Review of ‘My Journey with Vadapav’
23 January 2017
GOLI can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To me when I was in school, it was a Hindi novel written by Acharya Chatursen that I enjoyed reading. To Venkatesh Iyer and obviously thousands of people who have tasted and enjoyed the vadapavs that ‘India’s largest Ethnic Quick Service Restaurant Company’ sells, the word comes as a prefix to many variants of the ubiquitous vadapav and includes Goli Classic Vadapav, Goli Cheese Vadapav, Goli Schezwan Vadapav, Goli Soya Vadapav, Goli Makai Palak Vadapav… and all of them are quite different from ‘a vadapav from ‘kaka’ and cutting chai from ‘Tapri’, with Kishore Kumar singing an old romantic number on radio in the background and the Rain Gods showering unapologetically…’ and yet leave the palate yearning for more.
This book is all about the detailed notes that Vekatesh ‘a great entrepreneur enthusiast’ kept and later transformed them all into a sort of evolutionary history of an organisation that in 2016 stands ‘at over 300 stores in 100 cities spread through 20 states and union territories of India’ and in 2013 was ‘the sixth largest fast food company… the first five slots in our category were all occupied by multinational brands – Dominos, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Subway’. The book is all about the spirit of a man who had everything going for him and yet ‘gave up everything and used my money to start a vadapav company!’ The book is about his ‘moment of clarity’. The book is a biographical tale that makes fascinating reading.
I have never been to a Goli outlet anywhere but when I mentioned this book to my nephew, the first thing he said was that the place gives a distinct feeling of the organic ambience of Mumbai. And then when I read that these people were crazy enough to go Kalyan railway station and record ‘the announcements of train services in English, Hindi, and Marathi, with the regular noise of the platform and sounds of the trains arriving and departing in the backdrop’ and play them in the outlets. Vadapav wouldn’t taste like a real vadapav with ‘soothing music, live bands and similar aural enhancements’ and so this crazy sounding idea made a lot of business sense because it adds a new dimension to the consumption of food. Of course we now have a lot of theme restaurants that recreate the sounds of a warehouse or barracks or even a college campus… but Venkatesh ventured into the heart of this discovery first.
When people write about organisations they tend to go excessively clinical in analysis and fill pages with statistics and long-winding facts about methodologies and… well, end up with readers stifling yawns unless they happen to be students who need to write their term paper and must, therefore, complete reading that text. Not so with this book as it pulls in incidents and anecdotes for every little step that was adopted. So even when Venkatesh is talking about how technology, logistics, and franchising made his vadapav a national phenomenon, he spices up every nuance in decision-making at each step with little stories that warm a reader to agree that ‘entrepreneurs are explorers; they seek to create new things from their imagination’. Imagination and good prose seek a common point on the pages besides all the insights into the creation and working of a start-up.
I read the book not as one wanting to go deeper into the management principles of a start-up and neither as one looking for tips for a future venture into business. I was looking for those charming twists and turns that make hard work look like good fortune because, after all, Goli Vadapav started ‘in 2003 with no office, no infrastructure and no inventory!’ And I was not disappointed because the one word that appears often is ‘crazy’ and every time I read the word, I knew something strange and unexpected is about to happen. The story seamlessly connects a small thought of a vadapav and burger being ‘look-alike twins who had been separated in childhood’ to the way ‘Bhupender Singh happened to us when we were weighted down by a pile of failures’, making the book seem like a film script destined to be connected to a box-office hit.
Any book must be remembered for illuminating moments and clarity of vision… and this one does it all with chutney, lettuce, and chilli. After all, it is the vadapav surge that is being chronicled here. I loved reading the book because it happily adopts phrases like ‘chappan-tikli-banyaan – that is, a vest with multiple holes’ and words like ‘item, pudi, goli, pakya, rapchik’ that are ‘born on the footpaths of Mumbai’ to connects them all to vadapav marketing, making the product ‘resonate with the spirit, ethos, and contours of the city’. Thus the one vital lesson that I, as a writer, learned from the book was to remain in a close loop with local language, culture, and expressions. I’m sure some such lessons can be derived by others as well, depending on what it is that they do. Now, if a mere book can successfully do this, it is certainly worth reading, isn’t it?
Details of the book:
Title: My Journey with Vadapav
Author: Venkatesh Iyer. Founder & CEO, Goli Vadapav Pvt Ltd
Price: Rs 299/- (in 2017)