Freedom is all about the 'power of one'. An Independence Day story from Mumbai.

View from my room in the PG. possibly taken in 2001 before I moved out. My first home in the city.

'The secret diary of a teenager'


I often wryly say that while Calcutta is the city where I grew up, Bombay is  the city where I became a 'grown up'/ adult. My choice of spelling for the names of two cities emanates from the fact that this is what they were called, when I moved out from Kolkata to Mumbai, at the end of the last century.

'Last century' makes me sound geriatric? Well, it sounds more dramatic this way doesn't it?

I had led a reasonably sheltered life in Kolkata till then. Or 'cloistered' as I would have possibly said if you had asked me the question then. Looking up from whichever Murdoch (Iris not Rupert) or Maugham novel that I was reading.

There are various reasons for it. I come from a Bengali middle class family. The definition of 'middle class' is very broad of course, as the market researcher in me wants to pipe in and say.

Fish and chips outing. UK. Possibly '75 or '76. Mamma's boy


My father had passed away when my brother and I were rather young. My mother raised us as a single mother. On the relatively meagre salary of a college professor, a job which involved her travelling for 2 hours by road each way, each day, from Kolkata to Howrah and back, with multiple changes of buses and launches, and much later the Metro. With the emotional support of her side of the family - my maternal grandparents, uncle and aunts.

With my mother and brother. Gurugram, 2019. With pulao and murgir jhol cooked by my sister in law


This, and possibly her own innate cautious nature, made her really anxious about the way we were brought up. She was keen to make sure that we got well settled in life.

As it was believed in most Bengali families back then, education (and lots of it)  was the way out the as she saw it.

Me cooking at home in Kolkata. It was only when I was in post grad that I was allowed to cook, 
keeping fire safety in mind. This is possibly from '96,97. I am making a potato,
tomato & capsicum sabzi.

This translated into a life of embargoes and curfews till I left KolkataCurfews on play time. On time spent reading books. Pursuits that cut into study time.

The former was never an issue. The latter was, as I was a 'boi'er poka.' Book worm. Lost in my own world and in that of the characters of the novels that I would read.

Restrictions on whom one spend ones time with, etc, etc. Anything or anyone that could distract one from ones studies.

If you are Bengali and from the generation that still reads long copy, then a lot of this will sound rather familiar to you I am sure.

Last days at B School and of student days ans then placement interview styling & prep

Nothing in life is in black or white of course and the fact that I am writing this post today can be traced back to the freedom that I got when I was in high school. I was having a torrid time with math and physics in school then. One day my late paternal grandfather told my mother that he could not bear to see me look so harrowed. "The smile has left his face," he said. He urged my mother to allow me to study the arts which was not a very 'guy thing' to do then. Rather than try my luck with engineering and get more emotionally battered and scarred in the process. My mother took his advice and the family stood behind me. The aim was to go for English but as I could not manage that in the college of my choice, I decided to go for sociology in Presidency. It was a new subject then but my youngest aunt, chhotomashi, found out more about it from her friends and I had the blessings of the family elders to go after it.

I went for my MBA after that and did it at the IISWBM of the Kolkata University though I had got into Asian Age before that and had worked as a sub-ed and loved the newsroom. However, B School it was I was told because of the promise of a better paying job I was told and then market research followed.

It took me a while to get 'back' to media in the form of blogging but more on that later. I do not feel shortchanged though, as I feel that a lot of what I learnt when I was in research, the exposure that I had and the financial security too, formed the base of my subsequent life as a blogger and independent writer, but we are getting ahead of this story.

Boyz 2 Men


Mumbai, when I came here in '97 on training after my MBA, and then for good in '99, was all about freedom for me. I was living alone for the first time in my life. In a paying guest dig though.

This meant that I was the master of my meals to start with. I could choose where I would eat when I was not eating at the PG or at work. I had my salary now to spend. The amount seemed like a World Bank loan disbursement amount after the very functional (bus ticket expenses only) pocket money of my student days.

The world was my oyster. The restaurants of Mumbai, my playground.

This also meant that I had to go out to buy my own soap, toothbrush, etc, etc. The salary in my first job would be credited to a government bank in Kolkata which did not have an ATM facility. I had no access to my own money. I would go to the Sahakari Bhandar store at Bandra and buy toothpaste and razor blades with the credit card which a bank had given to us when we were in the final year of B School. I would write a cheque at the end of the month and drop it at the bank.

I was living the cashless life well before demonitisation hit our country!

Needless to say, all of this would have been taken care of by my mother when I was in Kolkata. It would be part of the family provision shopping that I would be sent out for.


Pictures from my first office in Mumbai, that's me from the back and I think that was my desk.
I have no idea what the person taking the pic was thinking.
The other pic is with colleagues from then. I was not wearing a wig. My job then  kept me so busy
that I had no time for a haircut. This  is possibly from 2000, 2001

There were a bunch of us at my new office then who were all from out of town. Most, unlike me, had been hostelites before. Living now in PGs or in shared apartments. I was supposed to stay in one such shared apartment when I returned to Mumbai the second time around. I saw the beer bottles and empty pizza boxes and the dust and went running to my PG aunty. She spoke to her husband, found me a place in their house, and I stayed there till I got married and moved out a couple of years later.

Independence and all is fine, but I needed the clean sheets and tidied cupboards which I had grown up on around me still.

My call for Azadi came with its own checks and balances. My innate Bengaliness ensured that.

'It ain't over till it's over.'


My next 'freedom struggle' in Mumbai was during the period starting in 20012-13. A decade after I had moved in to the city. This is when I had made a mid career switch. When I decided to give food writing as a freelancer a shot, after being a corporate denizen in the world of market research for a decade and a half.

In retrospect, this time was tougher than my earlier search for freedom that had once driven me to Mumbai. For I had to win the battle of the mind this time. The toughest battle one could say.

I had no idea on what to do in my new field. Even after almost a year since had I taken the decision to change tracks!

No idea on how to progress. On what action to take. On what was possible. What I could aspire to.

I would try a few things which did not amount to much really. Wildly swaying like a bloodied boxer on the other side of a knockout punch. Yes, for us 80s kids, it is Balboa who taught us how not to give up.

Then things began to change. Minute by minute. Day by day. Month by month.


11th August 2019. At the end of my session at the CEMS first Food Studies course at the Mumbai University's Kalina campus


'It is the heart that is important.'


I won't bore you with the details of what followed.

To set the ball rolling, my wife backed my decision and told me to go for it. Then, in Buddhism I found a philosophy that gave me a sense of purpose and assurance. These two incidents formed the foundation forwhat happened next.

After having stopped doing so for a while, I began to blog again. I wrote from my heart. Everyday.

Then people began to reach out to me from out of nowhere. Projects followed. A book contract too.

Projects got over. Pitches did not work out. More projects happened. I slowly began to understand the rhythm of it all. I learnt to roll with the punches. To not give up.

Being a freelancer is a lonely job after all. As is being a blogger. Self doubt assails you at all points and overcoming it is the battle for independence that one has to win.

I think I am slowly getting there. It is work in progress of course.



It helps to have someone who believes in you
till you do so too. August, 2019.
With K. At home in Mumbai. On her Parsi calendar birthday.


Most recently, while wondering on what to do next when things seemed a bit sluggish, I decided to put together the experience of my being in market research for a decade and a half and a food writer for more than a decade together and launch Finely Chopped Consulting.

In the short time that has transpired since then, emails have come in.

With enquiries. With promises of hope, above all else. That is all that one needs at the end isn't it?

I wrote proposals the way I had learnt to write in my first job in a market research agency. Way back in 1997. More emails came in.

With the news of commissionings. With more enquiries. The hunt was on.

Last Sunday, I gave a talk at the Department of the Extra Mural Studies of Mumbai University's course on food studies which has been initiated by and chaired by Dr Kurush Dalal. I was supposed to talk about my journey as a food writer.

At the end of the talk, one of the students, a practising psychologist as I later learnt, smiled and asked me, "would you say that you are happy now."

I smiled back and replied, "what do you think?"

"I think you are," she replied.

At the risk of jinxing it, I must say that she was sort of right.

We are celebrating the nation's Independence Day today and I thought of sharing this story with all of you who might be facing a blank wall, wondering where is this all headed.

Trust me, no effort goes wasted and as they say, "winter always turns to spring." 

Here's raising a toast. To India. To us.


From 36 exposure films to Instagram stories
Wonder what's next.
Do read: A rather poignant post by my mother on the Independence Day celebrations today in our apartment complex in Kolkata from where most of us of my generation have move out. To other cities and countries too. My mother was born in the same year as that of India's independence

Acknowledgements: The quotes 'it is the heart that is important' and 'winter turns to spring' are from the collected letters of Nicherin Daishonin, translated and published by the Soka Gakkai International. The phrase, 'the power of one' is from the writings of  Dr Daisaku Ikeda. 'The secret diary of a teenager,' is the name of the first book in the Adrian Mole series by Susan Townsend. 'It ain't over till it's over," is from the Sylvester Stallone movie, Rocky Balboa.

To know more about Finely Chopped Consulting, please email me at kalyan@finelychopped.net

If this post interests you then please do read this interview of mine by Charu Chowdhari which she and the folks at Travel and Leisure India most kindly published.

Comments

Unknown said…
So deeply moved by your incredible journey! I consider myself extremely lucky to connect with you!
Deepa Ravi
RimsCafe said…
This Post really did strike a chord with me. Loved reading about your journey...Very Well Written.
rita roy said…
So I think I introduced you to capsicum! And have been with this glorious journey of yours ��
You make me proud in the most deepest way. ��
Beautifully penned Kalyan. A great journey... 👍.
God Bless.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Deepa Thank you so much. You are too kind. I feel lucky to have well wishers like you and all thanks to the blog
@Rimscafe thank you so much
@RitaRoy didn't realise that but yes, capsicum was rare in Kolkata and a winter vegetable at that
@Sumanjit thank you so much and for your constant support
Deb said…
Enjoyed reading the blog and thanks for sharing. Wish it inspires more people to follow their dreams. God bless You.
Omanicious said…
It has been such a pleasure following you for all these years. This one specially makes is so well written and honest.
All the best.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Deb thank you so much. that would be a lovely way for me to repay the debt i owe to those who inspired me
@omnanicious thank you so much for your support over the years