RAJ PETER BHAKTA
The Founder’s Tale
Two anecdotes to set the mood.
As a lifelong student of history, and having spent a stint at Marine Platoon Leader’s Course before a skiing injury rendered him medically unfit for military service, Raj, in his mid-twenties, found himself drawn towards the unmistakable seismic lullaby of howitzers near the Kashmir Valley during a trip to his father’s homeland. With his traveling companions begging him to desist—and then spiritually preparing for imminent execution—Raj confronted a colonel in the Indian army who was plainly leading a column of reinforcements toward the front.
His request was simple: let him just once give the command to fire. In his heart of hearts, Raj suspected that he would not be able to resist echoing Patton’s famous line “commence firing—fire at will!”, though he insisted to the colonel that just one command would satisfy a lifelong ambition. To the obvious dismay of the military police, the colonel found a strange admiration for this lunatic, and merely sent Raj and his friends on their way, alive, but denied the chance to order a bombardment.
A lifelong student of beauty—but not tennis—Raj found himself, at age 28, running a lap of a tennis stadium in his boxers on camera for a nationally televised program. Having spent several years in Manhattan after a broken shoulder derailed an incipient career in the Marine Corps, Raj tired of the lucrative and debauched, but fundamentally limited, world of investment banking.
A stint in luxury real-estate with his father pushed both the debauchery and the stifling limitations to more serious extremes. A contemptuous audition for The Apprentice was actually successful, and he thrived on the show. Yet on episode 5, he was smitten by tennis star Anna Kournikova, and wagered a date on a round of tennis. The date did not transpire. His penance was the run.
An Unlikely Odyssey
Raj ran for Congress (lost), bought a defunct dairy farm in Vermont (fields no longer fallow, farm no longer his), started a billion-dollar whiskey business (sold it), bought another defunct farm (still his, now planted with grapes, and not mere grain), amassed a small fleet of American-made cars (wrecked some of them), bought a château (for the brandy in the basement—it was a package deal), and bought a defunct college (presently reinventing it).
Indeed, it has been a journey of “high” highs and “low” lows, and a strange one at that. But if you are content with the ordinary in small matters, you are likely destined for well-trodden paths to forgettably pleasant destinations. Where you look, so you shall go—and Raj has always looked up, if often at odd angles, seeing what others miss. Take the ascendency of rye whiskey.
Rye was a Canadian thing, and not a good one. Too harsh, too potent, too irascible. But with more time than most were willing to give, and more risk in the barreling process than most were willing to take, Raj started a craze. (Time and distinctive finishes should sound familiar; it all began on that first farm with many empty bottles, a haze of odd smoke, a few similarly unhinged interns from the local college, and the chilling knowledge that failure would mean absolute financial ruin.)
Strange times receding into past, never to be recreated, yet echoing now in the present, interns replaced by four children, sinister creditors replaced by a total personal stake in the future. Raj started a craze, and he unapologetically intends to do so again, but better. Fads fade, as the saying goes, and any student of history knows that we remember not the fashionable, but the genuine revolutionaries.