Rising from the Ashes

We have heard in children’s stories about the Phoenix bird, who rises from the ashes as a new and healthy bird. When I read about this woman – Malavika Hedge, the first thought that came to my mind is ‘Wow, she is a Phoenix’. I was intrigued, and I read about her. The dark side of the life of people doing businesses seems unfathomable to me, the figures in crores of rupees are just difficult for me to process. For a woman to take on debts worth crores of rupees and tackling them along with the grief of losing her husband – that is something to be lauded.

Malavika Hedge was born in 1969 in Bengaluru to famous parents – the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, S.M. Krishna was her father and her mother was Prema Krishna, a social activist. I can only assume how the childhood was in those years, anyway Malavika Hedge graduated from Bangalore University as an engineer. She was married to the Café Coffee Day owner V.G. Siddhartha in 1991 at the young age of 22 years. I read somewhere that she was opposed to the idea of CCD when her husband brought it up, saying that nobody will buy coffee for a higher rate from his café when the same coffee is available for just 5 rupees INR. I can actually imagine how that dinner conversation might have gone, and the brain storming the couple might have done before opening the CCD shops. We don’t know about the love between them, but I’m sure they were a great team.

Every business face ups and down, and piling debts caused V.G. Siddhartha to commit suicide – his body was found in the Netravati River on 31st July 2019. I cannot imagine the trauma she went through on that day – the day she lost her better half, someone who she thought will be with her till their last days. 28 years of marriage is not a short time, and losing her husband to suicide – that must be the hardest fact she had to face. Even though we have children, and we may feel we love our children the most, but we take it granted that our husband/wife will be with us throughout till the end. That morning was the worst morning in her life, the realization that she will not be waking up next to her partner ever again, it might have been devastating for her. I remember reading the news of his death in the newspaper that day, and like many others reminisced about my CCD memories. I went to CCD for the first time with my friends when I was working in Chennai, and I remember the warmth and the cosy seats. I remember clicking pictures with my friends there, making beautiful memories. The aroma of coffee and the yellow lights are still in my mind after all these years. I became a coffee lover after having their coffee, somehow my memories of Chennai is intricately woven with Café Coffee Day.

Later we heard that Malavika Hedge took over as CEO of the company. I wonder what she might have felt, sitting in the chair her husband sat in (symbolically speaking). I had a friend who refused to take her father’s government job after his death – I know its hard, taking the place of someone we lost. We are literally reminded everyday every minute of their loss, and its almost like poking everyday in an open wound with a hot knife. She has tremendous courage in her, that’s for sure. To bring down a debt of about 7000 crores to around 1700 crores slowly but steadily under her reins is no small feat. I read somewhere that she wrote a letter to all her employees talking about the condition of the company and what she intended to do. In all these I see an honest, strong-willed woman who was really committed to her husband as well as their business. Life has to go on, so did she. So did the company and thousands of employees.

Malavika Hedge upheld her dreams, her husband’s legacy. She didn’t falter in the face of profound grief or piling debts or judging people who predicted that the company will not last under her leadership. She gave her reply to all these through her actions, not her words. There is so much to learn from the respectful silence she maintained, the quiet determination with which she handled crores of rupees amidst competitors, without scandals and show off. I’m super impressed at the Iron Lady that she is, an inspiring mother for her sons. People are praising her left and right now including me, that is well deserved; but her story continues. There are lots to achieve, debts to be paid off, lots of expectations to live up to, which has very well increased recently. But I know that she has endured situations far worse than societal pressures. I wonder what goes through her mind as she passes by the Netravati River. I wish she finds peace with any guilt she has, and that she gets a good night’s sleep without bad dreams, and most of all I wish she would believe that her husband would be proud of her. Literally she has risen from the ashes, hats off to the wonderful woman you are!