|Coming back to the prime point|
I saw an Instagram post this morning (11th October) by Anahita Dhondy of the Soda Bottle Openerwala chain of restaurants. In the post, she shared tales of some of the many battles that she had to face as a young woman chef and wrote about how she tackled these both in action and in thought. She reached out to her readers and colleagues in the F&B industry through the post and signed off with a wish that they 'stay happy and healthy, inside out."
On reading the post, I realised that it is 'world mental health day' today. When I told K about it, she said, "wasn't world mental health day a few days back? I thought I had seen something about it on Twitter." I replied saying that I too remembered coming across something on that recently on social media.
Not that it matters. The origins of such days and who declares them is often a bit hazy. What is good though, is that the discussion around the hashtag, #WorldMentalHealthDay, brought focus to a very important aspect of today's day and age. The fact that almost everyone seems to be battling stress and loneliness in their own ways and that this is impacting our lives at a very fundamental level. If there is anything that is the crying need of the day, it is the developing the feeling of compassion. There is a need to reach out to people at a one on one level and to keep the conversations going. Or to give a hug, as Anahita puts it.
Every life-stage and every profession comes with its own set of obstacles and worries. Which is why I thought of writing a post on this for those those who could be in fields similar to mine. Freelancers. Social media professionals. Bloggers. Writers. People who work by themselves. Work from home or cafes. Or to anyone else whom this might appeal to.
I had worked in the corporate world for 16 years as a market research professional (and a tiny stint in advertising planning) before I tried my hand at being an independent writer. I had also been a food blogger for 6 years by then. A hobby blogger. Not a professional. Yes, that is how the world of blogging had started even though it might seem a bit strange to you today.
Going freelance and becoming a writer, I thought, would allow me to do work I enjoy, with people I would like to work with, for clients whom I would love to work with. On my own terms and conditions.
It turned out to be nothing like that at the start. It soon seemed as if I was facing an abyss with no work, no routine. It was as if I was sinking into the quicksands of hopelessness and despair and, unlike in my agency days, I was alone in it this time. It all came down to me and that was daunting. Strangely enough, I began to miss going to office.
I could tell you more about the miasma that engulfed me then, but as a yoga teacher told me once when I began to narrate this story to him, my harking back to those days would mean that I was not ready to make a move on. That I should focus on the present instead.
What he said made sense. By the time I had met him I had already had a turnaround in my fortunes. So let me tell you a bit about what had helped me achieved this and what keeps me going.
Blogging for purpose
It all began when I began to explore the Soka Buddhist philosophy and tried to apply it in my daily life. I was advised to first figure out what the purpose of my life was. Do that and work will follow, I was told.
I did so. That is when the change started. I began to find focus in my writing and soon unimaginable opportunities at work followed. It has been 5 years since then. I still cannot believe the life I have led and the doors that had opened for me.
Of course there still are bad months, bad weeks, bad days, bad moments too. At times they are minor irritants. At times they hurt like hell. What helps me tackle them now is my going back to what we call the 'prime point' in Buddhism. What is it that I am trying to achieve? The answer to that gives me the perspective that I seek and the steel to face it too.
This becomes that much more important when you are working by yourself and when all team meetings, strategy meetings or even performance appraisals can only happen in your head.
So here is what I decided that to do today. I thought that I will sit and type out about what is it that I want to do through my work. A sort of personal manifesto that I can come back to when I am besieged by moments of self doubt, fear, anger, hurt, frustration, remorse, wistfulness and above all, loneliness at work.
The Finely Chopped Manifesto
- I want to do work that makes me happy. At my own pace. At my own terms. If this means that I would rather cook a meal at home in the afternoon and then nap, or go for a stroll in the evening, than be present at every food event or restaurant or hotel opening or food festival that one is invited to ... or go to places in the city that I love than try to map out and list every corner of the city ... then so be it. I know that nothing gives me more happiness than writing and I will make that the focus of what I do and of my time. I would try to point you to food that is great but I might not necessarily call out food which is not so. I will leave the latter to people whose jobs are to be food critics. This will help me sleep better at night. I will of course not recommend something which I did not like myself. I am going to treasure my blog and the fact that it offers me my own space. I am not going to lose sight of that by hankering after bylines in publications which pay poorly, if at all, and want you to write articles which are SEO and list, trend and sensation driven. I want to write from my heart and my blog allows me that. I want to work with those whose visions inspire me and who value my work and compensate me adequately for what I do. I want to initiate dialogues based on respect through what I write. Not sermonise or pontificate.
- I am curious about people who are different from me. I want to know more about their lives, their culture, their food. I want to share what I learn in the process with you. I believe that having a meal with someone is a great way to create a bond with them. I learnt that from my father at a young age. I hope that through my writing about such moments, you can do so vicariously too. Many of us feel worried about the divisive forces that exist in our polity, media and society today. My writing about people from diverse communities I hope will be my little way to help people connect and break the barriers that exist among us and spread peace and joy in the process. I want to celebrate the principle of unity in diversity through my work.
- What excites me the most when it comes to stories are the ones of 'regular folks'/ 'ordinary people' who do their work unsung, far away from the limelight. The grassroots of our society. I am at my happiest when eating on the streets or at a family run place or at cafes run by young chefs or at whole in the wall places run by aged neighbourhood uncles and aunts. And when people call me home because they want to feed me a meal. Folks who cannot afford to have PR agencies, marketing budgets or godfathers, but have inspiring stories to tell and great food to share. Tales of everyday food. These are the people whom I want to focus on. I am no Marxist Leninist Maoist of course. I value money and the independence that it gives. I have not got anything against who those who have resources. They work hard too. It is just that I feel that there are many who will tell their stories and I would like to focus on those who are not in such a position. Perhaps the fact that I do everything myself in my work and do not have a 'team,' makes me want to bat for those in a similar space.
- The last point is about a direction that I have been thinking of recently. Especially after I attended the wonderfully organised We Elevate Meet hosted by the BNI Queens, Mumbai's only women BNI chapter. The meet was aimed at helping women entrepreneurs grow. While sharing my thoughts in a panel discussion that day, it struck me that I owe so much to women. My brother and I were brought up by mother who was a single parent as my father passed away when we were kids. My wife has been the wind beneath my wings in the current chapter of my life and if I have been able to follow my dream to be a writer, it is all thanks to her support. I have studied sociology in college, worked in qualitative market research and am now a food blogger. All are fields which are women dominated and I have been privy to what women can achieve and the drive and commitment that they bring to work. This made me determine that going ahead, I want to try to do work which can help women entrepreneurs in the world of food grow their business.
|At the BNI Queens meet|
Perhaps you can think of what I have said about having a purpose, as the 'vitamins' that keep one going and helps one keep advancing. That make our resolve stronger so that we can bounce back no matter what. If nothing else, charting out what you want to do can give one much needed direction in life. Tell you what to do with your day. As it did for me.
I want sign off with a quote that I read today by Dr Daisaku Ikeda, hon president of the Soka Gakkai International, which made lot of sense to me and seemed so apt given the context of the day. A lot what I have written is inspired by his writings.
"It is important to have a sufficiently elevated life condition so that you will be able to calmly accept whatever happens in life, striving to put them in proper perspective and solving them with a positive attitude. Happiness blossoms from such a strong and all-encompassing life condition.'
Update (13th October 2019)
The Finely Chopped Fort Food Walk for the Indo German Media Ambassadors
|With the Indo German media ambassadors group at Meher Cold Drinks|
I was a bit nervous after I posted this blog post on Friday night. Had I shared too much, I wondered. When I woke up on Saturday morning, I saw a mail from my aunt, who had introduced me to Soka Buddhism years back, asking me to check typos in the piece. I always encourage folks to do so if they see typos as I self edit. I made many changes and went off to Fort to conduct a Finely Chopped Food Walk for the Indo German media ambassadors. I tried to give our guests from Germany a flavour of Mumbai and India through the walk. Took them to the owner run restaurants in Fort and the street food joints too. The ones that I love and which you will not always find on lists. This is the second year that I did the walk and Pradnya, who commissions them, is a pleasure to work with. As I headed home, I realised that this was just the sort of work that I had outlined in my manifesto that I would love to do. Then I opened my phone and I saw how so many of you had written in saying that you could relate to what I wrote. I then realised that I need not have worried when I posted this in Friday night. There's nothing like writing from the heart for, as Nicherin Daishonin writes, "it is the heart that is important."
Thanks for reaching out folks and for all the support.
Link to Anahita Dhondy's post