Zen and the art of taking a break from doing what you love

Kakori and gosht biryani from Dum Pukht for @thefinelychopped. Smoked salmon for @spalifekainaz at the ITC Maratha. Our 18th anniversary lunch on 22nd October, 2019. Shot on the iPhoneXI ProMax she gifted me on the occasion

It struck me the other day that I have not taken a single holiday ever since I quit working full time. Sounds strange? Especially from someone who is a freelancer and reports to no one and works out of home? Perhaps using the word 'break,' instead of holiday, would make more sense.

Let me explain what I mean. When I started blogging 12 years back, my blog is where I would head to when I wanted to unwind or de-stress from the routine. I would get home from work everyday and then blog at night. What I would blog about had nothing to do with my day job in a market research agency. I would leave that world far behind (my 'Clark Kent self' as I called it) when I sat in front of the laptop, furiously typing away into the early hours of dawn.

Then I stopped working and took a sabbatical. I tried to figure out what to do next and even made a couple of efforts to get back to the world of research that I was familiar with and yet had had enough of. Then my book contract came through and that was the final nudge that I needed to push me towards trying to follow my childhood dreams of being a writer. By now, the adult me realised that I wanted to be a food writer as against the scifi writer that I thought I would be as a kid.

Work in the food writing space followed. The book. Writing and editing assignments for websites. Articles and then columns in magazines, newspapers, websites. Marketing content for food brands too.

My blog took a backseat. I decided at the start of this journey to not write at night anymore. I wrote through the day now and needed to refresh my mind at night. Twitter happened and then Instagram and eventually the latter took over the place of my blog in my life as a place to chronicle my daily food stories. The blog became a place for long copy pieces. My Instagram copy begun to match that of the early days of my blog in terms of word count.

#LocalLove breakfast of puri and Marathi style sukha bhaaji, pohe and chaha for my breakfast at our room at the ITC Maratha. K had the apples and then a few bites of my puri bhaaji which she approved of. She's not a pohe person

Finding content is never a problem for me. I write about food after all and not the Halley's comet. Everyday food at that. Which means that I always have something to say. What I write about might not be of any earth shattering significance to you. It might not give you a list of places to go to when in a city. Or the recipe or story to a dish that time forgot. It might not tell you about the latest openings in the world of food or what the celebrities of the world of food are up to. It might not help shape your life philosophy in terms of food. Or help rediscover the world of Indian food, culture and heritage. You might not learn about the latest trends in the world of food, or gossip for that matter, here. Or about the glory of our ancient wisdom.

Finely Chopped one could say, with apologies to Seinfeld, is a blog 'about nothing'. What is called 'slice of life' in the world of advertising and research. It is about everyday food.

Had I not taken a social media break when
there, this would have gone up as a
#firstcappuccinooftheday post from the hotel
PS Does anyone eat the edible choc art
which on has their own picture on them?

And yes, I have been continuously creating content ever since I started blogging. Unless you think that 'content' is too big a word to use for something like an Instagram story, but hey there are people, even if just 5 of them, for whom some of the hashtags that I have created on Instagram - such as #chetepute (food that makes you lick your plate clean), #firstcappuccinoooftheday (though I have moved to the #lifeintheespressolane now) and #LittleJackHornerMeals (tasty food that ticks the health check-boxes too and makes you feel proud about eating it) - have become part of their lexicon.

I am not cribbing about any of this here. I am not looking for sympathy. I am just thinking aloud through this post.

I know just how lucky I am to have figured out (at least for now) what I want to do in life (it did take a while and the journey was quite the roller-coaster ride) and then do it. To do it from the comfort of my home. On my own terms. At my own pace. To get rewarded for it and at times, financially too.

Eating without posting. A strange experience indeed.

Yet, I did feel a need to get away from social media for a bit, even if for just a teeny weeny bit.  As someone who is constantly hooked to ones phone, I am bombarded by social media updates of events people attend, the work they do, the 'celebs' they were hanging out with, the places they are travelling to, the food they are eating, the books they are writing, the shows they are shooting, the awards they are winning, their expert speak, the things they are doing to bring glory to our country or to save the world and the environment and what not.

As someone who treasures his space, mental and physical, this glut of information was just getting too much for me. The task of filtering out the noise from the chaff seemed daunting if not impossible Which is when I decided to switch off apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in my mobile for stretches during the day and do what I loved doing ever since I was a kid instead. Lose myself in a book. Not a food and travel book. Or a Buddhist philosophy book. Those are the sort of books that I read these days.

Just fiction. Written well. A suggestion K had made to me sometime back. As always she was right. I loved it. I had rediscovering the joy of reading.

Something still did not seem not right though. That's when it struck me (yes I do do a lot of introspection) that I needed to take a break from creating 'content'. Even the humble Instagram story. Let me once again explain why.

There was a period of about a year, from the time when I moved out of market research and then got into food writing, when I had almost stopped blogging. I was in search of work and gainful employment then. The blog was a hobby for me and I felt that writing it was a waste of time. Then as I began to find purpose in life, I realised that my blog was where I could bring what I wanted to do to life. I started blogging again, this time with renewed vigour. And that opened the doors for everything that followed.

When it comes to sharing my stories, it is no longer just about the blog for me now. There is Instagram, my Facebook page, my YouTube channel, my podcast channels, Twitter too. I must admit that 95 per cent of the content I create is self initiated and 5 per cent is for clients. However, I now realise that it is this 95 pc that gets me the 5 pc. Something K had told me much earlier. She is obviously the wiser and more grounded person in the relation. As women always are.

Not hotel room service this time. Lunch at home today. Pulao made by our cook, Banu, last night. Shorshe narkol chingri bhaapa sent over by our friend Shaswati. I sliced the salad!

This meant that while I still enjoy what I do, I no longer see it as a 'hobby.' In my head, it is 'work'. I know that the idea of having breakfast at home and then standing by the window and posting a picture of it,  and calling it 'work,' might sound farcical to those who actually slog their butts and guts off, who head out everyday to work and make a difference to people's life, but then so be it. In my world, I decide how things are and this is how I see life.

The flip-side of this was I could never could really relax. I always felt the need to 'work.' I would look at anything that took time away from this as a hindrance. And I mean anything. Taking care of household chores, spending time with guests, looking after the needs of those in the family. If it got in the way of my writing, it made me uncomfortable and I was always on the edge. In my head I was never off duty. Perhaps because I was rarely 'on duty.' I needed to justify my existence to myself.

Which is why I felt the need to take a real 'holiday.' I decided to take a mini break this week. I made some impromptu plans and we checked into the ITC Maratha Hotel in Mumbai for a couple of days to take a staycation around our 18th wedding anniversary.

I made a conscious decision to not post on social media over these 2 nights and 3 days while at the hotel. To give myself the break that I had realised that I needed. I switched off from my social media apps for long periods during the stay, checking them occasionally. I took loads of pictures of course. Of the magnificent suite they upgraded us to, the glorious food that we had there, our spa and lounge times, the smiling faces of the staff  who took such good care of us. With the iPhoneXI Pro Max camera that K gave me on our anniversary (aren't I the lucky one).

I normally would have posted these pictures and stories while I was there. I did not this time. It was a choice I had made and it did not bother me to be honest. I surfaced just twice during this time to post.

Once was to commemorate our anniversary. How would I remember 18 years later what we did this time around otherwise?

Original post link

The other time was was when I got the news of receiving 'the best food critic/ writer' award at the 16th edition of the ICF Indian Chef Awards, which was held at a glittering ceremony in Delhi which I could not make it to unfortunately. I am sure there are many more deserving of this award, but this very generous gesture from the jury was that much needed pat of reassurance that I needed in a month filled with self doubt and reflection.

Original post link

Many, many friends, well-wishers, family, even strangers, wrote in most kindly congratulating us for both the anniversary and the award.

My resolve to stay away from social media and be fully in the moment during our break meant that while I read all the lovely messages, I did not really respond to them. I know that one came across as being a bit churlish in doing so, but I do hope that they understood.

Well, I am back and thanks so much for reading this and thanks so much for your lovely messages.

Here's wishing you a joyous and blessed Diwali.

My new visiting cards designed by our friend Harshad Rajadhyaksha.
He had designed my first set of cards too and my book cover and is
as big hearted as he is talented.

PS: A friend, who at work is an expert at building personal brands, recently advised me to not refer to myself as a 'food blogger.' His reasoning was that food blogging is seen as a slightly 'trivial' (his words) activity today and that might not reflect well on me. My answer was that my visiting card says, 'food writer...brand consultant,' in recognition of the fact that I am also a published author, columnist and feature writer. However, I am a blogger too and I have no qualms about saying so. It is because of my blog that I am where I am today or could tell you the story that I wanted to today. I guess any industry/ profession/ category, would have multiple associations around it, it is up to one to do what one thinks is right. Can't control what's outside can we?


Also of interest:

Post on how my blog gave me the freedom I sought
Post on what drives me as a blogger

Link to where you can buy my book, The Travelling Belly

Article on the 16th edition of the ICF's Annual Chef Awards

Pictures from our stay at the ITC Maratha;

The room:

Surprise anniversary celebrations with cake specially baked by the pastry chefand bubbly and with our butler, Kishan, organising everything

The folks who made it happen despite the last minute booking, Priyanka Jacob and Zubin Songadwala 

Priyanka Jacob who made my last minute booking work out

Zubin Songadwala who made sure that the entire team at the ITC Maratha make
us feel at home and really pamper us

The food, glorious food

Left: Pouring out the hot dark chocolate from Fabelle. Right: The melodious pomfret meen moilee at Dakshin Coastal which I had with appams and followed with a soulful curd rice

Curd rice and rassam. Papad and fried chill at Dakshin

Pan Asian

Love this Chilean sea bass at Pan Asian
Nigiri galore and salmon roe maki roll the next day

The pan fried noodles reminded me of Ling's and the hand cut noodles that you
see the chef making in the pic above was beautiful too


Harnoor said…
Can so relate.
And Happy Anniversary!
Unknown said…
Such a lovely post ! You inspire :-)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Harnoor that's great to know and thank you so much
@unknown: thank you so much. Most kind of you