Sunday, June 29, 2014

A month of eventful things

Mostly good, some anxious, but by now I have realised "that's the way it rolls"

June 2014 will be memorable for many things. The most important being that I took a huge step and took off the safety net that is my house. For those of you that follow my shindigs on FB where I am hyperactive, you do know that I have an exclusive space to call my own. Escapades Culinary Studio as it is now known has moved from its protective home set up to an actual studio. My classes, were conceived and was born via my Cooking blog. I didn't think too deeply when I was looking for a name for my blog, neither did I give much thought to the URL. I just went with the flow and in less than 2 minutes, decided that my chocolate making classes would be an extension of the blog, since it started there. I just called it Culinary Escapades and was done with it. 

After a few fits and coughs, in August last year, the classes gathered steam. I was done treating it like a hobby. I was ready to invest more into it. Read all about my story and the journey here. Once I signed the lease for the space, it took a month to get things started at the Studio, purely because of my various niggling health issues. 

June began with the trepidation of having started something I am excited and nervous about all at once. It is one thing to follow your passion, it is another thing to stand beside your work with seriousness and invest more than just time in it. Suddenly the passion needs a name, an address, a scorecard, a performance report and a balance sheet. 

Yesterday I closed classes for the month at the studio. It has been an interesting time. So much to learn and so much to do better. I realise now how much I took having the convenience of operating from home for granted. Setting up and doing a class in the studio is fabulous. I do not worry about trampling upon my private living space, I don't have to worry about taking 30 minutes longer with students and encroaching meal times for family, but I also need to be super well planned and set up because there is no home pantry / supplies and cutlery to dip into :)

In between the classes, Amma decided to go back to Chennai. She is under the care of a very compassionate doctor in Hyderabad for her eyes. Being one eyed and that too partially sighted, we take very few chances with the state of her eyes. Just before she left, the doctor asked for a full check up and found that she had to undergo surgery at the earliest for her eye. It is a cataract, but given her age and her already damaged sight, it is very important that this is done with utmost care, precaution and precision. So tomorrow she will be operated and while we are all anxious, we are also very confident of the skill of the doctor. Amma has had a week to prepare herself and I cannot even begin to say how grateful I am for the support of K's parents. Especially my MIL has been a tower of strength and confidence, not just to me, but Amma as well. In fact for all the preliminary tests that had to be done, because I was stuck at home with Sage, MIL volunteered to take her and got everything done. Her quiet reassurance is something that I am eternally grateful for. 

Last sunday, in a freak accident at home, a part of my right earlobe got ripped off. I was lying down on the bed, talking to my mom and K's mom after a family lunch, and my earring got stuck in the band of my finger ring. Before I knew it, my ear lobe was hanging and it was all quite gory. I had the courage to simply unscrew the dangling earring, wrap a towel around my ear and jump into the car and drive myself to the casualty ward of the nearest hospital. After some shoddy first aid, I was sent back home. I went to another doctor to get it stitched up the next day. Blocking out the pain and not thinking of the gore has certainly helped. I had a class the very next day and I decided that nothing would stop me from finishing it as planned. 
One of the things I have learnt in the past year of taking my work to the next level is to persist and persevere and be committed even when the odds are against you. Nothing gives me more satisfaction or boosts my confidence as getting through a tough day with bonus points. 

As I look back on this month, which has not yet ended, I am happy with how it has panned out. There are so many more things to do and I am no longer worried or intimidated by any of it. 

And to end this, a picture of the boy who helps me keep it real and tells me to chill out.... he never takes me seriously and gives me sharp raps if I get heavy headed :)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


When I have a moment, I want to sit back and just breathe....

the smell of still fresh paint  in my new studio and marvel at how things have happened in the last few weeks
the smell of the stale stifled air in my home office which tells me I haven't sat there and done anything productive for a while
the smell of fur around Sage's ears when he has just woken up from his sleep,  I dont know why, but only that spot, and only when he has been sleeping a while, reminds me of his puppy smell.
the crisp new sheets on my mother's bed which indicate she has changed them again from the last time I lay down there
the smell of the elaichis still lying in the carry bag from a two month old trip K made to Kerala when he bought them

breathe and be grateful for all that has happened
breathe and marvel at how resilient we all really are
breathe and rejoice that we are still in one piece

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Taking off the safety net

Early this year, I set myself a target. This is a departure from how I usually function. I have never been ambitious. That has been my virtue and my vice. Virtue because it allows me to do things and enjoy the moment with nothing else but the experience. My vice because I do not push harder, much to the chagrin of all of my superiors in any job that I have had. My feedback was always "Can do way better" and that used to break my heart. 

I felt sad for the girl who always took up a task wholeheartedly, not aggressively, with the utmost sincerity and yet no one seemed to notice. No one seemed to notice the honest effort or the earnestness or that the job was well done. All everyone saw was that it could have been better. I was always a work in progress. A person who's potential was not utilised. Every appraisal, I hoped my bosses would see my sincerity, every appraisal I was given a list of 4 names who had done better. 

My clients loved me, my trainees adored me, I always had feedback averaging at 9/10. But that was never a reflection of how my superiors saw me. 

I have attention span deficit. An activity does not hold my attention for longer than a few months and that has been my weakness. I have started several things and they fizzle out within a few months. Hobbies and interests are sacrificed at the altar of 'real work' or schedule or family. So when last August, I decided to give my cooking classes a fresh lease of life, I decided to focus on targets. This was to test if I really had it in me to run with an idea. To test if what I had in mind was viable, and above all to see if I had the sustenance to see it through. 

By the end of the year, I was to decide if I really wanted to continue with the cooking classes. I had them running for about 6 years. The breaks both big and small that I had taken were largely unnoticed by everyone except that I felt guilty that I was under performing as usual . I wanted to make a decision based on some numbers - and not on a (not so) baseless "I don't feel like doing this now"

December came and went. 2013 was a tumultuous year in every way and I drew a lot of strength and courage from teaching in my class. It lifted my spirit and gave me the confidence to face another day. So by December I knew, that I was capable of sticking with something as long as it was interesting. I told myself that it was upto me to make my classes interesting, I needed to evolve as much as I wanted my classes to.

For the next quarter, I set myself another target. I was to make a decision on moving the classes out of the house. This meant I had to set a target for enrollments and objectively look at recovering overheads and other costs. By the end of March, I was convinced this was the next step - to move out of the house.

Not just the scaling up, there were several personal reasons to make the move. My home was used as headquarters. While it has served me faithfully and well for all these years, the sheer logistics of managing all the material and groceries meant for the classes was boggling. Every inch of storage space was being used and as a result, material scattered over the house. The kitchen and pantry was the worst hit. No demarcation between supplies for home and supplies for my classes meant that my monthly grocery bills had skyrocketed and I am not that great at keeping accounts! The family was deeply affected. While they didn't mind it and were extremely supportive, the stress of class day was becoming taxing. K and Sage were under house arrest for the time that people were at home. Sometimes classes extend and students tend to hang around, lunch times would get inordinately delayed. Sage is epileptic and on strict medication for it. He needed to be leashed for the duration of the sessions and that would also induce stress in him. It took me an hour after the class wound up to pacify him on most days. I couldn't have more frequent classes because it was too much to ask of the family and home. I was uncomfortable with my very personal space was now open to strangers. For as long as I could think of it, I told myself that I would be better off with the classes at home.

After all the discomfort I mentioned, it also had manifold advantages. Since the home and workplace merged together, it was easy for me to monitor and take care of both. To be able to be at home and still work is a blessing that we seldom give thanks for. The fact that the kitchen doubled up as my back office meant that I could always dip into the supplies of the pantry or my stash of stuff for personal use whether it was a ribbon or sprinkles. I could work when I wanted or not at will. Managing the logistics of a home based enterprise is gentler tho in no way easier, one can set up for a session at 5 AM without even batting an eyelid (or brushing my teeth!) or work well into the night without the anxiety of reaching home safely or keeping an eye on a sleeping drugged epileptic dog.

I began looking for a space towards the end of April. I needed the place to be close enough for me to rush home in an emergency. I needed a large and airy space with a functional kitchen. I found an apartment a week later on my morning walks with Sage. It is close to where I live, in the adjacent lane. It took the owner a week to decide if he wanted to give it to me because I said I would use it for classes. We haggled over the rent a bit, convinced that I was desperate and because I wanted it for my classes, he charged me a rate higher than what he had earlier quoted.

Once I had the keys and my heart beat came back to normal, I realised that this was 'it'. The safety nets were off. The freebies had run dry and this  really was the time to put my faith where my heart and my skill is. For the first time, I felt elated and scared as hell.

I've spent an unproductive month, without being able to use the new space. Firstly because it was bare and had no furniture, secondly because I had sprained my back and Sage was ill and between everything else, I just found it easier to do the last few classes at home.

It took me about a month to get everything sorted. Carpenters, electricians, painters and the like to fix things and set them up. Through all the angst, I felt empowered. This has been my decision, my vision and its failure or success depends wholly and solely on me. Every decision has been a lesson in patience, planning and management. I drew again and again from my inner self. Talking to myself as I waded through. Not because I didn't have the unstinting support of my family. But simply because this is a journey I needed to make alone. I felt happy and peaceful and hopeful and all things good with each step that inched closer to getting the studio ready. I have always been confident, but I have been an approval seeker. I have always wanted my choices to be validated. Sometimes I seek it from people with no expertise in the matter, only because of the proximity of the relationship and then agonise over what they have said.

I don't know why, I didn't seek anyone's approval this time. I did my research, prepared myself and made decisions. When one thing failed, I looked for another solution. I didn't go running like a damsel in distress to anyone expecting them to fix it. I am feeling incredibly good about this.

Yesterday was the inaugural class at the new place. I cannot even begin to describe how I felt. I should write another post. There was one overwhelming moment when I suddenly felt "OMG, this is really happening"

So that's my big story. This is my big move. Here are some pictures of the new place. Wish me luck... I need all that I can get.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

On being a teacher

One of my strongest memories of people, is one I had as a teenager with Amma. We were at the famous All India Exhibition, a very public place with over 20000 stalls and lakhs of people visiting every day. In the midst of the chaos, I heard someone call out my mother's name and follow it up with "Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam"

We turned around and a lady with a teenage son, hurled herself at my mother and kissed her. They spoke animatedly for a couple of minutes. The lady then turned to me and gushed about how much she loved my mother and that she enjoyed her college life only because my mother was a very compassionate and friendly teacher. She said she vividly remembers certain things my mother has said in class and it went on and on for a bit.

This has obviously stayed with me. I told my mother then and now, I cannot think of her as a professional. She to me was always the tormentor of my youth, the no nonsense mother who wouldn't entertain tantrums, the mother who every child thinks is just out to be annoying. So when I saw unbridled love and admiration for a woman I mostly had complaints about, it made me think of what she meant to others in her life. 

I cannot think of a single teacher that I have had, who has left such a lasting impression on my life or who I have affection for. I have had teachers that I have liked. Teachers who have stayed in my memory and some of whom I talk about even today. But none of the "you changed my life" experiences. 

When life turns a full circle, sometimes it shuts you up, sometimes shocks you. After a few years spent in nondescript back-end work, I moved into a people facing role with training. Immediately I was made to understand, that though I was in that particular role because of my communication skills, I wouldn't make too much progress unless I quickly developed a few other skills I severely lacked. 

The first one is patience. I call it a skill and not a virtue. Simply because this is something that can be learnt, practiced and developed in all measures. I was not born with unlimited reserves of patience. People who know me in real life know that I am short ~ tempered and willed! So patience was the first skill that I realised I severely lacked and needed to develop on a war footing if I wanted to make any progress with my career choice. 

There are so many people one encounters. In a people facing role, this is magnified tremendously. for one, you are meeting with so many people on a daily basis. Each one comes with their abilities, inabilities and quirks. To understand them and cater to them is difficult. To make oneself approachable and gain their trust and respect is like climbing a hill in the middle of a horribly hot afternoon with shoe bites on your heels. Most people are guilty till proven innocent. And I learnt very quickly, that I had to be on their side.

No matter what one's skill or knowledge, one is judged within the first minute of an encounter and as a teacher, if you fail, you can almost never reverse the tables. So my temper, my angst, my anger and most importantly my pride, were all quickly swallowed. The more I realised it was not about me, the easier it got for me and the more effective I was in my work.

I learnt also to say without shame that I didn't have all the answers. I learnt that it was allright to say that I didn't know and would find out the right information instead of fumbling or worse still - fibbing. That didn't mean that I could be shoddy in my research and preparation. The days I thought I knew everything, or entered a training room with inadequate preparation, I would be acutely reminded of how I had messed up. I learnt that I had to be well prepared and informed and equipped and no matter how hard i worked, there would be that odd day that I didn't have all the answers

It has built my confidence to speak to strangers, to speak to an audience of any number. It has made me smile a lot more than I normally would have because otherwise I am accused of frowning too much. Teaching has also made me realise that I may not touch people the way my mother has, but I have had an impact on people's lives. I feel honoured to receive birthday and festival greetings after many years of meeting a participant. I feel happy to bump into people at public places and they recall our first meeting or what I had spoken in a session. I am humbled when someone emails to tell me they got a better job opportunity or their confidence has improved or their life has been enriched in some way because of a session they have attended.

I haven't had a "maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam" moment yet. But I enjoy being a teacher and reaching out when I can. It has been my most fulfilling role and I am thankful that teaching found me and made me a better person.