Story 13: State of Mind
Like every other small businessman in the country, Puneet was hit by Hurricane Covid. It swept away his sales, destroyed his supply chain and wiped out his cashflow. He was left hanging by a frayed rope called hope, on the edge of a cliff called bankruptcy. As the world was baking banana bread, Puneet’s whole life seemed like a giant rotten banana.
“I sat with my head in my hands, thinking, things can’t possibly get worse.”
But they did. The live-in maid who held the Mehra house aloft disappeared a day after lockdown was announced. She did not want to risk catching the ameeron ki bimaari from her employer, who travelled abroad frequently. So along with the collapse of his business, Puneet had to become Sanjeev Kapoor in the kitchen and Kantabai in in the sink.
His china-doll wife Gitika had never used a lighter in the kitchen. Let alone boiled an egg. The only child of a rich industrialist father, she was spoilt silly. For Daddy the marriage was a strategic gambit. A nice Khatri boy with an IIM degree was just what his legacy business needed. But that’s not quite how it unfolded.
One look at sasurji’s hawaai chappal factory in Meerut and Puneet knew he could never work there. Or live in that city. And a wise decision it was. Sasurji was not a man who knew how to delegate. Instinctively, Puneet hung on to his job with McQuigley and company, moving from London to New York to Johannesburg. Gitika excelled as a McQuigley wife.
With the aid of super-expensive nannies and maids on every continent. For Puneet, it was a small price to pay. Over the years, sasurji had accepted the situation but remained bitter about it. On one of their annual trips to India, after a peg of Blue Label Johnny Walker whiskey, he surveyed his indentured son-in-law and remarked.
“Kitna bhi tum salary le lo, apne kaam ka mazaa kuch aur hai.”
The arrow hit its mark. Perhaps because despite all the globe-trotting, the perks, Puneet was feeling an emptiness inside. A week later, he was on a flight to Mumbai when he saw someone with a book called ‘Stay Hungry Stay Foolish’. He bought it from the Crossword store at the airport and began reading. By the time he reached Trident Nariman Point, he’d finished 2 chapters.
Puneet sat up all night, reading the next chapter and the next. In the morning, he switched on his laptop and sent his boss a resignation letter. One month later he was in Mumbai, registering his company, hiring his first employee, making his business plan. Tough stuff but if you could get your kid admission in Royal Scottish school, anything was possible.
Although Gitika was petulant at first, she quickly adjusted. The kitty party and ‘hot mom’ circuit was much more advanced in India. And the fashions more fun. Using all his Porter frameworks and McQuigley strategy Puneet managed to get his business to a respectable Rs 10 crore turnover. But there, it was stuck.
He attended conferences, watched TED talks, enrolled for online courses. Everyone said just one thing: ‘Think out of the box’. But Puneet only felt more boxed in. Maybe he was just a good manager, not a visionary. One who could deal with the present but not imagine the future. And one evening, while he was pondering on this very question, he slipped into a trance.
It was all so clear now – the path the company should take, the hard decisions needed.
Every day, Puneet worked to make things happen. Bit by bit by bit. At night, he followed a fixed routine which became the problem-saving part of his day. At the Economic Times Startup Awards 2023, Puneet Mehra was celebrated as one of the 10 entrepreneurs who emerged from Covid as winners.
On stage, he said, “I was hungry, I was foolish, and I married the right woman.”
That evening Puneet returned home, went straight to the kitchen. This was his favourite part of the day, when he got all his best ideas.
“If only the ET guys knew my little secret… “ he chuckled to himself.
Meditation takes many different forms. Some need a Himalayan cave, some need a sinkful of dirty dishes.