Tag Archives: True Stories

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.” 


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. “


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! 

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SoulCafe: Building & Celebrating Soulful Relationships.


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? 


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?

Baraka Destinations Jordan 3

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!


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. 


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



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.


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









An Eternal Instagram Love Story

We frown upon the fact that technology is a big spoiler. The concept of love seems to have shifted from an eternal to an ephemeral one. A concept now that presents itself in it’s most fleeting forms of texts, heart emoticons, likes, selfies and a public status of ….feeling loved.

We fantasize about the glorious past probably because we are the “in between” generation that knows how life was prior to smart phones, yet a generation that understands the point of Tinder, Instagram and Snapchat.

To console our digital angst,  let me tell you a story of our digital times – a love story that  starts on Instagram and is kept alive on Instagram and that would definitely inspire you to live fully and love hard.

This is the story of Anjali Pinto and Jacob Johnson. Anjali Pinto and Jacob Johnson first met on Instagram in 2012. Commenting back and forth on each other’s posts, their online friendship blossomed into a crush, and later, a thriving relationship. The couple moved in together after eight months of knowing each other and married in 2015. 

Anjali vowed to do everything in her power to make their lives rich with passion. Jacob vowed to love her for all that she was, all that she was not, and all that she can be. 

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Throughout their  relationship, the astonishment of finding each other inspired them to take photos – a lot of photos mentions Anjali in her blog. Together they dreamt of building a life and family that focused on making art, being kind and treasuring new experiences. But fate had it otherwise. 

Jacob died suddenly on Dec 31, 2016 due to an aortic dissection, an unknown defect in his artery wall. He was 30. Anjali was devastated but decided to share their story and keep his memories alive. She started sharing their pictures each day with heart breaking honest captions – as honest as it could get. When asked why she did so, Anjali says – “So many  people will never get to meet him but through my stories I hope that they feel grateful for their own life, and their opportunity to live fully and love hard.”

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He assured me, I am yours. What does time really mean in relation to a need and willingness to love?
My desire for him, sitting across from me and sharing his breakfast, never changed. I have had to adjust my life to never having that need met.

I have to remind myself often – I never would have been ready to lose him. It seems cruel and unfair that it happened this way, young and with too much left to experience. But in accepting this reality – his true story, and not the one we expected – I can see endless reminders that Jacob had a wonderful life. He lived and died as a goofy, bright sided optimist.



Sympathy and condolences out poured as comments to her posts, but she didn’t want pity.  She wanted to remember how amazing Jacob was.  She mentions – “It’s been important to me to try to paint a picture of the real person that he was. ” 

She just wanted to celebrate him and the love they shared in all its realness.

Recently she hosted an exhibition of Jacob’s photography.  In honor of his talent and generosity, she also established Jacob Johnson Memorial grants to support documentary photography. 


You and I
Have seen most everything
But oh, what the future brings
Well that scares the hell out of me.
Time goes by
With every second passed
The good times
They won’t last
I can assure you that.
Written and sung by Jacob

Anjali’s posts are a proof of how being the real, vulnerable person attracted another real person. How we could deeply connect over love as well as grief.

Technological advancements are not the real “culprit” that’s  making an entire generation feel shallow and disconnected. It’s all about how we want to make use of it. If we opt to put forward our flawless filtered impossible perfect pretentious self – so be it. Superficiality will attract superficiality,  authenticity would attract the authentic. Technology is a tool – it’s entirely  up to us how we choose to use it. Amen!

(Follow Anjali Pinto on  Instagram for more of her posts.  Photos courtesy – Anjali Pinto’s Instagram posts)


SoulCafe: Brewing Soulful Relationships

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.


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 !


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?


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.

Meet the couple who quit their jobs to embark on a transformational journey

Most of us fantasize about quitting our day jobs to listen to our inner calling – to pick our bags, jump on a caravan and head on a spontaneous backpack trip. And here we are – stuck in our cubicle, staring at our laptop screen and wondering what to cook or order for dinner. Let’s be practical – we have mortgages to pay and life ain’t any Imtiaz Ali movie (mostly) :).

People who follow such inner callings are indeed inspiring – and one such couple is  Saurav and Devapriya who published a book called “The Heat and Dust Project: The broke couple’s guide to Bharat” (part of a trilogy). It is a rollicking saga based on the true stories of a couple who quit their jobs, picked up their backpacks, traveled on a shoe string budget of Rs 500 per day  and experienced eccentric encounters over thousands of kilometers.

Saurav is a commentator on energy, security and geopolitics, contributes regularly to World Politics Review and The Diplomat.  His first book – The Upside Down Book of Nuclear Power was published by Harper Collins in 2010  While Devapriya  is the author of two popular novels – The Vague Woman’s Handbook (2011) and The Weight Loss Club (2013).

SoulCafe spoke to this lovely duo on their journey,  the Heat & Dust Project and above all the transformation in their relationship.

SoulCafe“She wanted to write and he wanted to understand India that is Bharat and that was the birth of an idea – The Heat & Dust project.” Was the decision to quit your regular jobs, move out of the comfort zone that one is so used to that easy? What were the most difficult aspects that you had to convince each other?

” A decision such as this, is never easy. There is always the anxiety of having to leave a stable source of income. But it was a mutual decision. One that did not really involve convincing each other. We both knew it was a difficult decision to take, but also knew that it had to be done.”

SoulCafe -Should life be planned or should it be spontaneous? Who is the planner amongst you?

” Let us put it this way, life gives you just enough leeway to plan your own spontaneity. Of course, a larger corpus of savings before we left our jobs would have helped. (laughs).  But neither of us is a classic ‘Type A’ person and we have seen the limits of planning as well. Though during a journey such as this there has to be some semblance of planning, and I (Saurav) was the purveyor of that.”

SoulCafe – Has this extreme budget travel been your Ultimate Relationship Test? Did living in extreme budget constraints bring out the best and worst of each other?

“It certainly has been a major test of sorts. A tight budget naturally reduces the choices that one has in the material world and that leads to either compromise or conflict. I think our book documents instances of both. But when you take away the cushion money offers, it is then that you see the truth about a relationship whether good, bad or ugly.”

But when you take away the cushion money offers, it is then that you see the truth about a relationship whether good, bad or ugly.

SoulCafe – Has this experience changed your outlook to life- individually and collectively? How has this experience changed your relationship? Has it helped you see each other in a new light?

 “It has. We aren’t the same people anymore. We both find it difficult to settle down to the rhythms of city life. This experience has definitely brought us closer. We know that we have each other’s backs and that is fundamental to a relationship. Most importantly, this journey has made us respect each other more than we did before.”

We aren’t the same people anymore. We both find it difficult to settle down to the rhythms of city life.

SoulCafe – How different are your personalities and what are those key aspects that keep you together in difficult times?

“We are both similar at the core. But outwardly, Devapriya is an affable, even charming person. I am more of an introverted person, given to dark moods. But I guess the key aspect that keeps us together through thick and thin, is trust.”

SoulCafe – When you set out to travel, did you experience a plateau phase- in terms of the initial euphoria dying down, and finally coming to terms with reality? How did you support (or tear each other apart) during this phase? 

Oh we kept hitting troughs and crests throughout the journey. The breakneck pace that we inflicted upon ourselves ensured that kind of emotional movement. And we have documented this rather candidly in our book.”

SoulCafe – How important is personal space in your relationship? Was it put to test as you traveled together for so long?

 “I think this journey has actually helped us in that sphere. We can now share the same space while inhabiting our own little worlds without dissonance.”

SoulCafe – It’s fascinating to see backpacker couples on Instagram and read their blogs. How different is fantasy from reality?

I am sure what they put up on the internet is a reflection of reality. But so is whatever else they choose not to put up. Our book is more tuned to the layered experience that backpacking provides.”

SoulCafe – From a regular working couple to living a not so regular life – you have seen life transform. What would be your piece of advice for couples who are pondering over taking an offbeat path to pursue their passion?

Do it together. This journey is best undertaken together. And stick to whatever you have decided, together. There will be phases of intense anxiety, but that too shall pass.”

This journey is best undertaken together. And stick to whatever you have decided, together.

SoulCafe – The heat and dust project is the first book of the trilogy. What’s in store for the readers in the coming series?

The first installment of ‘The Heat and Dust Project’ series is called ‘The Broke Couple’s Guide to Bharat’ which is what you are referring to. The next book in the series is called ‘Man, Woman, Road’ and it chronicles a three month journey from Delhi to Kanyakumari via the length of India in the heat of summer. Believe me, nobody will be disappointed with what we have to share with that one.”

We wish this soulful  couple all the success with their up coming books in the series and also many more adventures in life. To read more on their project check out their website: http://www.theheatanddustproject.com/