Category Archives: Interview

The Travelling Tea-Seller Couple and the Joy of Shared Dreams

For the past few months the social feeds were cluttered with grand celebrity wedding pictures and hashtags #deepveer #virushka #nickyanka #couplegoals – every picture carefully crafted and staged to perfection. It seems those celebrity wedding hashtags were inspired by how some malayali parents named their kids 🙂 ( the formula was quite simple – select a combination of both the mother’s and father’s names. eg: Joseph and Jisha =Joji)

Beyond the staged perfection, let’s get to some “real #couplegoals”. I recently happened to meet a couple who looked very ordinary but would definitely give us all some real #couplegoals – Vijayan and Mohana who in their late sixties run a wayside tea shop in Kochi. What’s unique about this tea shop “Sri Balaji Coffee House” other than the perfect tea & fresh vadas are the innumerable framed pictures of their travel around the world. The tea costs only Rs 5 and so does the vada. This being their single source of income – one would wonder how the hell do they manage to travel? They have traveled to 23 countries and counting!

Talking to them, here is what I learnt.

1. The joy of having shared meaning and shared dream as a couple. 

Vijayan and Mohana have a shared dream that they both work towards – the dream of travelling and experiencing the world. The ups and downs of life are less bothersome for them for they have found meaning to their life with their travel. A successful marriage has to be more than raising kids, paying bills, and getting chores done. 

According to American psychological researcher Dr. John Gottman’s – “An essential element of a lasting marriage is the ability to create shared meaning, a purpose, or a dream with your partner.”

2. No dream is too bigno dreamer too small.

When asked if she had always dreamt of traveling the world as she was growing up, Mohana responds – “I wasn’t even sure if I could even dream of travelling the world, let alone expecting it to happen for real. But now I would say we should all have dreams and work hard towards realizing it.”

Vijayan shares this instance – “Once on our travel to Tirupati, as I gazed at a plane that was flying over me, I told my friends – I want to travel in a plane to which they said it was only meant for the rich people.” 

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This quote holds so true for Vijayan and Mohana. 

Dreams come a size too big so that we may grow into them – Josie Bisset

3. It’s a bliss when your life partner is your business partner and travel partner – all combined.

The first impression one might get of Mohana is of a docile south Indian grand-ma but once you talk to her, you soon realize that she is an equal partner in running the tea shop, managing family affairs, finances and planning for each travel.

Her sensibility complements his spontaneity.

It comes as no surprise when Mr.Vijayan mentions – “She is the source of my strength. I have always wanted to travel with her. “

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4. Shared experiences connects us more to each other .

Their way side tea shop might look small but the walls of Sri Balaji Coffee House is filled with snapshots of their memories and experiences. They have been filling their life with experiences, not things. They have stories to tell not material wealth to show case.

We as humans are the accumulation of everything we’ve seen, the things we’ve done, and the places we’ve been. According to Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades –Shared experiences connect us more to other people than shared consumption.

5. If you are working towards fulfilling your dream – there is no need to retire.

To fund their travels, they have mortgaged their shop and even taken bank loans.  After returning from travel, the couple works hard repaying the loan and saving money to set out for the next destination. When asked about retirement, they said they plan to work as long as they can! They have a shared dream and purpose that they work towards. They surely have a purpose to get up and open up their shop every morning.

This reminded me about Okinawa, a Japanese Island with the longest life expectancy in the world where they don’t  have a formal word in their language for “retirement”! They don’t have the concept of retirement, instead they do have an interesting word (and philosophy) ikigai – which roughly translates to “the reason you wake up in the morning.” It’s the thing that drives you most.

6. When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

After the couple’s story made it to media, they attracted a lot of attention, and funds were raised to fund their trip to USA. Intrigued by their life philosophy, Hari Mohan, turned their heart warming story into a documentary called “Invisible Wings” (check for the link below) which won the Best Short Film award in the Non-Fiction category at the 2018 Filmfare Short Film Awards. 

We have to be willing to create a vision for our lives, and work relentlessly towards it. When the universe realizes you are dead serious about your dreams – it starts conspiring for you!

When asked where do you plan to go next? Vijayan responded – “Scandinavian Countries”.  Let the universe keep conspiring in helping you fulfill your dreams Mr Vijayan and Mohana! 

If you wish to help fund their Scandinavian dream, shoot us a message by entering your details below:

SoulCafe: Building & Celebrating Soulful Relationships.

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The Soul Travellers : Ellie & Ravi

There are a lot of us who love to travel but very few who dare to put it at the center of their very being.  Here is a couple who travel not just to explore but with the intention to give back to the places they travel. Their inner calling to travel for self discovery led them to each other. Their cultural differences has enriched their lives as they keep enriching the world around them. Let’s talk to the Soul Traveling couple – Ellie and Ravi!

Soul Cafe: Tell us how Ellie from London met Ravi from Mumbai : “The Ellie met Ravi story.”

Ellie: I have been traveling for several years now to different places; I always flew over India but never happened to really come visiting the country – until 2015.

Every time I flew to some country in south east Asia I ended waking up while flying above India! As mystical and funny it might sound I knew that India was a calling and the day finally came when I started travelling to India.

My first stop was Varanasi, and then India never left me; I kept coming back and wanting to see more. One trip I was in Mumbai for a blogging event where I was introduced to Ravi as at that time he was food blogging as a hobby. Even though I had to fly home to London the next day, we kept in touch and we had that soul connection right from the start we felt. Friendship is something we shared fondly which later grew into a special relationship and a couple of years later, here we are working together as well as being together. We now stay in Toronto, Canada, but dream of coming back to India most days!

Soul Cafe: How has it been being a multi-cultural couple? 

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Ellie & Ravi: In many ways, being in a multi-cultural couple is no different than “normal” (whatever that means!) There are things one has to sacrifice and adjust to, but that is the case in any partnership.

We find that we have a lot to learn from each others’ cultures and we’re lucky enough to be able to incorporate the best of both – so being a multi-cultural couple has been a blessing for us!

There are so many beautiful things to emulate in both the cultures for example a common feeling of respecting your elders, having closely knit families, sharing and kindness. In the beginning especially though, there are lots of things to talk about and iron out. Where we do have misunderstandings and different expectations, we find it is usually over food!! 😉

Soul Cafe: Your travel blog “Soul Travel” is dedicated to “responsible, sustainable and mindful travel”. From love of travel to mindful travelling – was it a natural progression for the two of you?

Ellie & Ravi: The blog Soul Travel was always built on the philosophy of mindful travelling, but of course it was travel prior to the blog that brought us to this point. One of the reasons we promote travel is because we believe in its ability to make us conscious and open our eyes: to our environment and people around us. 

When we travel outside of our comfort zone and usual sphere of reference, we can journey deeper within ourselves too.

Over the last year we have also become actively involved in supporting start-ups in the eco-tourism industry with digital marketing so that sustainable and mindful travel businesses can be truly successful, and profitable! Tourism is responsible for 10% of global GDP so we feel we have a responsibility to help make the impact of travel more positive. So mindful travelling is something which we both practice as much as possible as well as encouraging others to do so. 

Soul Cafe: What has been the most rewarding aspect for both of you in your “Soul Travel” journey?

Gateway of IndiaWe continue to be humbled and inspired by the people that we meet on our journey, particularly those who run their own sustainable and ethical tourism projects and are focused on making an impact in a big or small way. Working and travelling together has been hugely rewarding too, we have learned so much about each other through the process and we wouldn’t change that for anything.

Soul Cafe: How has your relationship with each other and with the world evolved with your soulful travels?

Ellie & Ravi: It has helped us to be more communicative and empathetic towards each others needs, differences and leverage on the strengths we bring to “Soul Travel”. Its the solid support system that you build together that also helps in situations where we have to be pragmatic.

Soul Cafe: How is travelling to blog about it, a completely different experience than just travelling for leisure?

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Travelling for blog is hard work, we always hear people say to us that we have a “dream job” but more often than not we’ll be behind our laptops rather than lounging on a beach! 

We certainly realize that we are very lucky to be able to travel and see the world in the first place, but there is a lot more work to blogging / working remotely than there looks to be! For each destination we visit we are constantly thinking about the content we will create, what photos and videos we will need, as well as creating social media content in real time – it adds up to quite a lot! We also realized that living as digital nomads” or always on the road is not something for us – we prefer the comfort of having somewhere to call home at the end of a trip.

Soul Cafe: Do you mostly travel together or is it a combination of solo trips and traveling as a couple? How would you compare the experience of solo trip vs traveling together?

Ellie Train India

Ravi : Soul Travel Blog was founded by Ellie before we met, and she traveled solo to start with. Traveling as a solo female traveler has its own benefits and challenges, you are on your own schedule, but it comes with plenty of its own challenges too, depending on which part of the world you are in. One of the biggest challenges for solo female travelers in south Asia for instance (including India) is how they are viewed by men.

We strongly believe that solo female travel should be encouraged and supported in all parts of the world, by men as well as women.

Solo travel has been an important part of her experience and personal journey, as well as helping me to understand some of the challenges for female travelers too. Nowadays we travel together most of the time which we love, and also feel it has been responsible for helping us grow closer and help understand some of our cultural differences too: it’s also been key for helping us grow together in our view of life, love for each other and grow as our own personalities too. Of course there are moments when we don’t like each other 😉 but fortunately our travel styles are quite similar- and that helps a lot. 

We have found that traveling together has made us more selfless and kind to each other

(You can read more on  Ellie and Ravi’s travel  on their  Blog )

Soul Cafe: What would you say about these advises that we see on social media – leave your job, pack your bags and travel/ being a digital nomad?

Ellie & Ravi: Well… there’s a bit more to it than that! Having said that we believe that whatever you do with faith and commitment can be done. Being a digital nomad has become very hyped up and trendy at the moment, and more worryingly there are a lot of “digital nomads” who make most of their money from selling courses to people who want to be digital nomads rather than from doing anything else. Being nomadic is not for everyone – some people like to have a home base, and that’s ok! Working from different places around the world is possible in many different ways, and “digital nomadism” is just one of them. Setting up your own business – be it a travel blog or a fully fledged startup – takes time, and even years before you start to see financial stability from it, so if you’re planning a big change, make sure you have the savings to support yourself for a reasonable amount of time.  

Being nomadic is not for everyone – some people like to have a home base, and that’s okay!

(Here is Ellie’s Blog article on Digital Nomadic Life)

Soul Cafe: There are instances when we are confronted by something that doesn’t just feel right as we travel. This could be a cultural thing or an outcome of the rise of commercial tourism? As a mindful traveler, how does one handle it? 

Ellie & Ravi : Yes, there are unfortunately many examples of where tourism has sadly not had a good impact. The obvious ones are wildlife-related, but tourism can also have a negative impact on people too.

In Venice, Italy for example the locals have all but left the city because there are simply too many tourists who have forced property prices up and no-one can afford to live there anymore.

With regards to wildlife tourism, it is sad that many animals have suffered because of tourism – from dolphins and whales that get constantly chased by boats on dolphin or whale spotting trips, to elephants that are kept in poor conditions / chained up and used for entertainment, to zoos and aquariums that do not have animal welfare in mind.These issues are complex, and there is rarely a black and white answer.

For us, the most important principle is respect – whether it’s for people or animals – or the environment.

When you visit somewhere think about the people that live there, ask permission before clicking photos, and show them consideration. When it comes to animals our view is that wildlife is best viewed from a distance, in the wild – we try to avoid any activities that “interfere” with wild animals such as petting, riding, or even selfies. Some so-called “sanctuaries” are not what they seem, so we generally stay away from those, too.

Soul Cafe: You talk about making positive changes as one travels – tell us how can one change the world as one travels?

Ellie & Ravi: It all starts with one-step at a time. Perhaps the most important thing is re-focusing travel to be as much about the places we visit as it is about ourselves.

Secondly, make sure not to leave any waste behind that might spoil the beautiful scenery. Avoid plastic wherever possible; carry a re-usable water bottle with you, avoid using straws, take-away cups and meal-containers, and choose to dine-in instead to avoid the use of single-use plastic that often cannot be disposed of properly and ends up in our rivers and oceans.

One does not need to stop enjoying their vacations or having fun, but just be caring about one’s own actions while they are traveling. One can always be aware of how they plan to travel locally and select mostly to travel in local transportation (which has less environmental impact), getting involved with community based projects (that support local people and provide the opportunity to connect and learn through travel), and

Visit places that are a little out of the way versus sticking to “top 10” lists.

If you are travelling with travel agents or companies, look into their policies for the destinations offered – like are the activities which involve abuse of animals for entertainment purpose for eg recently Thomas Cook axed their trips to Sea World at Florida citing animal welfare concerns and this positive step was taken from massive customer feedback. One has to realize that we alone can make the difference to the way you travel and leading by example, after all as we always say we have only one earth to share. 

Soul Cafe: What is your life goal as a couple? 

Ellie & Ravi Jordan

Ellie & Ravi: To live harmoniously together with love, respect and trust. To genuinely help would-be “Soul Travellers” around the world to travel and create a positive impact while facilitating personal growth, and to support the sustainable tourism industry in growing and becoming more and more the “norm” in travel. One day, we’d love to run a sustainable tourism lodge / accommodation of our own that is self-sufficient – so let’s see what the universe brings! 

To genuinely help would-be “Soul Travelers” around the world to travel and create a positive impact while facilitating personal growth.

Thank you for being such a soulful and inspiring couple. May the tribe of “Soulful Travellers” increase!

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Soul Cafe : Building & Celebrating Soulful Relationships

Conscious Living and Loving : Mansoor and Tina Khan

The story of  Mansoor and Tina Khan is essentially the story of a couple who deeply value their life journey rather than worrying or hurrying towards a prescribed destination. A life journey of soul searching, following their passion, practicing gratitude and savoring it all along.

Mansoor Khan directed some iconic Hindi movies like  Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak , Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar etc before he left Bollywood following his inner calling to  live off the land.  He has always chosen to do things that he feels passionately about. He published his highly intriguing book  “The Third Curve” in 2013 that challenges the notion of exponential growth – a topic he feels very strongly about.

“I have only chosen to do things that I can be deeply passionate about. Like at my book, I have worked on it for years, not to make money  but because I feel so strongly about the subject matter. Now I am onto my next book.”

– Mansoor Khan

Tina, the “Coonoor Cheese queen” passionately makes and sells  artisanal soft and hard cheeses, right on their Acres Wild farm. Gouda, Parmesan, Cheddar – you name it , she makes it. 

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It all does sound like a dream. Well, how easy is it to live a life of conviction? Living a life in a way where – what you think, what you say and what you do are all in perfect harmony. I got a chance to meet up with this lovely couple and to be inspired forever! I hope this conversation with them inspires you too!

Soul Cafe: From IIT to MIT to directing some iconic movies and then moving away from the crowd to live off  the land – I see a person who has been on a quest for his real purpose in life from a very early age. Was finding Tina part of finding a soul partner in this personal quest?

Mansoor:  I was pretty clear that I wanted to live off the land very early on – even before meeting Tina. She knew this and was fine with it. In fact  I also had plans  to live on a boat and go cruising forever and Tina was fine with that as well 🙂 Yes – she was definitely a partner, who was happy to be part of this wild ride. If I had not found someone like her, I would have rather stayed single :).

Soul Cafe: Tina – you saw this streak in him  – the desire to live an alternate life.  Did that worry you or was it that appealed to you about him?

Tina : I myself am not a highly ambitious person, I like to go with the flow.  I knew that – he didn’t t want to live in the city and he had his own personal quest. To be honest It never worried me.  In  fact it appealed to me that he was so different from the rest. And of course I loved him!

Soul Cafe: “Papa kehte hein bada naam karega – magar yeh tho koi na jaane yeh meri manzil hein kahan”. Was that about you-  someone who wanted to redefine success in his own terms and not by the terms of the society?

Mansoor: Well that song was for Amir Khan’s  character in the movie QSQT who wasn’t sure what he wants to do with his life.  But probably when you rethink about it – the lyrics do reflect a bit of me that didn’t subscribe to the society’s definition of success or achievement.  But that was purely unintentional 🙂

 

Soul Cafe: Isn’t it important that you both shared a common definition of what success means to you and share a similar value system?

Tina: I have never pre calculated my life and had these fixed ideas of success for myself. But yes we have a shared view about our life  and so far this soul searching  journey has been fulfilling.

Mansoor: I couldn’t have done this if Tina wasn’t happy to live in a farm. She found her passion in cheese making. So yes its important that we  both are in sync in terms of  what we value deeply in life.

Soul Cafe: Conscious parenting makes you rethink and reconsider everything that there is usually followed as part of the regular system. Did your kids ever felt they were missing out on all the fun down in Mumbai?

Mansoor & Tina: The kids did initially miss their larger network of friends in Mumbai when they moved to the farm. But they slowly built some deep friendship here as well – fewer though. They were always delighted to travel to Mumbai but they were also equally delighted to be back in Coonoor. Being here, allowed us to be consciously present in their growing up stage. Probably now when they are away from us gearing up towards adulting, they might value it more.

 

“We wanted to be consciously present when they were building their wings , closely associated with their growth and now when they are ready to fly they have their own freedom. We do not interfere much :). “

Soul Cafe: What do you think is the greatest conflict in terms of building relationships for today’s younger generation?

Mansoor & Tina: We surely can’t generalize it. A lot depends on the family values that the kids are brought up in. We have met youngsters who are more introspective than we were at their age. But overall there is this trend of “I”, “Me” having a more ego- centric approach to life. And that makes building relationships difficult. Relationships are about sharing – its about “us”. The expectations from relationships are also higher as compared to the earlier generations.

Final Cover 18 April 2013Soul Cafe: In your book you extensively talk about our obsession with perpetual growth while the reality is bounded and finite.  Do you think it happens in relationships as well – the expectation of exponential growth and the disappointment when it turns otherwise? Is there a third curve in relationships as well?

Mansoor: The overall social dynamics is about exponential growth – being better, bigger, faster as time proceeds. The modern world is obsessed with growth – we worship growth. And our definition of growth is curtailed to a kind of quantified growth. Now this philosophy of the society trickles down to personal relationships as well. In reality relationships also has its highs and lows – the expectation of a exponential growth curve is a myth.

 

Soul Cafe: Do you think authentic relationship based on compatibility and mutual respect should be the foundation for a marriage, and has Indian society made progress in this regard in last 20 years?

Mansoor & Tina: It surely is important. At the superficial level we see the outlooks are getting more broadened but if you dig a little deeper, we see that the the pressure on the younger generation to achieve in every respect is higher than ever. And this attitude reflects even in relationships to some extent and relationships also then becomes portrayal of ones success. For authentic relationships to happen based purely on compatibility and mutual respect – people need to be less extrinsically driven and need to be more conscious with the choices they make 

Soul Cafe: What would be your advice to youngsters who think, relationship commitments put limit to their dreams?

Mansoor & Tina : Finding a balance is key – being together and yet giving each other enough space. When you fulfill your dreams, the joy is doubled if you can share it with someone you love.  In a very ego-centric, achievement oriented world, relationships need investment of  our time and our thoughts. One  needs to find the balance .

Mansoor :  When I get obsessed, Tina is my balance 🙂 

Thanks a lot Mansoor and Tina for this Soulful conversation!

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

– Kahlil Gibran

 

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Soul Cafe: Building Soulful Relationships.

 

 

 

 

 

Indian Marriages – A cross cultural perspective with Elizabeth Flock.

How many of us would take the plunge into the depths of a cultural fabric of a foreign land to understand the nuances and complexities of that novice culture? Meet Elizabeth Flock who is a journalist, author and documentary filmmaker with a keen focus on women’s and social issues. Her work has been featured in PBS News Hour, The New York Times, The Atlantic and many other publications. She recently authored a book called   Love and Marriage in Mumbai    wherein she explores love, marriage and shifting cultural norms in India, specifically tracking three married couples through a span of about a decade. 

Soul Cafe caught up with Ms Flock, to talk about her new book and also to get a cross cultural perspective on evolving Indian marriages. 

Soul Cafe: From a western perspective, there is a stereotypical image about Indian marriages – the Bollywood style big fat colorful and loud Indian weddings. It’s very rare to have someone explore beyond it. Indeed, curious to know, what made you explore and write a book on the intricacies of Indian marriages?

Liz: I wrote this book because I wanted to look at marriages beyond the big fat Bollywood wedding. In India — and in much of the West — our stories often end with the couple getting married. But what happens afterwards? That reality is what I wanted to explore.

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Soul Cafe: Over a span of several years, you pursued three distinct middle-class Mumbai couples, getting detailed account of their private lives – their dreams, frustrations and desires. In India, people are reluctant to disclose private matters, how did you manage to get them tell you their intimate stories?

Liz:  Changing names was essential, to protect the couples’ anonymity and privacy. I also reported this book over a long period of time — almost 10 years — which I think really helped gain trust. As reporters, we are often required to parachute in somewhere for a very short period of time. Obviously people are going to be more reticent to share the intimacies of their lives with strangers. It was really important to me to keep going back.

Soul Cafe: As you mentioned, you followed the characters in your book for almost a decade – seeing  their relationship equation transform from time to time. You have seen them stay  put in their relationship even when the equation trends downhill. What did you think of it?

Liz: There were times when I was sure one couple or another was going to get divorced, but they never did. In part, I think that’s because of the continued stigma of divorce in India, particularly for women who want to initiate it. But I also think each of the couples has stayed together because there’s something about the partnership that works for them.

But I also think each of the couples has stayed together because there’s something about the partnership that works for them.

Soul Cafe: Have the expectations from a marriage drastically changed from the previous Indian generation for men and women? If so are they able to cope with it?

Liz: I think the societal expectations have remained the same — pretty rigid — while women’s aspirations for relationships have changed from their mother’s generation to now. This  disconnect leads to a lot of confusion. There was a recent study that said 4 in 10  people who commit suicide globally are women, and that most of them are married. It attributed this to that disconnect between what society expects of them and what they dream of.

The societal expectations have remained the same — pretty rigid — while women’s aspirations for relationships have changed from their mother’s generation to now.

Soul Cafe: From being a collective choice to being an individual choice – do you see that transition happening in Indian marriages?

Liz: There are certainly more love marriages than there were before. But this is happening more slowly than you might think. And anecdotally I’d say it seems as if there are a lot more hybrid, part-love/part-arranged marriages, than there are marriages where it’s purely an individual choice.

Soul Cafe: Did you feel that the need for personal space is quite low in Indian marriage?

Liz : I think the need for personal space is high but the availability of it is low. There are more couples choosing to live in single family homes instead of join families, but again, this isn’t changing as fast as you’d think. The iconic image of couples at a beach under an umbrella is still around for a reason. In a city like Mumbai, there remains very little privacy for lovers.

I think the need for personal space is high but the availability of it is low.

Soul Cafe: You explored detailed accounts of infidelity, impotency and abuse in marriages. Any take-away/insight on how they managed to cope and continue to stick together?

Liz: I think that whether a marriage is a love marriage or arranged, at some point it becomes an arrangement and a partnership that is difficult to get out of. People will withstand a lot for the constancy of marriage, especially if divorce is still so stigmatized.

Soul Cafe: According to the latest market reports, the two most popular apps in India in terms of revenue on Android are Netflix and Tinder. Does that surprise you? With the technological advancements, do you foresee a change in the relationship equation?

Liz: Certainly technology and global influences are changing relationships. How does a young woman in Trivandrum, let’s say, make sense of the fact that she isn’t supposed to be holding hands out doors with her husband but then they she goes home to watch a show on Netflix about an open relationship or she hears friends talk about experimenting with premarital sex on Tinder? There is a disconnect there that would be confusing for anyone.

Soul Cafe : Soul Café is a platform for the Urban Indian singles that tries to build deeper relationships based on compatibility in life values, personality, interests and deeper conversation that are authentic. Your thoughts?

Liz : Relationships are always about compatibility in some fashion, and I think the elements you mention are good ones.

Soul Cafe: Tell us about your fond memories of Mumbai. 

Liz: Like many people, I love Mumbai most in the rains. They’re inconvenient, they’re dirty, but they’re undeniably romantic and so much fun. It was monsooning the day I went for my job interview at Forbes India back in 2008 (I showed up to the interview completely soaked) and it was monsooning the last time I was in Mumbai in June, while a friend and I watched the new series “Lust Stories” in her apartment and drank fresh mango juice and discussed our own thoughts on love and marriage.

51xKfiC7dDL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_Thanks a lot for your insights Liz. India surely is a nation in transition with traditions, technological advancements and modernity thriving together. We wish you all the best with this book  as well as for all your future endeavors.

Good Luck!!

Love and Marriage in Mumbai, is currently available on Amazon. 

 

 

 Soul Cafe : Building Soulful Relationships

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The “Andamen” Couple: Partners in Love and Work

Running a business with your life partner and pursuing a shared dream might sound like an idyllic dream. It definitely gives you the chance to build something from scratch, to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. But starting up a new venture does come with it’s own perils. Navigating through the rough terrains of starting a new venture together needs immense  mutual trust and a high level of maturity that is  respectful of each other during times of disagreements.

Let’s meet one such copreneurial couple –Siddharth & Satvika Suri . Siddharth is an adrenaline junkie, passionate photographer, ardent squash player and a complete world explorer.   Being a National tennis champion and a classical music singer are few of the many feathers on Satvika’s cap. Leaving  their jobs in the United States they started “Andamen” – weaving Indian stories on highest quality men’s wear.

SoulCafe: Tell us a bit about your “Jab we Met” story. Did you ever think about starting your own venture then?

It started in college – we were class mates, studying economic hons in St. Stephens. We started dating and a few years later we tied the knot. At the time we started dating and then even when we got married, we had no plans of working together – we were both happily working in very different businesses.

SoulCafe:  What inspired you both to leave your corporate jobs in the United States and start your own venture – “Andamen” back in India?

It was during the second year of Siddharth’s MBA  at Wharton Business School that we conceptualized Andamen. This was in August 2014. The idea was to build a modern Indian luxury men’s  brand with a truly Indian soul that fuses our textiles and stories with global fashion. Inherent in this was a strong passion to dismiss the perception that India produces  ‘inferior’ or ‘mass’ or ‘craft’ quality fashion and cannot produce amongst the finest shirts in the world.

The toughest call was deciding whether we wanted to do this immediately or start Andamen after staying a few years more in the States. After many weeks of debates, discussions and arguments we decided that it’s the best that we bite the entrepreneurship bug immediately. We came back to India mid-2015, and our website launched by December 2016.

Soul Cafe: If in a sentence, you had to tell us – what does “Andamen” stand for ?

Just like the islands, Andamen is about venturing beyond the motherland. Exploring. Discovering the world. Yet in it its roots remaining resolutely Indian. It is that eternal duality of current and past, of Indian and Western, of unique and familiar that is in many ways a representation of today’s global contemporary Indian.

Soul Cafe: There is a story behind each Andamen shirt and a humungous attention to details. For instance, “The Gold String” shirt with vintage panels has over 2 lakh embroidered stitches and does take an incredible number of days to make. How do you decide on the stories/themes for your collection? 

Andamen-3.0-indus-147Our passion lies in bringing the beauty of Indian stories, traditions, patterns and techniques closer to the modern Indian man by making it more relevant for him. Like the stones of ancient Varanasi, every shirt in our Heritage Collection has a meaningful story behind it. The design and story telling process starts 9-12 months before the collection launches. Our design lead Amit, Siddharth and I brainstorm over various themes and finally pick out one that we are most excited about. From there we start making a mood board which involves research, talking to people, travel if required.

Soul Cafe: At a superficial level, spouse as business partner sounds like a dream – you work together, play together, and never have to be apart. In reality, what are some of the practical challenges when spouses collaborate on a business venture?

Entrepreneurship is hard. Start-ups, especially so. There are many bad days for every good day. On bad days, we’re in the same cycle together.

We’ve gone through long, tough periods at work together,  so it gets very challenging to lift each other’s spirits and motivate one another. 

It’s also tough to manage egos and taking final calls. Even though we have clear role separations, I head marketing and communication. Sid heads ops and finance, the web team and product – we end up collaborating a lot. During disagreements it’s hard to let go of egos. It’s even harder to not bring fights back home.

Soul Cafe: Do you think it’s important for entrepreneur couples to know how to turn off the business switch and enjoy their personal lives once in a while?

Yes for sure!  We keep taking mini-holidays once a quarter so that we get time to switch off. But trying  to separate work and personal lives when you’re working together as founders in a start-up is, which is like a baby of yours is impossible.

We don’t try to achieve work-life balance. Rather than segregating the two we embrace it and enjoy the fact that we are always available and can brainstorm till wee hours of the night and on weekends.

 For us, personal and professional spaces have become very intertwined. I love that I can just chat with Siddharth on mundane home things like dinners, plumbers, electricians, etc. in office.

Soul Cafe: How do you handle disagreements as business partners and make sure it doesn’t seep into your personal relationship?

We have one rule on arguments:  don’t sleep over them.

It’s usually not easy and it always means giving up egos and finding a middle ground but by and large, this rule has been worth following. At work, we have complimentary skill sets and manage very different areas. We’ve set up rules on hierarchy basis those for ourselves so that when there is conflict, we know how to resolve it. Rather than our professional relation hampering our personal relationship, which is how we’ve most often heard it to be, we’ve actually experienced that our professional relation has enhanced our personal one. We’ve learnt how to resolve personal conflicts in a less emotional and more practical way. 

Soul Cafe: How have your relationship evolved after taking the entrepreneurial journey? What are the perks of working together?

Working together has made us so much more efficient. It’s also increased the respect we have for one another. Because we have different skill sets, we depend so much on each other and that creates a lot  of respect, patience and understanding.

Soul Cafe: Entrepreneurship is an extremely challenging path to choose in itself and when spouses become business partners the personal and professional spaces become very intertwined. What would be your piece of advice to couples who plan to get into business together?

It’s a simple thing – but it’s quite hard to do. Our advice is to always respect each other and have one another’s back – especially in front of your team. Take arguments out of the work place and resolve them fast.

Entrepreneurship is a hard journey – don’t make it harder by carrying on arguments!

Soul Cafe: Tell us about your upcoming collection – the story, the inspiration behind it.

The 2017 Heritage Collection, both for Spring Summer and Autumn Winter is titled  ‘Indus – Call of the Lost Age’. It recalls the legend of the Indus civilization. The tight range of shirts  capture intricate Indus seals, unsolved scriptures, mysterious sculptures and important historic elements like ‘The Great Bath’. All of this is designed in a very modern, minimalistic way so that it appeals to the new and emerging design sensibilities of the young, confident, globe travelling Indian.

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We wish this soulful  couple all the success with their upcoming collection and future growth. They surely makes us believe that  – couples who work together, stay soulful together!

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www.SoulCafe.co.in – A Long Term Soul Relationship starts here.

Pursuing Dreams and Sustaining Love – With Juli and Vivek Cariappa

“Follow your dreams, Chase them, Grab them..” Oh! we have been numbed by these “inspirational quotes” that stares at us a zillion times as we lazily scroll our Instagram / Facebook feeds every day. So for a change let’s talk to a couple, who  actually rolled up their sleeves and moved on to pursue their dream that felt crazy enough to people around them. What kept them moving forward was their  shared dream, the will to work hard, the determination to live a life with conviction and a whole lot of love.

Juli and Vivek Cariappa met as students in Delhi in the 1980s.  In 1986 they left their well paying jobs in Delhi and moved to Heggadadevana Kote, located 60 kilometers from Mysore to become organic farmers.  Their Krac-A-Dawna farm now is spread across 40 acres where they grow over 35 different vegetables – many of which are supplied to luxury wildlife resort Orange County. They also produce grains, spices, cotton, and make their own jams, soaps, clothes and dyes. They also retail organic clothing on UK-based website Just Clean Cotton

SoulCafe spoke to this lovely duo on their shared dream, sustainable relationship and more. 

SoulCafe:  Tell us a bit about how your “organic” journey started? 

Juli & Vivek:   When we began, the word ‘organic’ referred to a term in organic chemistry in most people’s dictionary, there was no appreciation of things natural. 1980`s were the Green revolution days. Pesticides were good, we were told that one could not feed the world without chemicals, and they were good.  We knew what we didn’t want and so we set out to really define what we did. We wanted the freedom to do that. We wanted to be happy, we wanted to be at peace in a world that was full of strife, competition and inequality. We were ready to work hard for our chosen path. We searched for a way of life that would enable us to live with dignity and self respect on our own terms.

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SoulCafe: In 1986. When the two of you started off with 14 acres of land in Halasnur Village as novice farmers, were there self-doubts on how your dream is going to turn out?

Juli & Vivek : When you are living your dream there is no question of self doubt, as your dream becomes your reality. You and the dream/reality grow and develop organically. Doubts and questions become part of self realization. When you are 21 you don’t really know much about doubt, you don’t have enough experience to worry about doubt, especially when you are having a lot of fun!

SoulCafe: How did you ensure that your self-sustaining lifestyle remains economically viable?

Juli & Vivek : Well we had only a certain amount of money so if we wanted to make it work we had to make it viable within the lifestyle we chose. Viability is also about survival and so innovation is driven by necessity. We both had different skills and were open to acquiring more in the quest to make it work. Economic viability is an essential part of sustainability. We worked hard at keeping to a lifestyle that ensured sustainability. You could say that a lot of people we knew were very cynical about our ability to make it off a piece of land, especially coming from our background as city kids, that also made us more determined to make it work.

SoulCafe: How important is it to have a shared dream in a relationship?

Juli & Vivek: Essential! You can’t waste time and energy  justifying all you want to do. But you also have to have the space to discuss, argue. And the humility to some times bow to the other persons ideas and try something out even if you don’t agree. Our modern world is all about personal ego, that often ruins a good friendship and takes over the dream . Can`t let that happen because the dream is bigger than either of you. A shared dream is essential in a relationship that has to sustain and grow. How can one live another’s dream ? Without the dream being common ground how can there be equality in a relationship ?

A shared dream is essential in a relationship that has to sustain and grow. How can one live another’s dream ? Without the dream being common ground how can there be equality in a relationship ?

SoulCafe : “Sustainability” has been your theme in life. How do you keep love sustainable over the years?

Juli & Vivek:  Keep dancing! Sometimes together, sometimes on your own but always keeping the present real. “Here and now” keeps the love real enough to hold on to it. And love is always bigger than two people, it affects all that you create around you. In our case our children, the land, trees, animals, it is dynamic, ever-changing, bigger, way bigger than what the two “we” began as. Keeping the relationship fresh and exhilarating is essential. Have to keep in focus the fact that we both are here because this is where we want to be. Never get in the rut of taking the other for granted!

SoulCafe: Are there other interests that you both pursue?

Juli & Vivek: It’s difficult to explain to a non-farmer this thing of interests! That is a very reductionist term. Life abhors reductionism, our very nature dies when we box all our different aspects. Don’t know how to answer this question. Life is our interest  we pursue it . When you live a life not of your choice then you do need “other “interests to reduce the drudgery and the sense of alienation in your life. If on the other hand you are living your life on your terms , doing what you want, how you want, with whom you want , where you want; then where else would you rather be? Nowhere, than right here! We do have interests other than working on the farm though, Juli plays the flute, we read, write and Vivek finds opportunity anywhere to ride his bike !

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Life is our interest  we pursue it . When you live a life not of your choice then you do need “other “interests to reduce the drudgery and the sense of alienation in your life .

SoulCafe: What were the advantages and challenges with home schooling the kids and raising them close to nature away from the Urban lifestyle?

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Juli & Vivek: Being away from the pressures and the telescopic -judgmental view of urban living, we could teach them about life in a very different way. Experiential teaching, as we worked I think made them very different in some fundamental ways. But you will have to ask them. We spent a lot of time with them and could also become more than parents, more like friends. That was sometimes confusing for them, where to draw the boundaries, but then every life has its challenges. All kids at some point compare themselves with others. To a certain extent we could shape their value systems, keep inessentials out of the picture like caste and religion.  Our two sons are farming and our daughter lives in Bangalore working in a marketing job.

SoulCafe: Do you think as a society we are now more receptive to people pursuing their dreams than we were 30 years ago?

Juli & Vivek: Difficult to say. There are more options probably and self-employment is not so strange nowadays but dreams have to be themselves re-evaluated. There is so much virtual reality today, that people live with every day, that its difficult for people to distinguish between that and a dream to make a life. Things are too much at a touch of a button, and if you don’t have to work hard for it, its easy to lose interest, so easy to take things for granted, to keep working at it is tougher .

SoulCafe: You both are among the few who have tried to make the world adjust to your dreams. What would you tell the youngsters who are dwindling between their dreams, and comforts of a stable lifestyle?

Dignity, self respect, peace and satisfaction do not come from a big bank balance . The young need to look beyond greed, ignorance , fear and guilt.

Juli & Vivek:  You have to get out there and do it. Stability is something your parents might want for you but its not the stuff that makes dreams come true. Unless you live it, fight for it, how will it become yours? Often fighting yourself for the easy way out is the hardest thing. Life is easier materially these days and that is what people value, but its not the stuff of dreams. Life is made of failures that teach you and successes that make you reach higher. It is their world view that the young need to change. Cosmetically being different is neither enabling nor self defining. the change has to be from the inside . There is where today the young fear to look . Dignity, self respect, peace and satisfaction  do not come from a big bank balance.The young need to look beyond greed , ignorance, fear and guilt.

Amen! Thanks a lot Juli and Vivek for this Soulful conversation!

Here is a beautiful video on Juli & Vivek’s  organic life.

f5www.SoulCafe.co.in – A Long Term Soul Relationship starts here.

“Bachelor Girls”- In conversation with filmmaker Shikha Makan

Shikha Makan is a filmmaker and writer. She is also a prominent ad-film maker in India and  is one of the few women directors to have lent her craft to the ‘automobile/bike’ category. Her short experimental film “Linger” was part of the festival circuit in 2011.

SoulCafe caught up with Shikha to talk about her latest feature length documentary “Bachelor Girls” which  raises an important question about freedom of women in urban India, in the wake of housing discrimination faced by single women in Mumbai.

SoulCafeWhat is your inspiration behind making a documentary on this topic?

Shikha: It began with a personal experience that translated into a search for reasons, and led up to unraveling this issue in a film. I am an ad-film director but for me making a film on realities of single women facing housing discrimination felt a very important thing to do. It was not just to raise a voice against it, but also to throw light on our social attitudes that continues to look at women from a ‘gendered’ perspective, even in 21st century urban India. This unveils an important fact, that our society is negating the journeys of women into independence and self-reliance, by such discrimination. With the news of the film traveling across mediums, the issue has sparked a debate, the way it should have and I am glad that we are speaking about it.

SoulCafeWhat were your biggest challenges in making this documentary?

Shikha: Once I started researching for the film, I found so many resonating, stories of women, who came into the city, from various places in pursuit of their careers, and were denied a space to live. So finding stories wasn’t the most difficult part, but convincing them to share on camera was, at times. I understand the reservations of those women who chose not to speak. Real estate professionals and housing society members were skeptical too, and refused mostly.

I strongly feel that Indian society has not evolved at the same pace Indian women have in redefining their identities.

SoulCafe: A recent survey showed that there are now 71 million single women in India which is a 39 % increase over the past decade. Do you think the society as a whole still needs to come in terms with the economic freedom of the modern Indian women?

Shikha: Absolutely yes. I strongly feel that Indian society has not evolved at the same pace Indian women have in redefining their identities. Today people may opt to remain single out of choice, but in case of women it comes with a big price. Even if she is urban, educated and in control of her life, for the society she is not good enough, without a ‘care-taker’.This is a clear paradox, as on one hand we exalt the freedom and empowerment of women, and on the other hand, reject the very empowered women, when she is at our doorstep looking for a roof above her head. I also think there is a complete absence of dialogue in our understanding of traditional vs modern today. We are becoming a modern society but are not willing to look at the challenges in the transition. We just find our comforts in passing judgments and labeling things.

We are becoming a modern society but are not willing to look at the challenges in the transition.

SoulCafe: Isn’t it equally difficult for urban single men to find rented house/apartments?  How do you think it’s different for single women?

Shikha: In the course of my research I did come across many single boys/men speaking of not finding homes. But men never get viewed through a ‘gendered’ prism. No one questions their clothes, call them names, slut shame, or wonder who is their care-taker. For a woman it’s a double whammy, first you are woman, and alone, hence not in line with what society expects of you and if you protest, then you are dismissed as a wreck and a troublemaker. Having said that all kinds of discrimination need to be questioned. My film is a human story, though I have taken a woman’s voice. And it really speaks largely about the way we treat each other in our society.

My film is a human story, though I have taken a woman’s voice. And it really speaks largely about the way we treat each other in our society.

SoulCafe: Nowadays, from watches to washing machines, almost every product has been coming up with “empowerment” ads that feature strong, independent women who make their own decisions and live a life in their own terms. In reality how supportive is the Indian urban ecosystem for the growing number of strong, independent, upward moving single women?

Shikha: That is where the dichotomy lies. Today, in Indian advertising, ‘Women Empowerment’ may be as fashionable as it can be effective. But I want to ask, if we have equal opportunities for women? Are women getting paid equally? Is our system open minded to seeing more women take on assertive and top positions in leading professional industries? Urban women will tell you stories of discrimination at all levels. Along with the information about emancipation and equality, we also need to sensitize people through education, in the way we bring up our children, and very importantly in the way we uphold basic human values. Our Urban ecosystem is in a state of flux and chaos, where consumerism is driving ideas of who we want to be. There are merits in such movements but we also need to introspect and look within. I am not sure if we have a culture that encourages questioning power and authority and finding constructive solutions. At the seat of power, unfortunately Patriarchy continues to rule.

SoulCafe: With recent Bollywood releases like PINK bringing to light social issues pertaining to single women in India, do you think the mainstream movie industry is ready for a change?

Shikha: I think mainstream Indian Cinema time and again has been making films on women’s issues. Though percentage of such films comparatively continues to remain low. The interesting part is that the subjects are becoming more uninhibited, bolder and in the face. I haven’t seen Pink yet, but I certainly hope that it will have some social impact.

I think the first big step towards making a change is to begin ‘talking’ about a problem and ‘accept’ that it exists.

SoulCafe: With “Bachelor Girls” getting released, what is it that you truly hope for?

Shikha: I hope I am able to release the film on an online platform soon, so that more and more people are able to see it. I am also holding a series of private screenings so we can carry the discussions forward. I think the first big step towards making a change is to begin ‘talking’ about a problem and ‘accept’ that it exists. Bachelor Girls is hopefully and positively moving to achieve that.

The film will be screened in Bangalore soon. For updates please check  Bachelor Girls Facebook page.

We wish you the very best with “Bachelor Girls” and hoping to see more such films that bring to light issues which need open discussions.

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Photo credit : Riva Bubber