A Toast to Dosti

By Madhulika Dash

Families are the ones you are born to, friends are what you choose. Little wonder that friendships never go out of fashion: the mature like a good vino and comfort like a bowl of warm khichdi on a rainy day. We agree, friendship doesn’t need a day, but we at Bawarchiwould anyone have a week to celebrate. How else would we get you some of the most endearing stories that makes friendship one of the most precious earnings of our lives. 




One is a seasoned brand specialist, the other the general manager of an international company, but that is not what binds these school friends together. We don’t even discuss work when we meet, says Zamir Khan amused. And yet, in a Jai-Veeru way both have played an unmissable role in each other’s lives: be it making mischief as high school boys who were interested in everything else but the classroom to becoming the fine professional in the field of work. What keeps them going? A sense of respect for each other and of course the reliability that has built over the three decades of friendship. 




In a world where insecurities are ripe, here is the pair that redefines the beauty of a fabulous team work. Often mistaken as brothers (courtesy their common surname), these ‘Wright Brothers’ of the culinary not on share a common passion for cooking, travel and redefining the dining space, in their friendship that has clocked in a little over two decades this summer, they have been able to put together the finest progressive Indian restaurant in the world. And they continue to excel too, amidst the cacophony of lures coming their work. Their secret? “We don’t know any other way,” says Chef Shantanu Mehrotra. 




For someone meeting the fascinating chef duo would mistake them for brothers: the family vacation together, one considers the other his backbone and they share a common love for food, travel and working on different ideas. In fact, their work kitchen space looks like a replica of each other. Yet, 25 years ago, when Vikas and Pradeep met at Dadar Catering College, little did they know that theirs would be a bond that would inspire many. For friends, who have practically been next to each other for every big and small milestone (and falls), the secret, says Chef Vikas Seth, “is a willingness to work on your relationship. Yes, friendship needs that little work and oodles of faith.” Today, while Chef Seth is the culinary director of two award-winning restaurants and Chef Tejwani the owner of Young Turks (a bespoke consultancy company), the one thing that hasn’t changed is the friendship, which Chef Tejwani describes as a “warm hug that makes everything right.” 




One of the greatest emperors of Ottoman empire, Suleiman the Magnificent had once said about his grand vazir, Ibrahim Pasa, “good friends built an empire, great friends build history.” Modern day example: Chef Chetan Sethi and Munib Birya, the co-owners of Ustaadi, a place that is built on the food culture patronised by the Great Mughals. One a dreamer and the other a doer, their friendship is often described as that of Calvin & Hobbes, just that Hobbes here isn’t an imaginary friend but the one who supported the dream and made it come true, not once but twice. Their decade old friendship in fact has been like a movie, where Birya has been the Jai to Chef Sethi’s many plans and vice versa. But what makes them great partners in delicious crimes is not just the faith in each other’s ability, but the comfort to be extremely undiplomatic with each other. Friends, says Chef Sethi, “should be your mirror that not only shows the good in you, but also where you are going wrong and correct it. Birya is that for me.” Two brands, plenty of years of living the bikers life and then plunging into being the adorable family men – theirs definitely a storybook of what ‘friends’ are about. 




A ground rule, they say, of friendship is that opposite attracts. Not in this three musketeer’s case. All three seasoned chefs have a calm, quiet disposition, but that is until you put these gentlemen of a chef together in a room with well made chai and Parle G. The transformation can surprise even those who know them from years. Of course, they don’t turn into the IHM lads they were when the friendship was forged, but they aren’t far from it either. What binds them? Fondness for each other as a person, the ups and downs that has seen the friendship mature and a common love for poetry. “We know little things about each other and can be on each other’s beck n call,” says Chef Dewan, who feels friendship is something that comes naturally – and stays that way. 




Whosoever said there could be only one best friend had truly forgotten the foundation of friendship, and a person’s ability to love, forge bonds and faith. An example of this is this band of friends, who met in college, lived the life that 3 idiots showcased “only the place was a hospitality institute, says Chef AkshrajJodha, and survived all to tell the tale of what great bonds are made of. How did the four come together? Can’t really remember, confesses Chef Jodha, who in his defence theorises, “most friendship often doesn’t have a startling start chapter.” The other three agree instantly. What they do remember is being around each other when needed. “We know little things about each other, and in the run of life, we have realised that is what matters the most,” says Atish, who often is the planner of all the “must have get together.” We need it, says the band in unison, “especially with a life today.” 




Watching them banter in the kitchen would often remind you of the legendary Satyajit Ray’s Character GoopyGyne and BaghaByne. But strip the all-fun-loving veneer and one would find two sensitive men who are much in love with their trade and with the life they built together. In fact, theirs is a story of complete loyalty. In a friendship that is perhaps a few years shy of their own ages, Chef Ravi and Chef Harangad have remained inseparable – both as a team behind the burner and as partner in mischief. What’s even more alluring about their bond is the way each looks out for the other. While Chef Harangad has always watched out for Chef Ravi as comrade, Chef Ravi has always been the force behind to cajole, nudge and even push the former into doing things that at first may seem radical. Their “lets do it” attitude has, in many ways, made of one of India’s finest trend-makers. 




Confession: They became friends when they began working together. Yet, in a few months they developed a bondthat many fellow chefs define as “absolutely fascinating”. Chef Sandeep is a quiet presence who is great with culinary techniques and traditional food forms while Chef Ravi is the dashing enliver who is great running a service and knows how to infuse enthusiasm. Put together, they make an invincible dream team that any restaurant will want to have. Off the burner, they are an unlikely pair with a very likable relationship formed on mutual fondness, the zeal to stand for each other, a happy will to win on self-set challenges and a generous sense of comfort that has made each of them a better person. Says Chef Sandeep, “Behind all the gregariousness, Ravi harbours a heart of gold, his faith on you is unshaken and he stands by you, rock solid.” 




If Sherlock Holmes and John H Watson were writers, they could easily be Siba Mohanty and SN Agragami: two brilliant journalist, cooks, travellers and friends par comparison. In fact, to see them banter, photo bomb each other’s classic moment and argue over whether the green garlic is better than the white is like watching your favourite Friends’ pair in action, with a little more rustic charm. Co-travellers, colleagues and best critique for close to two decades, their comradeship is what classic stories are made of. The secret? “The ability to say without thinking,” says Agragami about his boss friend, Siba. 




Every friendship has its moment of ups and downs, but there are a few that always survive that axe – and those bonds are ones that last. For Shashi Kumar Yadav and Anil Singh, the wheel of friendship has been similar. They began in last year of school, but with Shashi deciding to join the forces, theirs budding friendship took a backseat. “Wasn’t that dramatic, but yes there this phase when we were practically out of touch,” says Shashi, who grew fonder of Anil, and vice versa. A trip back in Lucknow, he touch-based with his school buddy, and that, adds Anil, “when I realised how much I missed having Shashi around. We started off where we left.” Life, family and responsibility has only made them grow fonder of each other – and their friendship, more solid. “Friendships are best when you understand the unspoken word of others,” ends Shashi.