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In the second article in the Working Title series, we get NLS graduate Shruti Viswanathan to tell us about life as a food reviewer, the pros and cons of having a healthy appetite and the advantages of living a dream in a “36 inch black and white column”.
By Shruti Viswanathan
I have been a foodie for as long as I can remember. And to a large extent, I think Enid Blyton is to blame. My early literary diet consisted of The Five Find Outers, Malory Towers, Secret Seven and the like. While I loved the books, what really got me hooked was the fabulous English tea that peppered all her books. These books gave me my first glimpse of a non-rasam-and-curd rice-world. I dreamed of buttery scones, clotted cream, puddings and other wondrous and exotic sounding delights. And in my mind food became indelibly associated with mystery, adventure and excitement. The great bit is, it’s still true.
It’s been nearly two and a half years since a lazy law school schedule and incessant eating out prompted me to start my own food and travel blog. From the moment I started the blog, I became obsessed with it. Bullying friends into viewing it, pimping it endlessly and pouring over each new viewer, each page click.
I graduated from the National Law School of India in August 2010 and took up a job in Chennai. I was apprehensive that the change from student to an employed professional would sound the death knell for the blog. Thankfully, those fears were unfounded. Not only did I continue to explore new places and write reviews, I also found a whole new audience to pimp the blog to. Yes, work does mess up the reviewing schedule at times but it is manageable and helps pay the bills.
People who know me only through my writing are always surprised to find out that I am a lawyer. They seem to think the two paths are at odds. Not in my mind. I don’t think the writing would have happened without law school. While law school taught me many, many things, I think the biggest lesson of all was the importance of thinking for myself. It’s important to figure what works for you and if it isn’t the law, then its OK to make that decision. There are always smart, practical ways to pursue something you love and there is no reason to not give it a shot.
While I have always loved food and been an adventurous eater, blogging has meant that I spend way more time reading about food and researching on the places I want to review. I often end up ordering disastrous things in the spirit of experimentation: buckwheat noodles that were ice cold, spicy and tasteless, suspicious looking seaweed, tough and nearly inedible squid – all in one meal. Whether it has meant braving the cold and rain or waiting in massive queues, I have loved it all (even that noodle-seaweed-squid disaster). A simple email appreciating the blog brightens even dreary Monday mornings.
And as they say success follows passion, and incessant emailing. The Hindu commissioned me for a few articles and it was pretty incredible. Nothing beats the feeling of doing something you love and being recognized for it. Living the dream, even in a 36 inch black and white column, is indescribable.
Trying to get an article published in a magazine/ newspaper requires immense amounts of patience, perseverance and self-belief. Editors will rarely reply and even when they do, actually getting something published will take a long time. Don’t count on stories like Petit Anglais and Julie&Julia. Yes, they happen to some people but for most of us it’s a long, uphill climb and you must truly love what you are doing. Having said that, if you are motivated and committed it is an achievable dream. The Indian lifestyle market is only now coming into its own and there are plenty of opportunities opening up. This is, possibly, the best time to try to break out as a food and travel author.
Apart from giving me a platform to share my gastronomical and travel adventures, blogging has also helped me make some fabulous friends, been a great conversation starter and even served as the topic for one of my college application essays.
I was also asked to write about the cons of being a foodie and there are two rather important ones: a burgeoning waistline and a razor thin wallet. Somehow, I always imagined it would be the other way around. I, however, have made my peace with it and it’s a price I willingly pay.
What I hope you take away from these paragraphs is the value of pursuing something you love and are passionate about. You may not be able to make money off of it (unfortunately I don’t), but you should still make space for it in your life. It needn’t always be a grand, life-changing gesture, it could be something as simple as starting a blog.
I don’t know if I will ever succeed in becoming a published food and travel writer, but I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter. All I really need is the dream.
Thank You, Ms. Blyton.
(Shruti Viswanathan, a 2010 NLS graduate, is a lawyer and freelance food and travel writer. She works with a financial inclusion organization in Chennai. She runs an extremely successful food and travel blog and has freelanced for a number of newspapers and magazines in India.)