Kitchen Conversations: In the Real and the Virtual World

Since last few weeks I have become a bit more active on Instagram – like everyone else posting pictures of lockdown cooking as we now know it. I tried preparations posted by some food bloggers, shared pictures of my progress of breaking the mental barrier of microwave cooking, etc. Gradually my Instagram posts started giving a sneak peek of my memories associated with certain dishes or my preference of enjoying that particular dish. All these comments were actually the Kitchen Conversations – that I was missing the most.

Instagram: Is it new normal of kitchen conversations?

My memory of cooking is that of a chatty kitchen. Growing up in Mumbai, I remember my grandmother always talking or interacting while cooking. It could be multi-tasking, giving instructions for some housework, attending to some guest at home or our neighbour who would have dropped by while she was cooking. Ours was old Mumbai house in a chawl, sort of a community living. Doors of our houses were always open. Buying fish at doorsteps along with the neighbour, sharing daily menus and even food was an everyday routine. My neighbour was my first go-to person for recipe tasting, validation or even suggestions for cooking. These chatty kitchens took to a different high during festive season – Diwali was amongst the best when we visited each other’s house to help in preparations. From buying groceries, sharing finer details about particular dishes to tasting the first batch of delicacies – everything was a group activity.

This tradition followed during kitchen conversations with my mother too. When you try to be responsible, plan menus and cook on your own, an instruction here, a suggestion there would always follow. How to  roast some ingredient, amount of water needed for making some pastes, which veggie needs to be boiled / steamed or fried,  how to know if the meat is cooked… it would be a lengthy set of instructions while cooking – sometimes making me angry and a bit rebellious I may say. In the pre-video calls era, these continued over phone when I was studying abroad.

I generally cooked over weekends – trying some recipe under mother’s guidance or preparing our all-time favourite seafood.  I could spend time with our house help only on weekends. It was our catch-up time. Every weekend she started looking forward to the special menu – sharing with me her food experiences while working at other places, any new kitchen appliances or tips used in other households, her traditional recipes, updating about latest roadside joints around, etc. It was a chatty Saturday afternoon over tea. Over the years she became so central to our kitchen – our backbone.  We started depending on her for planning daily menus to grocery buying to storage. From our weekend tea sessions, she became the important factor of my kitchen conversations – at times guiding me about mother’s cooking practices in her absence.

With the lockdown these kitchen conversations went on mute. Our house help couldn’t come for work, mother’s health did not permit her to enter the kitchen. The same love and instructions followed over a call from the hospital. A few days later they fell silent forever…

From a chatty kitchen, I learned to make peace with a silent kitchen. I became the lead actor without my audience. Of course there was guidance from some close relatives, but immediate conversations were few. Maybe Instagram started breaking these silences with a post here and a video there, finding new recipes, following some new foodies, learning about cooking techniques, attending live sessions……. Sort of virtual kitchen conversations in the virtual world.

What are your memories of Kitchen Conversations? Do you miss them?

When a virtual session boosts confidence to re-invent for the new world

Webinars, virtual summits, online panel discussions, Instagram Lives, etc. have become buzzwords in the corporate world during the Covid-19 lockdown.  Recently I attended one such talk by Dr. Anil Kakodkar, a renowned nuclear physicist and former director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Mumbai. Approximately 300 people were glued to YouTube, watching him speak on the advancements in energy and its impact on climate change.

However, this was a virtual forum with a difference. For the first time in seven decades, Amar Hind Mandal, a social organization in Mumbai, adapted digital platforms to host its annual spring lecture series Vasanta Vyakhyanmala. It was an anxious, nervous, courageous and a period of taking bold decisions for the volunteers trying to continue the 72 yrs tradition of this lecture series amidst the pandemic and series of lockdowns. Over 250 live audience, 1000 views and connecting with members across geographies was a moment of elation for this conventional thinking social organisation – giving them the confidence to take the digital leap in their operations, organization and communication.

Amar Hind Mandal’s first online lecture series received 1000 views on YouTube

As a silent observer, it was quite an enriching experience of understanding the learning curve. The popularity of smartphones and access to mobile internet had made our parents go digital. Like other fellow Indians, they use social media, regularly check WhatsApp and forward messages. But this simple exercise of attending an online session exposed them to other aspects of social media – What is a YouTube channel?, Do you pay for subscription, will it be an audio or a video speech?, how can I share this video with others? Can I watch this video later? The joy of listening to an intellectual talk from the confines of their house when the world is fighting Covid-19 and Cyclone Nisarga has just missed Mumbai was boundless. It was a moment of truth for a generation of Indians, making them further adapt and adopt a new means of communication.

While Facebook and WhatsApp have become a part of our lives, other tools like Facebook Live, Video-based meeting platforms, online seminars is still a novel concept for many. Apart from shopping and entertainment, Covid-19 has inclined us towards online tools and platforms in areas we have never imagined. If not for the pandemic and lockdown, so many of this audience of 300 people would have not experienced an online lecture series or a virtual session outside the corporate / professional world.

This incidence is like a drop in an ocean of individual, organizational, institutional and sovereign transformation that Covid-19 has enforced upon the world. I have seen an ordinary shop selling cold-cuts & poultry turn into a one-stop-shop for quick breakfast and ready-to-eat food, a food blogger using this period to reinforce the importance of simple cooking and supporting local businesses, from religiously sharing restaurant reviews on apps a girl dedicating lockdown to become fitter and healthier. The things we do, learn and unlearn, follow and let go during this phase will shape our lives as we emerge on the other side of this pandemic.

As for me, last two months have been a big lesson in facing a personal loss and challenges with stride, finding the silver lining instead of whining about the circumstances.

How have you coped up with this changed world during Covid-19?

New Age Consumer: Caged in Convenience

Cambridge dictionary describes ‘bad hair day’ as a day on which everything goes wrong. Contextually it could mean skipping an assignment deadline, running late for an important meeting, no electricity at home or anything else that interrupts our daily lives. But on thinking about this blog topic, I thought for today’s consumer a bad hair day is symbolic to lack of convenience. We, new age consumers are caged in convenience.

The month of May was a bad hair month for many of us. Our house helps were on their annual village trips. Couldn’t give clothes for ironing as the boy who collects clothes was enjoying summer vacations and his phone was switched off. While one house help came back, another help went on leave the following day. Travelling to work was little easy with less traffic. But the biggest pain was surge price of Ola and Uber. While some drivers were off-road due to holidays, others were vocal about their issues on incentives and payments. My conversations with friends and acquaintances revealed the same story.

Why we were so affected by helpers, iron man, watchman, driver, etc going on leave? Why not travel by public transport if Ola and Uber were unavailable or too expensive. On thinking it occurred to me – we have become caged to convenience.

Traditionally Indian society is known to have used the services of servants and cooks. As a girl growing up in a metropolis like Mumbai I was witness to this underbelly who keeps our lives going. But something else happened over last 4-5 years. Technology became such an integral part of our everyday life that we forgot our old habits and got comfortable with this new convenience.

For a working professional in Mumbai travelling meant hailing Ola or Uber. The carpooling was much convenient than struggling to get inside the train or waiting for a BEST bus. Ordering food on Swiggy or Zomato is much easier than calling the restaurant. Our medicines, vegetables, groceries, ironing, tailoring, paying utility bills, almost everything is just a swipe or a click away. It’s our bad hair day when we are robbed of this convenience even for few hours. We are ready to pay extra if it means saving time or easy delivery, in spite of several issues. It’s a circle of access, service, price, delivery and ease. What will it mean even 2-3 years down the line? It makes me wonder…

Almost two years since I first wrote this..technology has further gripped and disrupted our lives. From exploring Swiggy and Zomato, they have become my default choice when I am lazy to prepare breakfasts. Like Google it, Swiggy has become a verb…

#SonamKiShaadi:An online streaming feast

Last couple of days I was checking Instagram too often – while travelling, in between meetings, before going to bed. The live updates and videos allowed me to follow #SonamKiShaadi on the go. Insta feed of a well-known Bollywood and fashion photographer was my window to this online streaming feast.

Conversations at work were around the same topic. Who’s Insta Feed to follow for updates, which fashion designer was pushing content? My Twitter timeline was buzzing with comments of following Sonam Kapoor’s wedding on social media. The day after her wedding I got a WhatsApp joke about attending Sonam Kapoor’s wedding on WhatsApp. While media was not allowed to directly cover the functions, Insta stories, videos and social media updates from the star studded guests was the feed for media and photographers.

#SonamKiShaadi on social media
Sonam Kapoor’s wedding was an followed on Instagram, WhatsApp and social media

My thoughts went back to 2001. As a college student, I was glued to the television watching live telecast of the famous Agra Summit between Pervez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. My interest in political science and media didn’t allow me to move away from the TV screen for those two days. My tired eyes slept and I missed the final outcome of the historic summit, also known as India’s first televised summit.

General discussions with friends and colleagues didn’t mention about following Sonam Kapoor’s wedding on TV or seeing pictures in newspapers. For an on-the-go consumer, it meant checking social media updates, Insta feeds of celebrities, stylists, media houses, photographers, fashion designers. While media was not allowed inside the wedding venue, they had access to videos from the functions and guests. The social media and smartphones made it a digital wedding for everyone to follow at their own convenience and personal choice. These conversations and comments made me think – Is #SonamKiShaadi India’s first online streaming celebrity event?

Hey someone called to wish Happy Birthday! What happened next?

Three friends were chatting and laughing at a suburban mall on a Saturday evening. Next to them was a girl smiling and enjoying her husband and his friend’s talks, memories and banter. A quick meeting turned into 3 hrs of fun as night fell by and it was time to head home. This memorable evening was thanks to one phone call…

It was usual birthday morning with wishes from some family and friends. Amidst receiving birthday messages and managing work I noticed one name flashing on my phone. It was a call from one of my university friend I had not met since eons… if, I was right at least a decade. As I received the call he said, “Faceboook reminded that it’s your birthday. Thought instead of saying HBD on your wall, I will call and wish you.” What followed was a conversation like old times, with promise to meet on the weekend along with another friend.

Retro Birthday Card
Sheer joy of Personal Birthday Wishes is like eating an ice-cream !

A little later, another friend called to wish me. More than a decade back, we came to know each other as industry colleagues. The friendship grew over years from calls, to Orkut, Facebook and occasional messages on WhatsApp but we haven’t met for many years. She said, “I have decided to call and wish people on their birthdays. We generally message or wish on social media and then no one talks to each other.” We promised to meet with a set deadline… which we did not meet.

Both these calls made me think. When was the last time I called a colleague / friend / acquaintance to wish Happy Birthday? Have we all become so caged to social media? There have been times I have decided not to wish someone on Faceboook, instead call. Day turns into evening, it’s time to head back from work and the exhausted mind remembers the forgotten wish.

These thoughts were lingering on my mind when I got another phone call. This time it was a colleague I haven’t spoken to for long. Somewhere back of mind I have been thinking of her but did not connect. Here she was talking to me on the phone, taking the opportunity to wish Happy Birthday!

These phone calls truly made my birthday. Felt blessed to have such relationships in a world which is far more connected, yet disconnected. I was cherishing this Birthday gift for next couple of days, sharing the joy with some friends. My phone buzzed again on an early Saturday morning. “Are you still sleeping?   We are meeting today evening, all three of us,” it was the same friend calling to confirm our plan.

In a typical Mumbai style, after some changes, we finally landed at a mall in the evening. Window shopping, chatter, old memories, food & coupled with drive in friend’s new car. An evening spent together with friends I had not met for 10 years…thanks to one phone call.

Kalyan Karmakar:Kajol of Food Blogging

What made Finelychopped interesting is unlike other food blogs, it featured common eating places, some hidden gems and made local street vendors the hero

While thinking of a new topic, one name that flashed across my mind was Kalyan Karmakar. On second thoughts, I realised as one of the million social media followers, I have seen him transform from a market researcher, food blogger, curator of food walks, author, panelist to guest speaker… it’s an inspiring journey of following your passion and keep reinventing yourself. Somewhere along it seemed as if I know him, but I don’t know him.

Have you ever come across a situation that you have never met someone personally but still seems like you know that person? We have our favourite authors, sport stars, actors. We follow their work so much that it seems we know them. Internet and social media has made this more common and convenient.

Screenshot_2018-03-05-10-13-56-851_com.instagram.android

I started following Finelychopped blog some 6 – 7 years back. What made Finelychopped interesting is unlike other food blogs, it featured common eating places, some hidden gems and made local street vendors the hero. Then the food walks followed. An idea I thought the time had come, but didn’t know how and when to do. These food walks and the blog made regional food and local eateries sexy. Kalyan’s love for Bengali and Parsi food was one of the biggest reason. Over the years, my knowledge of Bengali food has increased thanks to him. His experiments with Maharashtrian food gave me personal happiness. Dadar Food Walk put my neighbourhood favourites and childhood memories on an international platform.

Another thing that distinguishes Kalyan, is his responsiveness and ability to interact with readers. He appreciates feedback, comments and suggestions openly. That’s how I have managed to engage with him. These engagements allowed me to understand him as a person and know some commonalities – like SGI. When I read his experience I realised one of the secrets behind this amazing journey.

That’s perhaps the reason I thought of calling him ‘Kajol of Food Blogging’ – an honest perform straight from the heart, not worried about stardom, the next door foodie !

Woman, what’s your FQ?

With India producing inspiring women leaders, sportswomen and now entrepreneurs, it is all the more important for women to become financially literate and independent

India recently completed The Great Indian Budget circus. Budget has become one big annual event – media, corporate honchos, analysts and of course social media, discussing its impact on the economy, businesses, rural India and the common man. These discussions led me to think – how does budget impact the common woman?

Does a common woman make her own budget? Plan finances? The answer for city dwellers and working women like me lie in our offices. Its time of the year when you see many colleagues, including women, running like headless chicken to show investment proofs. Do I have the rent receipts? Have I made investments at all? Must confess I am also a part of this gang.

This ignorance or disinclination largely came from the fear of numbers. I never scored well in Maths and got rid of the subject at the earliest opportunity as I entered college. While I had a personal bank account at a very early age, it was more to save the yearly Birthday, Diwali and other festive cash gifts. Subconsciously I made some academic and professional choices to avoid numbers. But over the years realised, as a woman with personal and professional ambitions you just cannot escape from finance and ‘Budget’.

finance-women

My brush with budgeting practically began when I moved to UK for studies. Living on your own, managing with limited resources, made me register every pound I spent. Later the travel bug in me was a catalyst to think of saving enough for that one long vacation. Recently conversation with my mother turned to our monthly household expenses. Last few months of buying groceries, planning home chores, managing maids had subconsciously made me think of finances and budgeting.

With India producing inspiring women leaders, sportswomen and now entrepreneurs, it is all the more important for women to become financially literate and independent. Financial education will make women – urban and rural – understand their Financial Quotient (FQ). One such platform I personally found helpful is GetRichGirls.com . It dwells on so many aspects of financial planning and how women can master it. The much needed motivation for girls to get rich!

When parents go digital!

Day 1

I am back from office and see Mom busy on her mobile. Did I hear it right? I could hear just concluded PM’s speech at Davos World Economic Forum playing on YouTube

Me: How did you find this speech?

Mom: Everything is there on YouTube. It comes. I search for anything I want. By the way the new phone is nice. I can watch videos clearly on the big screen

Day 2

Am in a hurry to leave for work

Mom: What G is my phone? Newspaper says mobile rates have reduced because of 4G

Me: Mom, 3G /4G depends on your mobile service plan, not necessarily on the type of cellphone. You have a good plan

Mom: Ok… I just spoke to your cousin on WhatsApp video call

Day 3

I call Papa at work to inform about neighbourhood doctor’s death.

Papa: Yes I know. I saw the message on couple of WhatsApp groups. When you come in the evening please help me how to share a Facebook message on WhatsApp

Day 4

I order some food for Mom before she reaches home.

Mom: Can I also order like you? You put that app in my mobile, so that I don’t have to disturb you in office.

Does this sound familiar? It may, for many of you. Personally, so many times conversations with my parents now revolve around social media and technology. From shopping, cab bookings, travelling, reading, accessing information, they have started thinking and talking digital.

While all the attention in on millennials, senior citizens are silently but steadily adopting mobile internet as India becomes digital. Much of this internet consumption is out of curiosity and eagerness to learn.

Like the youth, they are becoming mobile first consumers. Equally restless if mobile data doesn’t work or cannot stream videos. It’s a childlike curiosity to learn how to use digitech. Smallest things make them happy and discover new things in the virtual world.

What’s your #DigitalParents story?