Huddled and cooped up in a cabin with 8 of my team members in the smouldering heat of Chennai that was trying to blast open the window panes and wash in to burn us, the idea popped up! The organization I was working for was up for sale, the buyers were sizing us up and we were feeling small, insignificant and irrelevant. Being acquired has insecurity, anger, frustration and uncertainty thrown in equal measures, giving you pangs of deep depression and hysterical laughter at the same time – while you dress up professionally, wear the ID card and come to the office on time every day as if nothing crazy is happening.
“What would I do if I lost this job?” asked my young team member, who, with all the wisdom of youth, had decided to get married to her childhood sweetheart in a few months. Amidst blank faces that were looking at me (well, you have to have an answer when your team absolutely expects it), I dug hard into my dry, evaporating brain and came up blandly with, “Don’t worry, if worse comes to worst, we can start a Vada Corner”, I was hungry, hence the idea hit probably.
What started off as a crazy idea was received with such gusto that I had to hold the armrests to not fall off my chair. In a few seconds, we were in an intense brainstorming session, transformed from being a worst-case scenario to a best-case scenario. By the end of the day, the team had decided on the revenue & profit models, business operations and market segments to target, management positions were taken and even the menu card was conceptualized! Colour of the walls, the size of the chairs, the dress code, there was no stopping. The tag line read ‘Why should Vada be round?’ When I looked lost, they came up with a crispy answer, “Sunitha, as a startup, we won’t be having cooks on our payroll so we’ll have to manage to make vadas ourselves. Well, none of us is good at getting them round (read plain, we do not know how to make vada), so let us question the status quo!” Even the usually sane and safe finance team members were willing to review the project plan.
For the health-conscious types, we decided to introduce olive oil based beetroot and carrot vadas, low-fat dahi vada and sprouted pesara vada. For those who don’t care about the ever-increasing size of their waists, we would offer crisp-fried keerai vada, soft-as-a-pillow ulundhu vada and the quintessential masala vada. For the incurable carnivores, we agreed on offering keema vada and egg vada. They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. In this case, the tough decided to set up a vada corner!
When I look back at those days, the best remembered moments were when we used to meet each other in the corridor or during tea/coffee breaks and enquired around as to where we were on the Vada Corner enterprise. There were a few who went ahead and told me the list of alternate careers they were considering in the worst case scenario of losing the job. At a point when there was a question mark on what shape and form professional life was going to take, we realized that what matters at the end of the day is the resilience and the will to bounce back, take up a challenge with aplomb and walk the strange, new and never-before-taken road.
Recently when my boss heard the story, he looked thoughtfully at me and said, “I think I should fire you!” Well, he was missing authentic, crispy vada in life, you see?
Often, when one door closes, we are so preoccupied with our problems and questions about, “why me?” – that we miss out on the window that has opened a few inches beyond the periphery of our vision, trying to bring in the fresh wind. It only takes a little bit of faith in self and trust in the larger scheme of things to spot that window, open it up wide and wave to the opportunity that is waiting on the other side and let the waft of fresh, crispy, crunchy and round vadas roll in!