First published in August 2017 edition

In a small town of Aachipuram near Madurai in district Madurai South Taluka, Tamil Nadu lived a vivacious young boy; Vishnu. Standing tall at five feet seven inches with a round face, black hair sparkling eyes, Vishnu had a sharp chin his most obvious facial feature and a full and charming smile. Lanky and tall he was a fast mover and the village cricket champion. A young teenager, he was looking forward to his next birthday which was just a month away. As every youngster on the verge of manhood he too was expecting changes not only to his body but the way he would be treated by his parents and peers. What he was mainly looking forward to, was his chance to work in his Appa’s kitchen. Having shown interest and talent at a young age, his Appa had agreed to let him hang around with him during school holidays and after school hours. Though his family considered this just a passing phase for him, Vishnu was very serious about this passion. His intent was to become a Chef in one of the Taj groups in Chennai.

Born after three sisters his father had too many hopes pinned on him. His father would always tell him, that the only reason his sisters had not been sent to school was because he could afford a good education only for one. And in any case according to his father girls did not need to go school, it gives them thoughts he used to say. That’s the idea thought Vishnu, an education will help them choose how to live and make them self sufficient. But it was futile arguing with his dad. And the good English medium school was a long walk away from their village; I guess safety was an issue as well.

His father ran a small coffee shop, handed down to him by his father. Even though now the shop served meals in addition, its name and identity still remained as Kapi Kadai or Coffee shop. His father had two brothers and two sisters all younger to him, the boys had been sent to school, and had gotten a decent education so as to move away into the city and lead dignified lives. Their children too were in good schools and doing well. His father always regretted being born the elder son as he had had to sacrifice his education to let his siblings study. Vishnu joined his fathers’ shop at a young age to help out and to save the cost of employing a help. Vishnu’s father hated his job from the day he joined there and still hated it, he felt it a burden and a duty that brought money into his home. And it was because of this, that he was adamant of Vishnu getting out from the village. But just like he had not been given a choice by his father, he by not giving a choice to Vishnu. Although, Vishnu did understand why his father was pushing him towards engineering, this was creating unhappiness in him.

Living my dream

His birthday finally arrived, his mother made an offering of a milk sweet to God and told Vishnu to visit the temple before going to school. Vishnu was so excited he could barely eat and how his day at school passed he couldn’t recall as he sprinted back home. He went straight to his fathers shop and entered the kitchen, looking around he started asking the cook what was being made and where he could help. The cook feeling scared of his employer’s wrath, told Vishnu to go away lest his father see him and get both of them into trouble. Vishnu’s father’s temper was known all over the village. But Vishnu too excited at his first opportunity to be around in the kitchen started making the curry. At the end of two hours Vishnu had learnt how to make curries, chutneys and the best part how to increase quantities as customers increased. He had also learnt that wastage was not expected by his father and the USP of the shop was that the food was cooked fresh everyday. His father never served left over food to his customers – and to ensure this, detailed planning and execution was required. He was amazed to realise that his father had such good skills at managing all this, plus finances even though he never went to school.

His joy was short lived as his father returned post his lunch and seeing him there, initially was curious and then annoyed. As his anger translated into irate words towards Vishnu and the cook, Vishnu quietly left the place, with a little experience and loads of disappointment. He started thinking how he could convince his father, but could find no justification which would be accepted by his father. As he pushed his legs towards home his mother on seeing him looking so miserable, lovingly asked him to come in, wash his hands and legs and have some more of the milk sweet. Also there was a feast prepared by his sisters for him for his birthday. His heart felt so much love for these women of his family and at the same time it tugged at his empty place too. He sat down for lunch and ate it without a word.

Going to his room for a little nap before he had to proceed to tuitions, he lay down and stared at the thatched ceiling wondering what and how his passion could be fulfilled. Arguing with his dad, or defying him would only make his father sadder and angrier and he knew that his father deserved some happiness too.

All of fifteen today he felt like a grown man, even though his parents probably did not think so. He never stepped into the kitchen again nor mentioned anything to do with cooking or food to any one in the family. He followed his routine of school and tuitions working hard towards getting a good rank in class twelve. He let his life pass by without questioning it and soon the same date came again, his date of birth but three years later.

In a few months he had completed his twelfth class with a good percentage and Regional Engineering College (REC) had given him a seat. As he packed his few belongings to go to college, even his father had tears. As he saw tear after tear drop from his father’s eyes, of course his father claiming they were of pride and happiness Vishnu realised what he had to do. He went to his father touched his feet and told him, “Appa all you want me is to be successful, is to be satisfied, is not to regret what I do in my life and most importantly to be happy.  I know that now, but the path you are asking me to follow is not the one I want to, by doing this you are making me just like yourself, an unsatisfied unhappy young man who has to live his fathers dream and give up, his own. If you let me, instead of the Engineering degree I will join a Management and Catering degree College in the city, get my education, fulfil my passion and live our dream of seeing me successful and happy. But if you still insist I go to REC I will do so, as I do not want to see you unhappy or angry, but I cannot promise you that I will be happy.”

Vishnu said this with the most calmness, politeness and respect that his father though shocked at this admittance by his son felt only love and respect towards Vishnu. He remembered all those days that young Vishnu had sat on his lap in the shop talking about new dishes ideas and plans. And how his father showed appreciation for them but put it away as a little boys child talk. As he recalled Vishnu’s fifteen birth day, even though he had not mentioned this to anyone, the cook had complimented Vishnu’s sharp mind and creative ideas in the kitchen that day, and his father had actually loved the taste of the curry prepared by Vishnu.

Realising the fact that Vishnu had never fought for his dream or defied his fathers wishes ever, showed him that Vishnu respected his father’s happiness as much as he wanted his own. His father looked at Vishnu with a glance that had admiration, a glance that told Vishnu that now father and son had a common dream one of success and happiness for them both.

After five years Vishnu graduated from the College of Hotel Management and Catering winning a silver medal as he came in second, and earned himself a one year apprenticeship with Taj Coromandel Chennai. Soon he completed this successfully and landed himself a job at the same hotel too. After two years he called his parents to live with him in his small cosy two bedroom  flat and told his father, I owe my dream to you.

Vishnu and his father run ‘Kapi Kadai’, a trendy café styled like the olden Tamil coffee shops in the premises of Taj Hotel Chennai. When asked by the management why he was investing into an independent venture instead of living a secured life as a chef in the hotel, his reply was, “What I learnt from watching my father in our shop in the village cannot be taught by working in the back at the kitchen. What my father learnt in that same shop cannot be taught by catering colleges, and it is this education that I want to give to my children.”

“Then what about your dream to be a top chef?” his manager had asked.

“My dream was to be a chef,” replied Vishnu, “which I am”.  “But our dream, my fathers and mine, was to be successful, independent and mostly happy, which is what we are living now.” Saying that, Vishnu walked into his café where his father was explaining to the young interns how a coffee decoction is made.

Did I tell you that Vishnu helped his sisters do diploma courses in various vocations through correspondence and now they conduct classes for village children and few women too – boys are charged and girls are free.

Word meanings:

  • Vivacious- lively in spirit
  • Lest – for fear that
  • USP – unique selling proposition
Living my dream
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