just as in the age of bullet trains, the city still embraces its trams. But, by mid-nineties the problems started surfacing. The revenue started going down. One of the major reasons was the dismal state of affairs of the Kolkata. After suffering with long standing labor issues and Marxist principles, the industries and offices were dying. This resulted in rampant unemployment and particularly in the lower strata.
Each passing year the situation worsened and profits took a nose dive. My father struggled hard to meet the ends and keep running the show. By early 2000, I left for the US for higher education. I left him in his difficult times to build my future. He took burden of my studies. Whenever I spoke to him, our discussions revolved around ‘Joy India’. I many times asked him to close it down and to start something new, but he always said better days will come.
“Don’t worry everything will be fine. Till I’m alive I will not be able to shut it and I believe you will understand it when you will take over,” he would emphasize. To this I would reply, “Dad businesses are not run on emotions.” He would not even react.
The day I got that unseemly call informing of his heart attack, I was writing my final paper. I immediately flew back. When I reached hospital he was in the ICU with an oxygen mask covering his face. I sat beside him, holding his hands.
He opened his eyes.
“When did you come?” he inquired.
“Just now. How are you feeling?” I asked.
“How were your exams?” he said weekly.
“Good,” I replied with choked voice.
“I want to tell you something,” he whispered.
“You take rest. We will speak later,” I replied.
“I am fine, don’t worry. Joy if something happens to me then you will have to take care of our family. Your grandfather and grandmother may not able to handle it. Be strength of your mother,” he mumbled.
I almost broke into tears.
“Dad nothing will happen to you. You will be fine,” I said to him, holding his hands tightly.
“Joy, if you don’t want to run ‘Joy India’ you can close it. I will not pressurize you. Both the Joys are dear to me,” he said and closed his eyes.
After this he never woke up. He was right. After his death my family needed me most. I had no option, but to take the responsibility of ‘Joy India’.
Joy India’s situation was worse than what I had imagined. One of the thoughts that came to my mind was to sell it off and to start something new. I tried searching for some buyer, but given the state of the restaurant, nobody was interested in buying it alone. Buyers were more keen to have our house than the restaurant. Therefore, the only option I was left with was to run it.
Next few weeks I worked hard in the restaurant to understand its problems and devise some solutions. I found that flow of visitors was less during lunch time and negligible at dinner. We were also facing over-staffing, but reducing the staff was not easily feasible as most had been working long with us. To my mind there was only one solution to this problem that was to increase the profits. I tried many options like discounts, new combinations, home delivery etc. but nothing worked. Each passing month was making me desperate. I knew that I was treating symptoms and not the disease. I decided that I will run ‘Joy India’ but on my terms and not on emotion.
At the same time my efforts further got derailed when a modern café was opened in nearby locality. If this café would have worked then I would have lost major business and no one would have invested in ‘Joy India’. I felt miserable and in haste, planned to drop a blood-color stained cloth in that café so that it gets bad publicity. I was about to execute this, but sanity prevailed on me. As this was not the solution for the Joy India’s problems, I dropped that ridiculous plan.
Thereafter, I tried my last bet. In order to understand the situation better I sought the help of a reputed management consultancy. They conducted a thorough study and presented their report. Their report had many suggestions like changing our brand positioning, reducing staff, changing menu, etc. Apart from the above they also pointed one main reason behind the trouble.
According to the report, visitors avoided ‘Joy India’ because with many beggars and homeless around, they considered it unsafe. Due to closure of industries and offices, numerous immigrant labors had become homeless and had taken to begging.
Our consultants found that in comparison with the rest of the neighborhood, the number of beggars was unusually high near ‘Joy India’. The reason was my father used to feed them. As a result, they had started hovering around ‘Joy India’ forcing elite visitors to avoid us. Our consultants further found that many of these destitute people felt associated with ‘Joy India’ and had lived in the locality for years. It then occurred to me that random people around ‘Joy India’ greeted me whenever I passed by. Taking the help of government agencies to displace them was obviously not an option. Ran’s agency found someone who could forcefully shift them.
Tomorrow morning these people will come to shift them and ‘Joy India’ will get rid of its biggest trouble to see its golden days again.
But what was keeping me awake tonight? Why am I not happy? If Dad would have been alive, how he would have reacted?
I heard a knock on the gate. I got up and opened the gate. Grandpa was standing outside.
“Grandpa, what are you doing here?” I asked.
He looked at me, confused.
“What are you doing?” he asked in return.
“Nothing. Just not able to sleep,” I replied.
He came inside the room and sat on the bed. I sat beside him.
“It’s going to be morning. Ask your grandmother to start cooking rice,” he said. Rice is staple food of Calcutta and the masses like it.
“Grandpa, people eat rice in lunch and not in breakfast,” I said. He looked at me.
“I know, but freedom fighters eat it in the morning as they do not get time during the day,” he replied.
“What are you saying? We do not feed freedom fighters. We serve the English,” I reminded him. He must have forgotten due to his disease.
“Yes I know. We serve the English but these are our people we should serve them as well. A businessman should be wise enough to cater every segment,” he said, smiling.
“I don’t believe it. Our restaurant was built near government offices and military cantonment to cater them. Why would freedom fighters come to our restaurant?” I was amazed.
“They find it a good place to understand military movements and other secrets. Sometimes I have seen them coming to the restaurant in disguise,” he replied.
“But wasn’t it risky? If the English would have come to know then might have booked you for treason,” I asked.
He laughed in reply and put his hand on my head.
“Joy, risk is part and parcel of business. Profits make you happy but while doing business if you can serve your country or help making the place a better place, that will give you a real joy. A true businessman should not distinguish between his customers,” he said.
I kept looking at him trying to understand, how does any of this make sense?
“Let me share a secret with you. Do you know the meaning of ‘Joy India’?” he asked me.
“Yes, everyone knows it. It means ‘happiness in our country India’,” I replied.
“You are right. But it is not the only meaning,” he said smiling.
“What is the other meaning?” I asked.
“These freedom fighters in Hindi language shout a slogan ‘Jai Hind’. It means salutation to mother India. In Calcutta’s regional language, Bengali, we pronounce Jai as Joy and Hind means India. So effectively our name also reflects ‘Jai Hind’, but as English are also our customers, it is our duty to respect their concern as well. Therefore, to keep every customer happy it is ‘Joy India’. As humans, as social beings we should be tolerant and should devise ways to keep everyone together. A garden looks beautiful when it has all kinds of flowers,” he explained.
“You are right. So when India got freedom we were not alienated and got accepted by our people,” I added.
“What nonsense! Freedom is still to come. Go and ask your father to be ready. You are too small to understand all these things,” he said and left the room in a hurry.
Grandpa left some thoughts in my mind.
I immediately picked phone and called Ran.
“Hi Ran. Sorry for calling you so early,” I said.
“No issue what’s the matter?” he asked, half in sleep.
“You inform your people to not to come. I don’t want any displacement,” I said.
“Why?” he asked in surprise.
“Long story will tell you when we meet. I want to ask you something?” I said.
“Yes?” he asked.
“Will you be able to devise a plan in which we do not need any displacement and want to use them in some way?” I questioned.
“What are you saying?” he almost shouted, confused.
“Is it Yes or No?” I emphasized.
“May be,” he replied, unsure.
“Sounds good. Let’s meet today,” I said hanging up the phone.
Sigh of relief. I went to the balcony. It was dawn. I was feeling relaxed and happy. I saw someone cleaning the road in front of ‘Joy India’ and greeting me.
I hope in the coming years; I may add a new meaning to ‘Joy India’.
Grandpa’s explanation has left a question in her mind. Whether the Joy in her name is of English vocabulary or is it Bengali accent version of Jai?
The author Arunabh is one of the ten authors whose selected short story was published in Learning and Creativity’s publication Roots and Meanderings: An Anthology of Selected Short Stories
(Restaurant pic: Pixabay)
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