‘Such a long journey’
My last post here was an introspective one on completing ten years of food blogging. I have been overwhelmed by the wishes that so many of you have sent me since then. It has indeed been a wonderful journey and what has possibly kept me going over such a long period is my love for blogging and your reading what I write.
There are at least 5 or 6 things which I want to blog about at this point and which I haven’t been able to yet. As you can see, the last thing to hold me back from blogging these days is inspiration on what to write on. However it was not always so. There have been a few times in the last ten years when I’d faced a writer’s block and didn’t feel like blogging at all.
I thought I will share about what happened the last time I was stuck in such a rut and about some of the things that I did to get out of the impasse. This might give ideas to any of you who are struggling to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.
What they didn’t tell you about the fine print involved in living one’s dream
I am talking of mid 2013. I’d decided to take a break from market research, which had been my career for the last 15 years, and give food writing a shot.
Initially I enjoyed being the master of my universe. There was an added high as I had been invited by the Spanish government to give a talk on social media in the Casa Asia Conference in Barcelona from where I headed to London where I was invited as a jury member of the Chowzter Global Food Awards. I was on Cloud 9!
What no one had told me though was that I would eventually begin to miss the very routine that I had sought to escape from. Food writing was a new field for me and the social media food writing scene in India itself was evolving then. So there was no work for me to focus on or to keep me occupied.
The search for meaning
I lacked purpose in my life. I missed the routine of getting up and getting dressed and then getting to work. I missed the templated life that I had led till then, even though I was not really crazy about the work that I did to be honest.
Blogging didn’t seem to be the the answer that I sought. Blogging was something that I saw as a hobby to put it tritely. It was meant to be an escape from the mundane when I had started blogging after all. Blogging was not what defined me. In my head, it was my job that did so as it possibly does for most middle class Indians.
I was in search of reaffirmation and a sense of identity and self worth and blogging didn’t seem to be the answer. I slowly stopped blogging. I lost my urge to do so.
Home cooked lunches is one of the high points of my life as a freelancer. This is a khichuri that I made today and the Bhindi that our cook Banu had the precious day. We’ve bought fancy plates from Fabindia to make these simple lunches feel more special and look posh on instagram
I was not used to staying at home all day. I would get up, freshen up, make my breakfast, eat... and then sleep again. My life became a series of Sundays. I would occasionally open my laptop but would just not feel like writing. I never forced myself to blog when I didn’t feel like it as blogging for me was something which has to come from the heart.
With a lot more than a ‘little help from my friends’
A picture from the second Finely Chopped Food Walk griho that I had conducted. I now do customised food walks by appointment
I got a lot of moral support through those sticky months and I know how lucky I am for that. My wife told me that this was the incubation period of a new phase of my life and that she was standing behind and by me while I chased my dreams.
Friends pitched in too and there are a few names I will take here. Skip on if this part bores or confuses you but a blog is meant to be about personal stories. There was Suprio Bose for example, then a relatively new friend that I’d made through blogging, who told me that he missed my writing and urged me to start again. He did so repeatedly when I said I wasn’t up to it. Sandeep Budhiraja, a former market research colleague, would come over from Powai to chat with me over lunch at Candies on days when I was tired and bored of being alone. Manisha Talim, another friend made through food blogging, would keep pointing me to interesting food experiences in the city to write about and would accompany me to some of them. There was my former classmate, Nilakshi, who’d urge me to write a book and offered to edit it too when I had not even met any publisher and had no idea on what to write about. There Kaniska Chakraborty, who’d call me from Dhaka, where he was posted, to chat and to listen to me.
I was lucky enough to have some seasoned food writers come into my life as guardian angels and mentors. There was the ever positive and cheerful Rashmi Uday Singh, who connected me to TV producers and editors from publication houses when I told her that I dreamt of doing TV shows and of writing books. My appearance on Kunal Vijayakar’s The Foodie was a result of this. Marryam Reshi shared her experiences of how she made her way through the world of food writing and encouraged me to give it a shot.
Simon Majumdar came to town and took the time to go out on a food walk with me. He then almost bulldozed me into getting over my inertia and starting food walks professionally. That turned out to be my gateway into the world of food. Shivnath Thukral and Shaili Chopra pushed me to do this too.
Couple of British Indian food writer friends, Meera Sodha and Maunika Gowardhan, encouraged me a lot too and shared what had worked for them as examples.
There were many more who reached out too. Kurush, Soumik, Anil Kably, Sue and Nathan were some and I am sure I am guilty of missing out on some names. I am thankful to each of them and most specially to Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal who connected me with Poulumi Chatterjee of Hachette Publishing and to whom I made a book pitch.
I still didn’t feel motivated to write or blog.
That’s when I reconnected with the Soka Gakkai International, a Japan based Nicherin Buddhist organisation devoted to world peace and led by Dr Daisaku Ikeda, after a gap of more than a decade and began practising Buddhism again. I don’t plan to make this post one about religious philosophy, but sitting and chanting, by oneself and with others, attending meetings and studying the philosophy, was one of the key factors that helped me changed things in my life.
To start with, I was finally able to get some direction on what I wanted to do. I realised that what I enjoyed the most about blogging was meeting people from all walks of life, and from all cultures, and sharing their food stories on my blog.
I realised that I could try to help people from different cultures connect with each other through my blogging and help them feel less wary of those different from themselves. That my writing should leave one with a sense of joy and in turn help me turn ‘poison into medicine’.
I hope all of this didn’t come across as too preachy and esoteric. That’s not the idea, I just wanted to share what made sense to me.
I finally had my answers and the got back to blogging with a vengeance. I would write stories of people I met, stories from my past, of the food I ate or cooked, of my grandmother and mother and mother in law too.
I once again began to celebrate my love for the world of food through my blog.
Buddhism says, as do possibly other life philosophies, that one’s environment is a mirror image of one’s inner self. I experienced this in my own life. As the joy in my writing began to come back, it showed in what I wrote too and then opportunities, which I hadn’t even dreamt of, opened up.
Mondays can be fun
My twitter profile picture. It was taken the day I started working on the manuscript of my book, The Travelling Belly, in Candies.
Hachette got back to me out of the blue, months after I had submitted my proposal, with a book contract.
I finally had something to ‘do’. I began to write my book. To me this was ‘work’... there was a brief, a deadline, a payment thought of a very different scale from my earlier life but I had been warned about that and I went into it with my eyes open.
K named the book The Travelling Belly. She had named my blog when I had started it years back.
I found ‘purpose’ once again. I finally knew what to answer when people asked me what I did which I didn’t for a while after I had moved out of research.
Working from Cafes and fried eggs and toast and cappuccino Tales
While my yoga teacher would perhaps prefer it for me to not get attached to material things or memories, I do have my favourite spots at Candies and this table by the door is my first choice. I feel antsy if I don’t get it
It was K, my wife, who suggested that I go to cafes to write every morning given that I didn’t feel inspired to do so at home. This was a brilliant suggestion and turned out to be a game changer for me.
Getting up, changing, going to a cafe, meeting faces that became familiar over time... Sylvia and the staff at Candies, the folks at Mocha Mojo before they shut down, Zeno and the SmokeHouse Deli folks ... helped ease my transition from being a cubicle dweller to becoming a freelancer.
The fried eggs at Candies with white bread toasted just the way I liked them to be, with some Amul butter on the side, salted of course, and a double shot cappuccino fueled my dreams, and Sylvia at Candies ensured that my breakfast was always perfect.
I would strongly recommend checking out your local cafe to those of you who struggle to work from home.
Toast and fried eggs gobbled up, it was time for me to sip on my cappuccino at Candies and write.
I continued to blog while I worked on my book and did more of it once I submitted the first draft.
More doors opened. Agencies such as Flying Cursor got in touch with me for client projects and these were proper professional engagements and not barter stuff. IFN got in touch with me and gave me the opportunity to be the editor of their site. Femina, NDTV Food, The Indian Express and the Times of India Blogs gave me opportunities to write columns for them, where I explored a genre and style of writing which was different from what I was doing on the blog and yet was allowed to retain my voice. Vir Sanghvi, one of my icons in food writing, got in touch with me (!) and I got to work for him on Eazydiner, which was an amazing experience.
Then it was time to work on the edits of the book again which finally came out last December.
‘It is the heart that is important’
Here’s what also happened since the ‘turn around’. Projects came and went. As did contracts. My earnings fluctuated as did my work commitments. I made many pitches. Some converted, many didn’t.
This was a world different from what I was used to when I had a full time job with a monthly salary. Invoices had to be written and chased now. Working styles were different. Folks in publication houses and media houses, I found out, didn’t always display the promptness of response that I was used to in my agency life.
I learnt to adjust and made peace with the fact that my life had changed. I learnt through sessions at The Yoga Institute and my Buddhist studies that I should try to focus on the present rather than hang on to the past. Or obsess about the future. Of the many lessons that Buddhism and yoga taught me, the last has been the most difficult to internalise.
While I had said that I will not make this post about philosophy, there’s a phrase from the Buddhist monk, Nicherin Daishonin, that I would like to leave you with as it made a lot of sense to me.
It says that ‘it is the heart that’s important.’
Yes, if I was able to break my blogger’s/ writer’s block and have been able to not succumb to it again so far, despite fresh challenges coming my way, it is possibly because of the changes that I’ve been to be able to bring about in my inner self. I do know I have to keep at it because it is easy to slip the moment one lowers one guard. This struggle is what is called ‘human revolution.’
Thanks for reading till here and hope you found this of some use but do remember that the path for each person is different. I would love to hear about your journeys of self-discovery and get inspired by them and I do hope you will share them with me.
I promise to be back with some food stories next time.
We have shifted to a new apartment which is a lot more airy and surrounded by trees. I love working out of it these days and don’t feel the desperate urge to escape to cafes any more.
PS My mother, Rekha Karmakar, has taken to blogging too and now tells me that writing her blog, Tabulous Mom, has given her a fresh lease of life. Sometimes she runs out of ideas on what to write and we discuss topics on phone and then she’s back to her tablet and typing away.
3. Link to my mother’s blog, Tabulous Mom: http://tabulousmom.blogspot.in/?m=1
Looking to write posts from here soon once the house has settled down. The view is precious