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Where will you be twenty years from now?

A taste of Mumbai

It struck me the other day that it has been about twenty years since the time I took my first steps, albeit unwittingly, towards moving into Mumbai.

I had been recruited by a market research agency in Kolkata from campus back then. I joined my new office once the MBA course was over. We were then sent to Mumbai for a training programme in August 1997. Once the course was over, my colleagues from Kolkata returned home. I was slated to stay back for a 2 month training programme in Mumbai which then stretched on for close to 6 months. I was put up at a PG in Bandra by my office then.

Such  a long journey

This was the first time that I was living away from home. All I wanted to do then was to get back to Kolkata as soon as I could. Go back and build a successful career in market research hopefully. Move to an apartment in a posher part of Kolkata than where we lived. At Ballygunge for example. 

I thought it would be cool one day have a club membership given to me by office just as they had given to the head of our office. Go to the UK on occasional work trips like he did. Buy a car. 

One's dreams were defined by one's frame of reference I guess.

Back but not for long

I returned to Kolkata from Mumbai after a 6 month training stint. I soon got bored with my new life in Kolkata. My college friends had moved out of Kolkata. The work was repetitive. An unending stream of focus groups about cigarette packs among auto rickshaw drivers in Hyderabad. 

The pollution in Kolkata got to me, especially in winter. I would wake up sneezing every morning and would often find it difficult to sleep at night as I would keep wheezing. 

I finally requested the head of our office for a transfer back to Mumbai. I loved the variety of work which I had been exposed to there and more importantly, the fact that I had made many new friends in Mumbai. I didn't sneeze that often here.

The head of the office was a good man. He heard me out and said, 'whatever is best for you and the company' and facilitated the move. He threw a private farewell at home for me as I hadn't worked in the branch long enough to qualify for an office sponsored one.

I met him after years when he came to my book launch in Delhi recently and that felt amazing. He doesn't live in Kolkata anymore himself. We could never have imagined that he too would leave Kolkata one day.

My mother was still working then. My brother was a student living in Kolkata. So she didn't object to my decision. 'Career first,' is what she said. Bravely I am sure. 

My mother retired ten years back. Kolkata became empty for her as my brother moved out too to chase his career. Now she has a new baby, her own blog, and a lovely grand-daughter thanks to my brother and sister in law. Both give her immense joy and fresh purpose in life.

Bombay to Mumbai and changes on the way

So let's see where things stand today.

I live in Bandra now. It is not a pitstop anymore. Mumbai is home. Literally too as I married a local and have family here thanks to that. 

I can't see myself going back to settle in Kolkata. I must confess that I feel like a tourist when I go there now. A chaser of memories.

I am not a member of any club. We do own a car but I prefer to use Uber and Ola more often now.

I don't have the sneezing problem anymore. It has been replaced by a back problem. I know that one day that too will be a memory. I live in hope.

I no longer work in market research though a lot of my market research day learnings have seeped into what I do today. I am trying to find my feet in the world of food media now. I have written and published a book recently like I dreamt of doing all my life. It is not the science fiction book I wanted to write as a kid or the great Mumbai love story I wanted to when I moved into the city. It is a food travelogue.

I write food columns for publications. I have done web videos on food and occasionally appeared on television in India and abroad. 

I still work with clients as I did in my market research days. Now as a consultant who helps people understand food trends. And as an endorser at times or what is called an 'influencer'.

I did eventually travel internationally on work as I had I hoped I would at the start of my career. My trips in an earlier life were primarily for market research conference paper presentations. 

I later travelled as a food blogger for food expos and conferences and FAM trips. 

I did make it to the UK, the country of my birth, finally on a work trip. Not for a market research presentation though, but as a judge for a food awards event.

A life more social

I could barely use the computer or even type a keyboard twenty years back. Internet access was limited and we didn't have it on our office computers. We didn't have computers at home. We had to give job numbers while sending emails at work. Emails cost money we were told and hence had to be accounted for. I did not even have a personal email account back then. 

I hadn't read any food books or food writing back then then barring the evocative food descriptions in Enid Blyton and James Bond books and the wild boar banquets that Obelix couldn't get enough of. I hadn't read any recipe books. Nor had I come across any food writing columns in the local newspaper. I guess The Statesman was too serious for that.  

The exception was a book on advertising which was a part of our MBA course. It had an Indian ad of a pressure cooker with the recipe of a chicken curry in it. I came across this while preparing for my exams. I took a break from my studies the next day and made the chicken curry for my mother, brother and me. I think it had turned out well and it was possibly the first chicken curry that I had ever made.

As you can guess, I would never even have imagined that something like a blog would exist one day. That it would enable me to write. Something which I wanted to do ever since I was a child. 

That one day I could even consider a career based on food writing was unthinkable twenty years back. This dream ride, I know, has been thanks to the blog I opened 9 years and 10 months back. 

A brave new world

My early days in Mumbai were about rushing to the Bandra station and taking the train to Dadar and then walking down to office. I hated it when we had to do so on weekends. I believed in having a life outside office too. During my free time I would go for walks, watch movies, read in my PG room. Not everyone did this. There were my peers who would spend their free time at work, not wanting to go back to an empty home.

I no longer go to an office. I don't get a monthly salary. I am the master of my time. I work out of cafes and out of home. The transition was not easy but I think I have rode out the storm. 
I wrote the first draft of this post in a cafe just as I had my book and many articles after that. On my MacBook.  

I couldn't have imagined having a laptop twenty years back. I doubt if I knew of their existence. Computers were meant to be kept in air-conditioned sanitised rooms and away from dust. Not be put in a haversack and carried across the city. Mobile phones were yet to become popular and pagers were the thing then. If there were no mobile phones then thinking that one would used them to photograph pictures of what one eats to post on Instagram was unimaginable.

Many of the changes in my life have been enabled by changes in technology. Some by socio-economic changes in India too. After thirty odd years of the opening up of the economy studying engineering and then become an IAS officer is no longer the most acceptable career path today.

The cafe I wrote this post in has wifi, clean toilets, air-conditioning. None of this again was imaginable twenty years back. There were no modern cafes there. We would have to go to bars and pubs to hang around even if we were not heavy drinkers.

Media has changed too. From being 'mass' it is now social too. I was a voracious newspaper reader when I moved into Mumbai. I subscribed to the TOI at my PG and read it every morning before leaving for work. At work, I would go to the PR desk to read the previous day's newspaper from Kolkata to stay in touch with my home.

On Monday nights I would watch the comedies on Star World in the hall.

I still subscribe to the TOI and take a quick glance through it every day. I get most of my news through Twitter though now. We barely watch any TV now. We use the television but the content comes from Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hotstar and not any broadcast channels.

When I was new to Mumbai, I used to write a letter once a week to my mother using inland letters and would post it from the Bandra post office. I would write a letter once a month to my grandmother. That would be in Bengali. I would go to pay-phones, in what were called STD booths and call my mother once a week. After 11 pm to avail of cheaper rates of course.

Now I call my mother once a day from my mobile. We exchange whatsapps through the day. I call my granny around once a week. It has been years since I wrote and posted a letter.

I remember from my market research days that there were people who would call themselves 'trend-spotters' and 'future forecasters' and stuff. I would be supremely impressed if they could have told me about my life as it is today, twenty years back.

A few things haven't changed though I must admit.

My love for writing for example and the importance I give to eating well. I still like to live life on my terms but hopefully am a more responsible person now.

If you are forty years old and above then I would love to know how your life has changed in the last couple of decades and whether you could have imagined back then, the way your life is today.


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