The Labels We Are Given

A short tale on dreams, failures, grit, breaking the norm, and love.

I open the curtains, just a tiny bit, to look outside. The weather is pleasant and serene. The next instant, I gather my spirit to peer down. There are a plethora of people waiting in the lawn area of the Wellbeck residency at Ooty. It looks like a massive crowd from up here in my room on the 3rd floor. My heart skips a beat but I consciously gather myself and hurry downstairs, no time to waste. "Excuse me!" I say as I push softly past people moseying on the hallway. I’ve always been petite and soft spoken. A stranger might have thought me too fragile to be a successful entrepreneur, especially in a difficult industry like tea. But proving people wrong was kind of my thing now.

I find my assistant, Padma, at the lounge. She walks with me as I ask her to quickly look up the number of invitations we’d sent a few days ago. If I recollect rightly, it should be fifty or so. We thought that the turnout on the first day wasn’t going to be this big, our seating plan had not included more than sixty people.

Padma strides up to me and says, "How are you feeling?". "Ready" I murmur. Then she gives me the information I need. “Good! We have sent out exactly 59 invitations. We removed Mr. Santhanu from the list because he had other engagements.”

If there is something that I have learned in life, it is to deal with unexpected situations. I pick up my phone and call up Vikram. Besides being my best friend, he also happens to be an eminent event planner who was responsible for organizing the entire show today. I splutter some words at him in not more than ten seconds. "V, I don't know what you're up to but I need you right now. You have seen my guest list from before. There are a couple changes in it. Please get me 200 additional chairs and set them up on the lawn! I know, will discuss later. Also, arrange for their refreshments. You are a lifesaver. I'll see you in 15."

I put the phone into my pocket and rush to the reception to enquire if there is enough supply for all the 250+ people. More people mean it is a good sign for a business. But there is also the responsibility of fulfilling expectations. I look at my watch; there are exactly 30 minutes to the opening day of my company, Ethereal Personalized Tea.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I conjure up an old image of dad telling me how worthless it was for him to have me as his daughter. Dad was someone who couldn't appreciate life for the little things. He persecuted my mom for being naive and guileless. He exalted successful people to the point of deity and despised failures (especially himself). He told me that he wanted me to become a lawyer when I was 6 years old. I just couldn't live up to his expectations. Now, it has been five years he had left us for another life that he wanted for himself, away from my mom and me. Thinking about him always gave me the edge I needed to face the world.

Half an hour passes by as I rehearse my speech.

I walk out the front door and greet the crowd, the applause is ubiquitous. I take the mic in my hands. I don’t look at anyone in particular and begin my address. "Hi. I welcome you all to the opening day at Ethereal Personalized Tea. Many of you are here with invitations. The others, I am hoping you’re here to try out my product before the rest of the world does. Thank you for patiently waiting!" I see people cheering at me and Padma. At this moment, all I can think of is not to make any egregious mistake.

I take a deep breath and begin. "I know that many of you are aware of my love for tea. This whole idea of personalized tea started off when I shared my tea flavors with my friends when I was 15. They seem to have enjoyed them and encouraged me to participate in small public events. When I thought I can make serving tea with individually customized flavors as an occupation, I wasn’t sure if anybody will buy into it. And trust me, I was met with nothing but failure and disappointment initially. Slowly, I experimented with new leaves and flavors. I gained the experience that is necessary for building this interest into a business. Before two years, I was able to sell 10 subscriptions a month to people in this town. And then it grew to 100. Just through word of mouth.

This company stands for perseverance and hope. And if I stand here today, I have one person who I owe it to. My father. He always said I wouldn't amount to anything. He always said failure was tantamount to weakness. But it's not about how many times you fail, it's about never losing hope and always moving forward.

And here we are today, celebrating the launch of Ethereal Personalized Tea along with the newly created online shopping website. I am immensely happy to see you all here. I hope you enjoy tasting the first course of our special cloud tea made for auspicious occasions."

The tasting session is a huge success. People take a sip and sigh with pleasure. The familiar feeling that I have had a countless number of times when I’ve tasted my creations. Some of them have already started gathering around Padma for enrolling their names on the subscription.

By now, a lady from the fifth row raises her cup and announces that she has never tasted a better tea in her entire life. Everyone on the floor follows her lead and tells me the same. At this point, I am so touched by this gesture from hundreds of people that I realize that I am not what my dad told I was. I know that failures are not the end of life. I know that dreams don’t go to waste. I take a moment to thank my mom and lift my chin up. And all of a sudden I meet eyes with a teary eyed man in the crowd. I continue my gaze expressionless as he looks down, embarrassed, defeated. I mouth the words "Thanks, dad" and smile.

A smile of forgiveness.

Preethi Shreeya

PS: Thank you for helping me edit this, Vivek Joshua

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