Tunnels

January began a strange month “The Yellow Turmeric” wise. By strange, I mean good strange because for the first time since I created the space I had consistent work and even possibilities of publishing stories outside my domain.

When it looked like all was going well, right in the middle of nowhere, I found a big rejection email sitting in my inbox. Well, it was not NYT big (don’t roll your eyes now! one can be hopeful). Let’s just say big enough for me.

I am usually not great with rejections. Who is? No really, who is- I would like to talk to you. While applying for my Master’s program or various internships, I did face enough to know that for a fact. Strangely, this time my reaction was different. I don’t know if it was the urge to prove myself in this new chosen path of career or a general “show some strength” attitude- I bounced back with more vengeance that needed (or any vengeance needed for that matter). I deleted THE rejection email and all previous correspondences. I sat down to re-work the story I had submitted, the same day. I finished the new version of the story and sent it out to another website the very next day. The story was accepted and published. I actually got good feedback on my article, and it was not just from friends but also from a few readers I did not know (which meant the appreciation was real right??!!)

Sounds like a perfect- “dust yourself up and get back to the race” kinda story? The only thing missing here is a powerful background music. While it does sound all that- for me, it turned out to be a big mistake.

A few weeks later while working on another story, which I got a good start with -I froze. Not just froze, froze- absolutely cannot find another word to type froze. Those feelings of doubt that I had managed to bolt up with a publish button found themselves surging out. Am I really cut out for this? Was it wrong to abandon a career for this? Do I even know what I am doing?

I have never fancied my writing skills, but the need to tell these important stories is what keeps me going. The rejection email I had deleted from my inbox resurfaced in my mind, and this time there was no Trash button, and no amount of reasoning would create a mental one.

It took me a while to dust this phase off. I had to re-read some of the positive emails and comments that I received for my earlier posts. I am constantly inspired by the people I talk to, and I revisited their stories to find a way to keep mine going. I should also add that Netflix gained a lot from this phase of mine. In short, I did everything I probably should have done in the first place, because that is how I deal with rejection.

Yes we need to show strength, yes we need to bounce back, but we each have our way of dealing with difficult situations. There is a natural rhythm to how we respond and react. Showing strength doesn’t necessarily mean adopting a different personality. It’s about finding a way out of the tunnel. I simply tried to avoid the tunnel and found myself lost in the dark much longer than needed. I am back in the light now, but I am also prepared for more tunnels to pass through.

This time- I will.

 

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Comprehending crtiticism and opinions

I will be honest here. I have vehemently argued in the past that critiquing food is not right. Food is a personal experience, and one’s bitter is someone else’s delicious!

This morning I read this article in The New Yorker – The Fate Of The Critic In The Clickbait Age, and it made think if my lack of acceptance comes from the fact that I have not understood or indulged in well-informed crticism.

While the article focuses on the role of a critic, I think the fundamental issues can be extrapolated to all sorts of writing. There is far too much noise and very little reason.

“The trouble is, once you accept the proposition that popularity corresponds to value, the game is over for the performing arts.”

The trouble is that we do accept that popularity corresponds to value. Of course, many popular pieces do add value, but the vice versa is not always true.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  In the online world, this law seems to manifest itself with multiplicity, and for every statement made while expressing an opinion, there are multiple equal and opposing statements and opinions. Phew!!

There is nothing wrong with having an opinion. There is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion. But where things get fuzzy is when we do not accept opposing opinions with equal grace. When we fail to understand that we cannot all be experts in every possible scenario. That sometimes saying “I don’t know about that, could you please explain”- is not a bad thing. Where small, seemingly awkward and honest real life experiences can be laughed over, left aside and not over analyzed. 

“And I think to myself what a wonderful world.”

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Read this…

I did two separate things this week that kinda seemed to make the same point. One, I had to edit one of my articles to a more reasonable word count. Two, I had to find a few stats that showed how videos have increasingly taken over our visual space. The ultimate point being? Something I am repeatedly told- no one reads that much anymore!
I know this is not a recent discovery, and the statistics I found that go to show “the less reading more visual data” is a well known fact. I know not everything needs to be long and elaborate. Sometimes short articles are effective in making the point. Plus, there is that obvious time crunch. But my concern is if we start crunching everything to smaller bite-sized pieces of write ups, we loose the art of indulging ourselves in a story that has a lot say. Not everything can be written as 10 or 15 things to make a note of. Somebody somewhere must be reading something right?
Shorter attention spans, lesser words and even less time. Looks like a great time to give the writing career a shot!! I am happy that there a few places in this digital space that encourage elaborate analysis of topics. Until my work finds a place in them, this post sure seems to be hitting the mark of keeping the write up short and simple. What do you think?

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It’s Complicated!

I am trying to find the right word here.

What do you call a creative journey, fueled by moderate amounts of tea, excessive amounts of self-criticism and a distant hope of success? I could call it “a creative sojourn”, but I do not like the temporary aspect of this term. I could call it a “daring adventure”, but I am sitting in an empty house at 3:40 pm, wearing an old stained T-shirt and pyjamas. Does this sound like an adventure to you?

Why did I start this exercise? I was asked one simple question. Current job profile.

I find it hard to say the W word. It feels like cheating and to be honest, I am never prepared for the barrage of questions that follow. Apparently the minute you utter the “W” word, a book with your name has to miraculously appear on a shelf in the library. Where are the ground rules on when you can start calling yourself “a person who has written something or who writes in a particular way“?  The next time I come face to face with the question- current job profile, I am going to say-“It’s complicated!”

Well, come to think of it, when I quit my job, it did seem like the abrupt end of a relationship. There were no outward signs of distress and we did seem happy.  The long hours spent together never felt like drudgery.

Then, things changed.

It was mere flirting at first. A new recipe that caught attention. An article read in stealth with the low hum of instruments in the background. Notes that were written, but never meant to be read.  Looking back the signs were all there. I was probably in denial.

Somewhere between adding acids to test tubes and crunching data on excel sheets, I fell in love – irrevocably and with the very subject that I had so mercilessly scorched. Food. It was time to face the truth.  I was no longer happy the way I had been before. I started looking for meaning and depth, far beyond the tubes I held. It would have been awkward to have that “it’s not you, it’s me” conversation in front of an inanimate instrument that helps measure proteins, but I think that’s what it was. It was me.

I did what I thought was right. Not everyone understood, though. After all, I was abandoning what was safe, secure and, more importantly comfortable. My husband and my closest friends stood by me. They helped us set up our new world together- a wonderful website that makes this relationship official. It was fun. Picking out the right layout, the right colour scheme, the font size and even doing our own photo shoots. No more hidden folders. I had the name picked out for our world a long time ago. In retrospect, this might have also been a sign.

We got in touch with like-minded people who agreed to talk to us and share their stories. We wrote the stories together and showed it to the world. This was at the beginning. Then came a few rejections and a few who feigned interest. Acceptance was (is?) hard to get. Love needs no proof, they say. A love of this kind needs likes , re-tweets, shares, hashtags and viral content. Love cannot be measured they say. Then, they want to know the number of followers we have.

So we tried. Pictures increased, so did short character descriptions of our activities. When virtual social mingling is not your forte this can be quite daunting. We realized that not all likes are alike. Some are genuine and others are cursory nods. We are not afraid of criticism, but that is hard to get when a painting is judged by its position on the wall.

I quit my job as a research assistant to write about food. It’s been two since I embarked on this new relationship. If I say that I never look back, I would be lying. I think about how good it felt knowing what lay ahead for me. I think about how good it felt to cancel a call and write a quick message under the table- “I am in a meeting”. I think about how good it felt to have conversations by the water cooler. I have the browser minimized as I type this. My website need not know about these feelings of doubt.  I am not always dishonest in this relationship. Every once in a while, I get emails from people who approve of us being together and share our stories. When I am reading them, there is no hiding going on. These are positive reinforcements that have to be shared. They keep us going and show us the next few steps, if not the entire journey.

When I voice my concerns, people often tell me “you could have balanced both, you know.” Maybe I could have tried balancing. But that is not the plan.  I want this to be the romance of a lifetime and not just an affair worth remembering. Told you it’s complicated.

 

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Call a spatula a spatula!

Every time I walk into someone’s kitchen, I learn something new. It may be the same potatoes that I cook, but there is always that refreshing twist to it when I see someone else make it. The same “Sambhar” tastes so unique in each house.I have gotten some of the best cooking tips when people have helped me in the kitchen and given me suggestions on how to make something better. As much as I love such constructive inputs, I can only take it as long as it is about the food and not my kitchen.

The kitchen (at least in my house), is a living breathing organism. It knows my moods and always responds to them in the right way. It’s where I sometimes create a mess, sometimes magic, and sometimes both. It’s not just me, the rule is applicable to everyone. There are different types of kitchens, and each kitchen is as unique as its’s master and the food that it produces. So when someone walks into my kitchen and says that it would have been better if I added a little bit more spice to something, I would be more than happy to do so. But if someone walks into the kitchen and tells me that I should probably move my spice rack to the other side because it makes more sense, I don’t think I would move it.

I understand that sometimes such suggestions might be useful, but if there is a certain level of organized chaos in the kitchen, then that’s how this kitchen functions. I am going to pass  the keyboard to my sense of hyperbole as it is twitching to make a remark. If you walked into the room of a musician and suggested moving around his instruments, I am pretty sure he would be mad too. Kitchens being omnipresent do not evoke this kind of uniqueness.

So if I have to walk all the way to the other side of my kitchen to get sugar, it’s a part of my coffee making routine, and without that little dance my coffee is not complete. It’s not only about placement but also about practices. As I said earlier each kitchen is as unique as its master. One of my colleagues once told me that she would start chopping vegetables as the oil would be heating and the mustard starts to splutter. She loved to cook, but she wanted to be done with the cooking really quickly. So she had devised her own ways of getting things done. Then there are cooks who want all the prep work done before they start and don’t believe in last minute surprises when they open one of their masala jars (what does this smell like?????). If I could do everything in my pressure cooker I would. I think my cooker has physically expanded in the pressure that I have put on it to give me results ;).

Next time we walk into someone’s kitchen to lend a helping hand, let’s respect the way the kitchen functions  and understand its rhythm. The kitchen will definitely reward you once it sees you doing so.

 

 

 

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Uninspired? Eat bhel….

When you spend most of your time writing or at least trying to do so, you often want extraordinary results right away. You know, that over the top, mind-blowing, interesting write up which will make you look at strangers and say…”you know that piece which challenged the basis of the entire food start-up ecosystem..(blows her nails)… I wrote that”. Before you jump to any conclusions this fictitious title is the result of an over-caffeinated brain’s attempt at being a wisecrack. Clearly you know now why I do not have over the top mind blowing articles under my penmanship. That doesn’t I am giving up. All I need is a little bit of inspiration. The rest will follow.

Like everything else pursuit of inspiration begins with Google.Also, I had an underlying agenda.  I needed to write about an event for a writing assignment, and I decided I would look for something suitable.An “inspiring” event. That would be the answer to all my problems. That and a really nice piece of cake…orange cake preferably… I should really try the recipe I have my eye on…are oranges even available this season?… haven’t seen any…google orange cake recipe… no no no… focus… It’s time to focus on getting inspired, and no putting it off for anything else in the world.

I didn’t quite hit a jackpot with finding the “ideal” event. But my meanderings through the virtual world lead me to the British Council Library site. I was very impatient by this time and all I saw was that they had events from time to time. Plus it was a library… books and creative minds all in one room. The vibe of this place was more than enough to get inspired. I have always had a soft spot for libraries. I feel important when I am sitting inside one. Since we have started talking about libraries, there is something that I need to get sorted and out of the way. You know how in movies they show a cute guy reaching out for the same book that you are trying to pick. I have never seen that happen to anyone in a library (That is a polished way of saying it never happened to me). I once asked my husband what he thought about libraries. His expression in response was the same one I would get when I would remind him that we had to visit a distant relative. So that rules him out of the whole “same book first love” experience. (Phew!!) It seems like a very bizarre probability that a) a guy b) who is cute c) likes books d) likes the books that you do will be in the library the same day as you are.Really! if this happened to you, please send me an email.

Coming back to my pursuit..it was decided. I would head to the library! I quickly scanned for bus routes to this place, and it seemed not very straightforward. I decided I would figure things out on the way, plus I was already losing out on valuable inspiration time. A quick call to the husband to let him know the plan for the day, and I was out of the door. Inspiration, here I come!

One short bus ride and 20 mins later, I was at the bus stop waiting for that one magical bus, which would lead me as close to my destination as possible. If I had spent some more time checking out bus routes, I would have learnt that bus routes are fixed and do not run to one’s whims and fancies. Time to take an auto… inspiration beckons.

The auto ride was usual and event less. Everything that I observed outside was also usual and event less. It started to rain half way through. Please forgive me as I go back to my movie references, but honestly you know what happens when it rains in movies. People get out of their cars and dance in the middle of the road… people run following buses with tears streaming down their eyes. Imagine what great writing material I would have gotten if I had witnessed something similar. Do you know what happens in reality? If anything people run away from the rain. Yeah… try writing that.

It was a library.A very nice library if I may say so. There were books. There were people. There were more books than people. There was silence. I registered and started walking around browsing through the books. Everyone in there seemed to be doing something with a purpose, except me. I almost wanted to tap someone on the shoulder and ask them.. “Excuse me! I am doing a survey on spontaneous writing. Can you please tell me how you were hit by the idea of writing whatever it is that you are writing.” But the thing is, I would rather be remembered as the aimless wanderer in the library, than some psychopath who was thrown out of a library. A library of all the places in the world!

So inquiries were made. Honestly nothing that I could not find out online. But I was already there. I had to  do something. Just as I expected, there were no immediate events. Considering the logistics issue getting a membership was not a very feasible option. Which left me with nothing else to do but leave.

I walked out of the street and saw that an auto was dropping someone off. As I approached the same auto, he called out to the foreigner who had just left the auto and asked for 50 more rupees. The foreigner turned around and said, “no way man! I have already given you enough” and kept walking. That is when it hit me. I didn’t need to go to a library, I needed to travel. I needed to go to an unknown new place, get used to their modes of transportation, and bargain the right way. That’s what I needed to do.

My pursuit for inspiration dint quite go as planned. If anything I felt that I my reading was not up to the mark, writing horrendous,travel experience sub par. The only inspiration that I would get now, is from a plate of food. I stopped at the chat place near my house and ordered myself a bhel. It was delicious.It was perfect. I would write an ode to it if I could. But for now, I am just going to enjoy the one thing that turned out right on this day.

I went back home feeling better post bhel. I went straight to my desk to check my emails. As I sat at my desk and looked out of the window, I saw the next block in my building.See… this was the problem. I knew I nailed it this time. With such an uninspiring view, how was I supposed to write anything? It’s time to move my desk.

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Accepting Non-acceptance

“I get very sad about not doing what everybody and all my white-haired old mothers want in their old age.“- Sylvia Plath from Sylvia Plath- A Biography by Linda Wagner-Martin.

There is a certain aura to an entrepreneurial journey that I have not quite figured out yet. Which is probably why I spend most of my days listening to the entrepreneurial stories of people who up until that point are complete strangers to me. That and of course, the fact that I would never refuse an opportunity to talk about food. An entrepreneurial journey is like a great love story that most of us want to have. But then we are reminded of the moustache twitching father or the emotional riots, or are simply not ready for it, and we dismiss the whole idea as a great conversation spoken but not acted upon. Entrepreneurial journeys may turn out to be a great read for many, but for the one who is going through, it is a lot more.It’s a challenge, lots of great experiences (some not that great), and an incredible journey all wrapped into one. One aspect that stands out for me is accepting non-acceptance.

On a holiday in February, I was asked by someone what I do. Having quit my job a month earlier and spending most of my time trying to figure out what I should do with The Yellow Turmeric, I did not know how I could answer that question. As I stuttered a response, I realized that my response was less of an answer and more of a justification. At the end of my response, the very kind listener told me “great things happen from something that looks small and probably insignificant initially”. This may not be a spectacular quote, but it was said at the right time and made me feel happy about what I was doing.

Last week I had a call with someone regarding an interview for TYT. This time, when I was asked a number of questions about the website, I had more conclusive and business like answers. Although the website had not grown leaps and bounds in the few months since my stuttered response, there were some definitive milestones. We are a generation of numbers- 100 likes, 50 shares, sales increased by x%, viewers increased by y%. We are also a generation of instant numbers. What I considered definitive milestones were based on my own journey, slow and not quantifiable. So my milestones probably sounded like excuses to someone else who looked for numbers. At the end of this call, I realized I had not mastered the art of “accepting non-acceptance”.

This is not just an attribute for entrepreneurship, but creative paths in general. We now have the ability to shout out our interests, which either turn into creative sojourns, fledgling careers or big businesses. Either way we have platforms to showcase, and gain opinions. While friends, family and sometimes a stranger on your holiday give you a big thumbs up, they represent a small percentage of your “actual” audience. The rest of the pie chart probably consists of some who don’t care, some who nod, some who smile, some who actually want to know more, and then “the” some who end the conversation with hmmms….. Needless to say, you know when someone is a true critique of your work and is giving you valuable advice. This article is however aimed at the nonchalant dismissals of your work even before assessing it truly.Sadly, there will be more of the latter to experience.

In the end all that matters is what you think about what you do.. right? But, if you are like me and seek a little bit acceptance, well then all I can say is lets join hands together and practice the art of accepting non-acceptance.

 

 

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