Namqueen- The Empress of Snacks

During the nine months that Hetal had spent in her mother’s womb, her mother never had the craving for anything khatta (tangy) or meetha (sweet). Not because she was inordinately health conscious and only eating gluten-free, non-fat, non-carb, non-protein, non-food foods during her pregnancy, but because she already had what she loved the most in the world- Farsaan (Light Indian snacks, also called Namkeen in other parts of the country) from Chhedha Stores, bags and bags of them, in multiple varieties, flavours, colours, and pack sizes. With Chhedha Stores to feed her, she never felt the need for the services of any nutritionist, or even her mother to guide her. Chhedha Stores was her guiding light when it came to snacks, and she trusted it blindly.

Growing up, Hetal always blamed her mother for this.

Hetal was just 10 months old when a strange thing happened, something that shaped the course of her life in a most extraordinary way.

She was seated in her mother’s lap, and her mother was trying to feed her what is traditionally the first solid food that children have after mother’s milk- a bowl of Cerelac. But Hetal stubbornly refused to open her mouth. Something about the white sludgy mixture in the bland bowl made it so unappetizing that Hetal felt that it was better to die hungry than eat that mess. Her mother kept trying to feed her forcibly, and Hetal kept moving her head away, and trying to slap away the spoon with her little hands. And it was in the middle of this tussle that Hetal saw it.

Just before she sat to feed Hetal, her Mom had been eating some Farsaan. Hetal had started crying for food suddenly, and so, her Mom had to leave the katori (mini-bowl) on the side-table, and feed (or as we just saw, attempt while failing miserably to feed) Hetal. It was this katori that caught Hetal’s attention, and she froze on the spot.

She had never seen anything so beautiful in her life. Grains of various colours- yellow, orange, pink, black, brown- all mixed together, with cornflakes, peanuts and raisins, it was, to Hetal, a vision from heaven. She was smitten.

And before her mother realized it, Hetal’s tiny right hand had stretched towards the side-table, grabbed a handful of Farsaan, and popped it in her mouth. And then the flavours hit her- it was salty, but tangy….No no no no, it was sweet, but sour….Oh No, how could she be so stupid- it was bitter, but salty….The complexity of the flavours brought tears of joy to her eyes, and she knew that she would never eat anything else again. Along with that realization, a strange peaceful look came upon her face, and Hetal slept.

And from that day on, Hetal’s life revolved around Farsaan.

Farsaan for breakfast, Farsaan for lunch, and Farsaan for dinner. And for those moments between meals when she felt slight pangs of hunger…yup, you guessed it right, even more Farsaan.

Her parents tried their level best to wean her away from an all-Farsaan diet, for they obviously realized that it is not healthy to not have milk, cheese, butter, vegetables or meats at all, but the minute they stopped her supply of Farsaan, Hetal stopped eating. Caught between Farsaan and a hard place, they finally gave in to her tantrums, and allowed her to stick to this unique diet.

Hetal grew up. Completed her school, then graduation, and finally completed her MBA from an A-List institute. But throughout her growing up years, Farsaan from her friendly neighborhood Chhedha Stores was always there to keep her company. Even when she was away from her home in Mumbai for two years during her Post-Graduation studies in Ahmedabad, sacks filled with a variety of Farsaan used to be delivered to her hostel on a weekly basis by courier.

At first, people who saw her eat so much Farsaan used to make fun of her, but slowly, they understood that she didn’t care, she HAD to eat Farsaan, or she would die.

Hetal completed her MBA, and got a much sought after job at Amazon. Life was good now, life was great.

And then, tragedy struck.

It was a weekend, and Hetal suddenly realized that she would run out of Farsaan in the coming week. Rather than wait for it to get over, she decided to go to Chhedha Stores and replenish her stock herself. Looking forward to a couple of hours of happy shopping in her food paradise, she quickly changed, grabbed her wallet, and almost ran to the store.

But as she neared the store, she realized that something was off today. The usual weekend crowds of people were missing from the area outside the shop. Filled with trepidation, she rushed towards the store, and it was then that she saw the most horrifying spectacle of her life- The shutters of Chhedha Stores were down, and a big notice could be seen pasted on them, which said- CLOSED PERMANENTLY.

The sign suddenly blurred, and Hetal realized that there were tears in her eyes. She tried to stop the flow, she was a well-educated, grown-up woman for God’s sake, but they just would not stop. The store was her childhood, it was her home, it was her playground, it was her friend, it was her school, her college, her B-School, the store was her identity. And it was then that Hetal decided that she would not allow her store to shut down, not without a fight.

The notice on the shutter had a number written on it, to be used if someone wanted to buy the shop. Hetal immediately called the number from her i-phone, and fixed up a meeting with the owner.

The very next day, Hetal was sitting at the owner, Nilesh Chhedha’s home, sipping a cup of syrupy sweet tea, and munching greedily on copious amounts of fresh Farsaan. Nilesh told her, “Sales have been going down over the years, especially with people becoming more health-conscious today. Everyone wants just branded diet Farsaan, no one is interested in our traditional snacks items anymore. So I have no other option except to close down the business and sell off the shop.”

With a look of determination in her eyes, Hetal said, “What if I can help you turn things around?” Nilesh looked at her lovingly and said, “I have seen you grow up in my shop Hetal, I know how much you love it, but I’m old now, and can’t afford to take chances anymore. I’ve got a very good offer for the shop, so I am going to sell it.”

Hetal thought for a while, and suddenly, her eyes lit up. She looked at Nilesh and said, “OK Uncle, you sell off the shop, but then, can you give me just three months to revive your business? You won’t have to do a thing. You will anyways need to give three months notice to your factory workers, just let me take care of the sales during this period. What do you stand to lose?”

Nilesh had no option but to bow down in front of her determination. “Okay,” said Nilesh, “but I have just one condition.”

The very next morning, Hetal resigned from Amazon, and became the CEO of Chhedha Stores. The only thing was, she did not have a store.

But Hetal had not been a star performer at Amazon for nothing. She knew that physical stores did not matter anymore, what people were looking for was convenience and reliability. She also knew that their home-grown small brand would never be able to compete with large multinationals on the ‘Diet Food’ promise, so she decided to play to their own strength- the sheer goodness of the taste of their Farsaan.

One month of preparation, and Hetal was ready to roll out their plan.

One fine day, the city of Mumbai woke up to a full-page advertisement with Hetal on it, chomping down greedily on a range of Farsaan, her face filled with pure, unadulterated joy. The headline of the ad read- YOU’RE GOING TO DIE EVEN WHEN YOU DIET! And below the headline was the USP of Chheda Farsaan- Bagfuls of Sinful Taste, Delivered Free, within 30 minutes, anywhere in Mumbai. Download the App now, before you die of hunger!

Two months had passed since that day. Chhedha Farsaan had become an overnight sensation in this period, first in Mumbai, and then across the rest of the country. It was the fastest 100-Crore brand in the world, and the media couldn’t have their fill of Hetal.

A huge stage had been set up outside the original factory of Farsaan that Nilesh Cheddha had opened. Hetal was being felicitated as the Businesswoman of the Year. After a glittering ceremony, media personnel were being taken on a tour of the factory. Hetal accompanied them till the gates, and then stood on one side, inviting the media to go ahead.

“Why are you not coming with us ma’am,” asked one enterprising journalist from BBC. Hetal tried to prevaricate, but he just wouldn’t take no for an answer. So Hetal finally gave in and said, “This is strictly off the record, and I’ll deny everything and sue you if you ever repeat this conversation. The fact is, that I’m not allowed to go in.”

“What?” cried out the journalist, “But you are the one who has taken this business to these heights.” “Well,” replied Hetal, “This was the condition that Nilesh Chhedha had put before me before handing over the reins of the business to me. He made me swear to him that I would stop eating Farsaan, as it is not good for health. I have not had even a bite of it since that day!”







About anuragbakhshi

At the age of 40, I decided to exit the corporate world, and enter the world of stories as a full-time writer. Wish me luck!
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