Posted by Payal Kapoor, Hyderabad, Telengana
The word “Pandemic”, struck an unknown terror in my heart. Living with elderly parents as their primary caregiver, my disability had never seemed more limiting. Especially with all the concern over going out, touching others, things I as a blind person had to use for support. Tasks that had been so easily accomplished all on my own were becoming a challenge. I was dependent, more than afraid. I needed to think, and fast.
It did not take very long. I have been used to adapting to situations and circumstances all the time; and began to put things in place. Luckily, with a sister living not far away, things were relatively easy. I began to understand online portals to order from, reaching out to associations from better times. Soon, I was ready- hunkered down, waiting for the worst to pass.
Stories of people losing jobs, businesses shutting down, and so many migrant workers rendered homeless, took me back to the time just a year ago, when I lost my job of 12 years. Fear and hopelessness loomed large. Then came along an opportunity to work with a friend. Just as I was settling into that, finding my ropes, it was once again gone. I was dismayed at having to begin yet again.
But then, I have always been the one looking for light at the end of every dark tunnel. Not always patiently or hopefully, but knowing that it is there. Always active in the disability and inclusion space, my appearances in corporate companies with disability sensitisation workshops provided an opportunity to explore. With everything moving from physical to virtual spaces, I was suddenly in the best space I had been in a long time. The community of friends with disabilities has always been my safe space. Many baby steps, and resulting giant leaps have been accomplished with their support.
That is how I got down to work, learning to use various virtual platforms. Some learning; some hair-pulling, and all was well. Opportunities didn’t essentially pour in, but folks around began noticing me at my desk; still there, as always. Partnering with organisations working in the field of disability awareness gave me the much needed visibility, and a semblance of a livelihood. My confidence grew, ideas bloomed.
My next step was to get to schools that had begun online classes, and were looking for different things to think about. My sensitisation workshops with school children were the highlights of my emerging career path. Every conversation was a revelation of how these children were in truth “little sponges”, soaking up every drop of information I shared with them.
Stuck in their homes, many of my friends in the community needed help to work their way around their kitchens. It was here that I found my niche, and new reasons to be grateful for the times we had ended up in. A hospitality professional by education, before I lost my eyesight and partial hearing, I had always loved teaching my friends on all things kitchen related.
Suddenly, I found myself in the midst of hectic activity, conducting webinars to help all who were stuck in their homes, to cook for themselves, and their families. Answering questions from the most basic, to the complex, my excitement grew with every session. From wanting to know how to light their gas stoves, boiling milk, to identifying raw material in their kitchens, the questions kept coming.
Always one who loved the company of friends, and networking within the community of visually impaired persons, I soon became the go-to person, for all things kitchen related. Suddenly, there were more questions than could be answered in one webinar. A casual conversation over all the happenings on the food and kitchen front with Shireen, a good friend sowed the seed for my podcast, Rasoi Ke Rahasya [The Secrets of Kitchen]- the one stop resource to learn everything about accessible and easy cooking.
This is where my life truly began! There was nothing I’d enjoyed more than picking every little aspect that I thought was necessary for a blind person to know. I had thought it would be a series of a few podcasts, and I would be done. Little did I anticipate, this was an entity all on its own; with a life and momentum even I couldn’t stop. What did I do? Went along with the tide. The feedback fuelled my enthusiasm, boosted my creativity, and everything fell into place.
In a matter of weeks, I had an entire series simply on orientation. Everything a new person needed to understand to set up the kitchen, to work with appliances and raw material, it was all there. When accomplished cooks from within the community told me there were things in my podcast that helped them do simple things like cut a fruit, or vegetable right; to know the names of spices and vegetables online, my work felt all worthwhile.
I remember some instances so clearly. Sapna, an accomplished cook herself, wanted to know about the difference between Basil and Tulsi; Coriander and Parsley, and how they could be used interchangeably. The researching and presentation of my findings took me back to my days of studying for an assignment. The collective conversations on a blind-friendly WhatsApp group was invigorating.
Sakina, who was perhaps the most regular with her feedback, left me voice messages after every episode. She once told me, how she had learned cutting a watermelon the right way only after I had explained it on my episode on fruits. To think, she had run her kitchen independently far longer than I had, her feedback, and validation was just so special. That is why, when we heard of her sudden demise, we were all left shocked, and bereft. I miss her voice after every upload, but know she is smiling, and still listening to everything I say.
From nowhere people began joining in the endeavour. My forte was only to research and deliver the content. There was a heated debate over how to archive the material, which at the beginning was simply voice messages shared on the group. Realising the need to keep them for posterity, two young friends – Mayank, and Aparna, decided to begin the archiving process. Self-taught, they split the responsibility between themselves to edit audio, and upload. With catchy titles, and copy, Rasoi Ke Rahasya was soon a YouTube channel, and later a podcast.
To begin the branding process, I needed someone to help with the visual aspects of things. This is where Mounika, a management student, whom I had met during one of my workshops, joined me – voluntarily, and was as excited as I about creating a visual narrative. Drishti, an illustrator and interior designer helped us with the new logo. Rasoi Ke Rahasya now had a social media presence- on Facebook, and Instagram. The visibility grew; the mainstream noticed what was happening. Since then, I have had many opportunities to talk about my work, be written about, and share my journey- all from my desk, where this first began. It seems like an energy field had built around Rasoi ke Rahasya. So much positivity, so much love, and at the crux of it all, an opportunity in the midst of an adversity.
Unfortunately I got infected with COVID-19. While I recovered, I had to break the momentum for a few months. Constant requests for the next season, has brought me to this moment. We are now in the second season, where methods of cooking are going to be spoken of. Another addition to this already beautiful journey, is Rasoi Ke Rahasya’ s very own jingle. Once again three friends, Shireen, Monica, and Madhu, who are blind themselves, put together the lyrics, Shireen composed the music, and Susmit, a professional music composer, helped putting it all together. I’ve not had more fun listening to a jingle.
Way back when I was still coming to terms with my sudden disability, I remember arguing with my mother’s age-old refrain of, “whatever happens, happens for the best”. At that point, nothing seemed good. Now 28 years later, older and wiser, enriched with unique experiences, I do have to agree with my mother’s words.
Today, I have found my new career path, and calling – all in the midst of a very dark time for mankind.
Cover image: PhotographyLife
Story images: Author
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