Max Khatri : Of Struggles, Perseverance & Changes
The struggles that people overcome shape them into who they eventually become. In the process, it develops a perspective of life, which in turn sculpts their attitude. For some, the difficulties embed a bitter outlook on life which exudes negativity. While for the fortunate few it surpasses the normal boundaries and exposes them to a more positive standpoint.
This was the case when it came to Max and his rollercoaster of a life. Now, for most people, Max Dipesh Khatri is the popular restaurateur who made it big with the Factory in Thamel. Then there are those who know him as a business man, a trader or even a pot head. Change has been an inevitable part of the journey, often times stemming from adversities he had to face. Despite the difficulties, Max made sure he remained persistent and learned from the lessons life taught him. Also, having known what sufferance was first hand, he went the extra mile to help others in need with one of the most influential charitable movements in Nepal: Nyaano Sansaar.
Max’s beginnings are far from the glamorous lifestyle he lived as a restaurateur and much less stable than it is today. At age seven, he began helping his sick father to keep their family book store running. School started at 8am but Max’s day started at 6 when he opened up shop. He would manage to make Rs.200 for himself before it was time for school, a portion of which he would use as taxi fare to get there. Punctuality and attendance came second, for every subject that he passed with flying colors he failed twice as many twice as terribly.
At age 14 Max was forced to think of the future; responsibilities came in thick and fast and he had to make a decision. Taking care of an ailing father, a mother and two sisters was a tall order to fill, but it had to be done. So, by the 7th grade, he dropped out of school to fill bigger shoes.
Uncertainty and daunting tasks punctuated life for the years that followed. His father had to be hospitalized which only resulted in making the already tight rope wobblier. The fear of life imploding within itself forced him to stay focused throughout the hindrances. On the brighter side, exposure to the real world and its problems at such a small age honed his skills of finding solutions. After living life at such close proximity with struggles, everything beyond that was happiness and success. And at that time in life, success for Max was keeping his father alive and getting his sisters through school.
But the book store wasn’t bringing in much money. Max had to look for other sources of revenue. He then ventured into the world of business where he would be learning from the masters: the Marwaris. Working as assistant manager in a wholesale import company of cosmetics at Suraj Arcade, the young mind of Khatri began picking up on the tricks of the trade. Years passed and Max kept at his job, and he excelled at it. When he reached his 20s he stepped up to become a working partner and took the company further, delving in the business of producing fake brands cosmetics and selling them at a much lower margin than the big corporations did. Although the methods might have been questionable, it was still good money.
Ultimately, in 2007, one of their clients got caught and the police were looking for Max. Not having much of a choice, he had to abandon his business and leave everything he worked for behind. Things went from bad to worse when his father passed away a few months after the business collapsed. With things falling apart, Max began losing direction.
Next, came 6 months of unemployment. On the brighter side, he was now, for the first time, living a life more in tune to his age. He would hangout with a few of his musician friends and saunter around Thamel going from one happening place to another.
TAKING CARE OF AN AILING FATHER, A MOTHER AND TWO SISTERS WAS A TALL ORDER TO FILL, BUT IT HAD TO BE DONE.
In spite all of the loitering around town, there was a business man inside of him, subconsciously waiting for the opportune moment to make an appearance. Considering the amount of money he and his friends were spending on food and alcohol, he realized the potential gold mine that was the hospitality and service business. This would be the exact moment which ignited the initiation of the Factory Restaurant.
Challenges arose. Having dropped out of school, education wasn’t his strongest suit. The fact that he hadn’t even tasted pasta till that point of time made his proposals of opening a snazzy, retro restaurant and bar moot. Nevertheless, after years of facing challenges, they had a knack of bringing out the best in him.
Betting on his potential and vision, two of his friends invested in the idea. Then began the 15 month long wait for the construction of the complex where the Factory would be built. Max also met Siddhartha Gopalan, one of the best interior designers in the country who had a major role in making Factory one of the most aesthetically fresh and appealing places in town.
Still, the inexperience was a nail that stuck out like a sore thumb. In March 2008, Siddhartha Gopalan invited the partners on a trip to Malaysia. The soon to be co-owner of one of the best culinary establishment tasted his first Caesar Salad there.
One thing led to another and before long, the Factory was up and running. It didn’t take much time for it to pick up stride and the who’s who of Kathmandu were flocking to the scene. Popularity sky rocketed and the previously unknown Max Khatri was catapulted into celebrity status.
Along with the fame came pressures that seemed to pile on in quick succession. Working hours were relentless, as is the case with any budding enterprise, and it began taking its toll on his health as well. Diagnosed as HLA B27+ earlier in his life, his arthritic back began succumbing to the pressures. The chronic pain aggravated his condition causing him to depend more on pain medications.
Although the restaurant seemed to be doing well, the investment of Rs. 1.4 crore was looming over like an ominous cloud. The effects of inexperience finally started showing as overheads started overshooting the budgeted amounts. Things went from bad to worse as the interest of partners started following different directions. Competition stiffened and soon the partners split.
Because the landlord had faith in Max and his vision he invested in them and Max ran the business for 2 more successful years. However, even with the success and fame, Max began questioning whether chasing after money was worth the pain he had to suffer.
Another chink in his armor was his inability to work in a team. Having grown up as the responsible individual of the family at a very young age, Max excelled when he did things his own way. Naturally, Max liked to take charge of the business. This only led him to take on more responsibility as the partners were inevitably forced to take a more laid back approach.
As with any business, The Factory came stagnated as other establishments mushroomed in the tight knit urban locale of Thamel. Success turned into sustainment and the partners felt like it was time to expand. Although Max had no such intentions, leaving the business wasn’t a valid option.
All the while, Max’s back continually worsened and he had to make constant visits to the doctor. Looking for ways to relieve the pain, he came across cycling. It seemed to lessen his pain many folds, but there was more to it. After getting onto the saddle and pedaling into propulsion, Max enjoyed a sense of freedom he had never felt before. Soon, he was travelling everywhere on the bicycle. Before he knew it, he was off the pain meds.
HOWEVER, EVEN WITH THE SUCCESS AND FAME, MAX BEGAN QUESTIONING WHETHER CHASING AFTER MONEY WAS WORTH THE PAIN HE HAD TO SUFFER.
Pressures at work, however, were still unyielding. Searching for solace, Max enrolled himself into Vipassana where he began learning the discourses of Buddha. One of the discourses, the Right of Livelihood, urged practitioners to not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings. But Max sold alcohol to people for a living and killed 100 chickens a day to feed his customers. This brought him to the sudden realization that all that he had been working for went against everything he had learnt there.
Deciding to change his ways, he cut ties with the Factory, bearing the losses that consequently followed. In 2011 he gave his shares to his ex partner rekindling their relationship and officially stepping back from his involvement with the business.
From this point onwards followed 14 months of smoking marijuana, traveling, reading books and watching philosophical videos. The Max Khatri who was known as the face of Factory became the jholay wondering the streets of Thamel. In doing so, Max could now pursue whatever he felt like doing, a luxury he didn’t have before.
Making the best of this opportunity, he learned to fly; paraglide, to be more precise. He watched the waves of the ocean with his now wife for the first time in Goa. He borrowed money from a Canadian friend and backpacked through Europe. All of this led to a liberation he had never experienced.
While in Europe, where he spent 3 months, he used the money he borrowed from his Canadian friend (a total of USD 10,000) to sell thankas in downtown Paris and raised money for charity through a month long exhibition.
In October of 2012 Max stopped drinking alcohol and eating meat, but when he returned to Kathmandu he felt like he had succumbed to smoking. And for the first time in many months, he took a long hard look at himself. A
person who was always looked up to by others as a person who made things happen in the past had now become anything but a role model. Coming to this realization, Max once again decided on bringing about a change in his life.
He had read an autobiography of a yogi, which said that there was a certain type of yoga that could help open your mind channels. But for that, you needed a guru which you could find at the famed Kumbh Mela. Heeding to the suggestions with hopes of finding a better path, on the 6th of February 2013, he headed for the mela that happened once every 12 years.
At Prayag, the meeting place, of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Sarasvati, he met a Swami who would become his Guru. Max had challenged himself to not smoke, drink alcohol, eat milk or do any sort of drugs for the next two years. While traveling through South India with his guru, Max was told that he needed some sort of financial empowering and it had to come within the next five years.
Taking note of the suggestion, Max formulated a strategy. He organized a business venture in association with a friend he had in China to sell Thankas in one of the financially strongest countries in the world. A country in full stride in terms of economic development, China was in a stage where people were financially fulfilled but spiritually deprived. Combining his spiritual revelations and business mind, Max saw this as an opportunity to put his learning into action.
As it happens so often, things were not going as planned. As soon as he reached Kathmandu, Max left for China with a sizeable amount of Thankas
to sell. But as the business trip wound down to its end, Max and his friend had not been able to sell even a single piece. Having had to start from square one, there was a lot of hope riding on this trip to China.
Luckily, a fortunate twist of fate was in order. Max bumped into a friend with whom he had worked during his previous cosmetic ventures in China. She put him in loop with her uncle who was an art collector. Willing to try his luck one last time Max went off to Shanghai to meet him. Upon inspection, the collector asked Max to leave the artwork for him to sell. Already at the end of his Visa, he left almost USD 50,000 worth of art to return to Nepal. A month or so later, the risk paid off and he was asked to bring more merchandise for an exhibition in Shanghai.
After his stint at Vipassana, Max began to take up a more spiritual outlook of life. He wanted to be in a business where he could practice Buddhism and this was it. Over the next 8 months, there were many exhibitions and he, along with his Chinese business partner, opened two galleries in China under the name of Water Moon Thanka. Business was good and his Chinese partner suggested he move to China.
HAVING HAD TO START FROM SQUARE ONE, THERE WAS A LOT OF HOPE RIDING ON THIS TRIP TO CHINA.
Believing it to be in the best interest of business, he was all set to move. Then he came across some news that changed his plans in an instance. Headlines read of 12 people succumbing to the cold in Saptahari district. This wasn’t news that caught people too off guard as it happened to be a yearly tragedy, but with a closet full of jackets he didn’t absolutely need, Max wasn’t able to brush this news aside as easily.
“People dying of the cold in the southern hemisphere is unheard of. It’s not like we’re living in sub zero climates like Antarctica. People are not dying because of the cold, but because of the lack of proper clothing and shelter. You can’t control the climate, but it is awful that people have to die because they don’t have enough clothes.” explained Max.
With that notion, he bought 200 blankets with the money he had saved for his vacation and decided on distributing it to sufferers in the worst hit areas. Hoping that other could help with the initiative, he opened up a Facebook Page named Nyaano Sansaar. The idea took time to take speed, but with personal effort from Max and a team of dedicated volunteers, things started picking up.
In the next 10 days, he collected 2200 blankets and more than 5000 clothes along with funds for 11000 blankets. This made a considerable dent in the number of sufferers, but there is a long way to go. Understanding the gargantuan task ahead of them, Nyaano Sansaar is still in operation and happening in phases as they spread their focus on other affected areas.
The ability to look beyond pain and sufferance is detrimental when it comes to channeling your perspective of life. As effortless as it is for negativity to spread its dark shadows during times of difficulties, it is equally difficult for positivity to illuminate that darkness. However, overcoming the barriers that keep you in that darkness is what propels you into sanctity and peacefulness. And nothing brings you closer to achieving true peace of mind and heart than the joys of being able to help the needy.
AND NOTHING BRINGS YOU CLOSER TO ACHIEVING TRUE PEACE OF MIND AND HEART THAN THE JOYS OF BEING ABLE TO HELP THE NEEDY.
Max Khatri has had his share of struggles and adversities, although his previously glamorous lifestyle belied his past. But he overcame the challenges not only to taste success but to help others who are in need. And the story isn’t over yet. There might still be a lot for him to go through and even more things left to achieve. But there is no denying that knowing his story certainly helps bring things into perspective when you require a bit of inspiration to take on the challenges that life presents to you.
Photos: Bibhas Maharjan Suwal