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She took another spoonful of the cream as she continued. ‘Let us work it out the specifics together. I think this should be a good time to do that.’
It was one of those days again. A day when Harini frequently felt a little depressed. On the surface, she liked to think of herself as happy and successful but deep down-in-the-gut happy, she wasn’t. She tried to find the reason for this. It had been a fairly average day. She had done the meal prep in the morning, got her kids off to school at a decent time and gotten to work on time too. What was troubling her today?
Then like a bruise which you keep rubbing your hand against although it aches when you do, she remembered. The words the swimming coach had told her – ‘you know, I don’t believe that children should be taken care of by anybody other than your mom. So you had sent your daughter with your mother in law and I felt really bad for you. That you had to do that only because you needed to travel to Hyderabad to scout for new homes.’
There it was, in one sentence, that gentle guilt tripping that as a woman, Harini should have stayed back with her children or taken them with her. She should not have travelled without the kids leaving her in-laws to take care of sending them to the swimming class. As she ran over the words in her head for the umpteenth time, Harini told herself that it was fine. That she had taken the best possible decision for her and her family. That the swimming coach who was going to send her kids home for vacation to her parents’ family during May was not being judgemental. It was just the way she spoke. But the words still grated and she continued to pick at the scab the words caused.
Her phone beeped. She had a message from Preethi, her friend from school. Preethi was in a different country but she still managed to send her a message or two every single day. Calls now – those were far apart but whenever they spoke, the distance and time seemed to melt away. It was like picking up wherever they had dropped off. Preethi had just whatsapped a picture of her daughter dressed up to the nines for Halloween. What a cute kid, Harini thought to herself and although Preethi would be angry with her for thinking it – the kid looked just like her father. Preethi was so irritated with people who kept comparing her daughter with her husband and saying they were copies of each other as though Preethi had nothing to do with the child at all. She typed in a response to Preethi and while doing so, sent her a picture of the recent cake she had made. For her father in law’s birthday. She had made a rasmalai cake and she knew Preethi loved rasmalai and similar sweets. She waited for Preethi to respond back with a ‘Yummy’ or ‘I want that’ but what she got was an angry face. Puzzled, Harini waited. The status indicator on top said Preethi was busy ‘Typing’… Why was Preethi angry with her?
A couple of minutes later, she had her answer. Preethi was angry with Harini because she felt Harini wasn’t pursuing her passion. Harini had started baking a few years back. Recently the baking fever had taken her over and she was making something every single day – breads, cookies, brownies and layer cakes especially. Gorgeous decadent and tall layered cakes. Her chocolate truffle cake especially with it’s layers of ooey gooey sin was quite famous in her family and asked for whenever a birthday came around. Preethi wanted Harini to quit her day job and begin baking professionally.
Harini had thought about this quite a lot but she lacked the confidence to give up her job which gave her her financial independence to follow something that would be a challenge to make a profit in. She told Preethi as much and then quit the internet for some time, wanting to take a break from Preethi, her own feelings of helplessness on this topic. It seemed to her that it was never the right time to quit her career and start a new one in baking.
The next day, as Harini was clearing up the breakfast dishes, the doorbell rang. She opened the door and was completely floored to see Preethi standing at her doorstep!
‘Preethi! It’s you!!’, she said, beaming.
Preethi grinned and gave her a big hug. ‘I came yesterday and I wanted to surprise so I didn’t tell you anything before. It was so difficult to keep myself from saying it!! Now have you saved up a piece of the Rasmalai cake for me or not!?’
Harini drew her in and closed the door. ‘Of course, I do. I’m so happy you’re here, da. Where are the kids and where’s Hitesh?’
Preethi said, ‘Don’t ask – they are still sleeping away their jet lag. I figured this was the easiest time to slip away without them and get you to myself for some time. Rohan and Raveena are also at school, right? And you did say Rajesh was in Pune this week?’
‘That’s right, yes, I did. My in-laws are not in either but of course you already knew that. They’re away at our village temple so I’m working from home. ‘. Saying so, Harini drew the cake out of the fridge and cut a neat wedge out for Preethi. She took a pitcher of ice cold water out as well to make the iced tea her friend always favored.
She set it all up on a tray and took it over to the tiny table they had in the kitchen. They would feel more comfortable talking here in the kitchen than in the large dining table. It was a much cozier spot. Preethi settled down and tossed her dupatta away. As the first bite of the cool and moist rasmalai cake hit her tongue, she sighed. ‘Wow, Harini. This tastes so yum. So tell me, what’s your excuse this time? Why are you going to put away starting your own home bakery?’
‘Ummmm.. you know, Preethi. The usual stuff. I really like the money I’m making at work. And I’m not sure I know the right way to market this stuff and start a bakery. Also, I’m really worried that I will not be able to manage my time if I start with the bakery and Rohan’s in the sixth now. I sort of feel he will need me around more. And hey.. .the horrific teenage years are just round the corner. I feel their closeness each time Rohan talks back or sulks at me! Who knew these years could be as tough as the initial infant stages! You keep thinking it gets better and easier and it never does. I’m sure our parents still feel the same way about us!’
‘Excuses and more excuses, Harini. Have you been looking at your newsfeed in FB… full of our college friends who are starting up this and the other. In fact, just the other day I saw that Pallavi is now into some business around a food truck. Surely, if she can do it, you can! Don’t you think so?’ She took another spoonful of the cream as she continued. ‘Let us work it out the specifics together. I think this should be a good time to do that.’
So saying, she finished up the cake and tea and took it to the sink and came back to Harini who just stood there, wondering. Preethi seemed to have spent a lot of time thinking over her proposal for Harini. She produced a big fat file from her bag – the folder marked with a beautifully worked H sitting on top of a gorgeous chocolate cupcake as a logo. Harini was stunned and touched – the file contained so much stuff – costing including rental costs at several alternative locations, staff costs, utility costs, montly and yearly targets and so on.
So they took some time that day and tried to understand if the plan was workable. Despite being such close friends, it was the first time that Harini discussed her financial situation with Preethi. How much salary she got, how much savings she had, what were her commitments and how she could start the bakery. As they worked together, Harini felt a lightening in her heart. For the first time, she realized that this dream could actually be possible.
They took a break for lunch, ordering in from the small Punjabi restaurant near Harini’s home and then it was time for the kids to come home and for Preethi to leave as well.
‘Think about it…’, said Preethi as she picked up her things and readied to leave. ‘Sleep over it and go for it!!! Tell me tomorrow.’
Harini went through the rest of her day in a haze… wondering if’s and but’s. When Rajesh called her later in the evening, he could tell she was preoccupied. She told him about Preethi’s visit. Rajesh couldn’t quite grasp the specifics and the sheer amount of detail Harini poured over him but he gathered enough to understand that Preethi and Harini had given this a lot of thought and put in a lot of effort. For some time now, his wife had been a little listless and unhappy. Doing one chore and another but really with not so much zest or enthusiasm as had been there in the previous years. He realized this would be a good break for her to pursue her passion. And just in case it didn’t… she could always go back and do something else. So he told her, in his own inimitable manner, to go ahead and jokingly said that he would continue earning the steady brown bread for the family while she as the baker reached to bring home the glossy pastries. Harini smiled as she heard that. She tossed and turned over in her sleep…. Twisting things one way and the other. Towards dawn, she started to see how it might be possible. And decided to take the plunge.
When Preethi called her, she already knew what Harini was going to do. After all, best friends know you well, don’t they. And that’s how H’s Cloud Nine Confections came to be! Bringing joy and love through food in so many families’ celebrations across the city!
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the April 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image source: pixabay
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