A sense of belonging means feeling at home somewhere. It is a sense everyone either directly or indirectly strives for, an inherent human need. Sometimes a place does this for us, sometimes a person. And for a few lucky ones, they discover what they truly love to do which instantly brings them energy and helps them vibrate at a higher level every single day. Steve Jobs said, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” It does take courage. I speak from experience.
I share here my journey of discovering my calling at a fairly later stage of my life. If I were to pull out any picture from my growing-up years, it would reflect laughter, smiles, and one more very important element – food. Like most families, our way of expressing love was through food. My friends from school would often drop by just to have paapdi chaat or chicken 65 made by my mum. She is an incredible cook and made the most amazing cakes for our birthdays. I wonder now how she could have done it with hardly any equipment at all. No piping tips, no impressive array of cake pans, and yet year after year she churned out mind-boggling cakes. One year would be a ship, another year a guitar, and then a pineapple. She outdid herself each year. My only interest at the time was in tasting the batter and obviously the cake once it was ready.
I am very fortunate to be born and raised in a happy, loving household where I was encouraged from a young age to get out there and push myself. It was my mother who encouraged me to sign up for a Rotary International Exchange Program while I was still in high school. It was thanks to her that I had the most enriching year of my life at the age of 17, getting to live in another country and experiencing their life as they lead it. It was my first trip abroad and that too by myself. The hardest and yet most exhilarating year of my life. I interacted with other students from over 20 countries who were there to spend a year enriching their lives, just like me. It was an incredible experience! A year that taught me that anything is possible if one sets their mind to it. A year that drilled into my DNA the fact that the only thing holding us back is our self-belief. I came back a highly motivated and changed person, thoroughly confident in my abilities.
During summer vacations at college, I would apply for internships. I wanted to experience new things and take on new challenges, unafraid. I wanted to be a travel journalist and explore the world. But something happened along the way. During one of the internships, I fell in love with the glamour and excitement of a corporate job. So when I was done with college and had to fly to Chennai to give an exam to study abroad, I instead went for a job interview and got my first job!! I was ecstatic. My parents were highly disappointed with my choice but as always, they backed me 100%. Within a year, I changed my mind. I now believed that I wasn’t cut out for a sales job and decided HR was my calling. I enrolled myself in a course while I continued to do my job. And I landed a job in HR which paid me less than my previous job and started me absolutely at the lowest level possible. It didn’t matter – it was my dream coming true, I thought at the time.
After more than a decade of working in various cities and firms which took me across countries, I decided to take a break when I got married and my husband got posted to London. The corporate world was exciting, it had a vibe to it. A buzz and nonstop action. I made friends who continue to remain my closest confidants till date. What was there not to love. Of course, like in life, there were some good days and some days one couldn’t wait to get over it with. And yet, the idea of a break excited me. What a change it turned out to be though! A new country where I barely knew a soul, barring a few friends of my husband. The phone wasn’t ringing incessantly anymore. No flurry of emails to attend to. No long ‘To-Do’ list to make at the beginning of each day. I was lost. I certainly was depressed for a while. The grey skies of London didn’t help much to brighten my mood. Instead, I was now figuring out how to run a house and cook – for the very first time in my life. To add to my woes, I had two miscarriages in the time we lived there. Not the best of times to say the least. In a year we moved countries again and then began what I consider the most meaningful phase of my life – motherhood.
THE TURNING POINT
It had been 3 years since I quit my corporate job and I didn’t miss it one bit. To be honest, I couldn’t imagine ever going back to it. The only thing I did miss was catching up with colleagues who were more like friends. And of course the independent source of income!
When my son’s first birthday was coming up, I decided to bake his cake. I told this to my mum and as always, she simply said – go for it. This was me – who had never entered the kitchen even to make a cup of tea prior to moving to London!!
The thought of baking Viraj’s cake kept growing in my head. It would occupy my thoughts as I changed diapers, as I took him out in his stroller and as I got him to bed. I eventually picked up the phone and called a couple of places to find out about baking courses. I did a basic course and then began the process of experimenting on my own to get the right flavor and texture. Endless cakes were baked. Some were outstanding and some went straight to the bin. And the more I baked, the more pleasure it gave me. I went back to do a course in decorating cakes. It opened up a world that I fell completely in love with. At my son’s first birthday I baked a whopping 3 kg cake with a jungle theme! The little kid had no clue but thanks to him his mom was on a new journey and completely smitten.
Viraj is going to be 13 this year. In this 12-year journey of baking cakes, there have been innumerable highs and lows, both relating to baking and otherwise. We added to our brood. We moved countries yet again. Baking has stayed a constant through it all. I am blessed to have a spouse who has egged me on, encouraging me to get out there and do better than before. There have been days when he has told me the night before a cake is due that it’s not good enough and I’ve baked through the night all over again. My father, when he was still alive, was one of my biggest cheerleaders. My mother and in-laws applaud each order even now like it’s the first cake I’ve baked.
Just like our mind is a blank canvas every morning, to me, the cake is like a blank canvas. It is a way to tell a story. Sometimes it’s defined by the client and sometimes the client gives you the freedom to express yourself. For me, this is therapeutic. No two cakes are ever alike and it is a constant learning curve.
My baking journey started as it does for most home bakers – baking for friends and family. Then it grew by word of mouth. I cannot tell you the number of nights I’ve stayed up trying to finish up the order after getting 2 babies to bed. When we moved back to India, it took a while for me to settle down and find my feet. The itch to get back to baking was intense. How thrilled I was when I bought a brand-new oven to kick start my journey again! And what a journey it has been. To start from scratch isn’t easy. A new place. A new environment. Where does one begin? How does one even begin to find suppliers? How does one spread the word? It has been hard. I simply put my head down and took a step at a time.
CHANGES AND GROWTH
As I tuned into myself, the inner voice grew louder with time. I discovered new interests and passions. I noticed that I became fearless in making choices. I have discovered a love for running, a love for the mountains, a love for gardening, and taken up a Vipassana course. In the past few years, I have managed to run a few half marathons, done the Chadar trek and gone on the Kang Yatse 2 expedition. Running has taught me invaluable lessons which can be applied to all facets of life. The importance of discipline, the ability to adhere to a plan, to know when one can push oneself and to know when it’s too much, to be able to strike a balance and ease back when the body needs a break. I honestly feel blessed. It is a journey to continue to listen to the powerful voice within. It has been a conscious decision to continue as a home baker. It gives me the chance to balance time between my home and my work. It is a pace chosen by me as I continue to expand my repertoire of skills relating to baking.
Just like one goes through the up-gradation of skills at work, it is essential to constantly upgrade oneself in whatever line one chooses. As of today, I am pursuing 2 courses towards a vision I see for my company. When one pursues what they love, the learning never stops. I hit reset every single morning and I know I am on the right path because just the thought of what I do fills me with energy. The passion only grows. You get up rearing to go every single day. I have a very long way to go but in the words of George Eliot, “It is never too late to be what you might have been”
I share this story as an example of how one can make a shift at practically any stage of their life. I truly believe we women are blessed with incredible intuition. We only need to tune in and listen. Listen to that splendid voice that is sweeter than a cuckoo bird’s call and stronger than steel and louder than the most powerful voice that attempts to drown yours.
There will be enough and more naysayers. People will tell you to let a hobby stay a hobby. But be willing to start from scratch. And of course, just wanting to do something won’t pay the bills. You will need to put a plan in place. Take help where it’s needed. Get a tribe together and surround yourself with like-minded, positive folks who will feed your passion.
At the end of the day, nobody defines us better than we ourselves. It is possible to rewrite our story. And only you can write it in the most splendid manner possible.
This has been authored by Namrata Kohli To describe Namrata in a nutshell, she is energetic, bubbly, and vivacious. A part-time explorer, a full-time mum and a very passionate baker. A largely self-taught baker, Namrata left her full-time corporate career to pursue her passion. Her journey began 12 years back in Singapore and since then she has constantly innovated herself and the products she bakes. Simply Scrumptious is bespoke, on order cake and dessert studio founded by her in Gurgaon. Along the way, she has pursued her multiple interests and dug deeper within to find things that spark her. Marathons, trekking, and Vipassana happened as a result of that self explorative journey.