Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
TIME OUT : May 2, 1999
I'm a newsperson on Time Out. I'm taking a break from the breaking stories here in Mumbai. This piece is not about extortion killings, vandalisation of sports or the recession of pollution. Not even the stock themes of street walkers and street kids. This story is upbeat. It is about women who make their pastimes pay.
Women who have opted out of the urban-professional scramble by staying home, have their stresses too. Life gets circumscribed and stuck to small spaces. People all around are too busy. Most middle class women yearn to take a break from domesticity. Those from the upper class look for something more satisfying than the coffee mornings and socialite evenings. Hence the hobby culture. Every other woman seems to be putting a pet idea to work from home. Good for a personal high and some green at the end of the day.
Designing is the all time favourite. From paper to gold, anything can be styled to suit the fad or need. Mumbaikars trip on clothes. There is a boutique at every stumble on Mumbai's broken pavements. Most of them with a woman at the helm. Ask Sudha Raghavan, whose hobby is designing clothes. "Bombay is a stiff market. There are many people doing good, innovative work, offering good prices," she says. Yet her exhibitions, both at Mumbai and Chennai received a good response.
Right from school, Sudha has loved to design her clothes, rather than buy them off the shelf. The result was well appreciated. After graduation she did a brief course in design. Working with a tailor and embroidery workers, she began to hold exhibitions of salwar kameezes, under the label "Special Effects". Sudha is simply your girl next door, whose clothes are distinctive. Her own clothes are her best advertisement. Raising a family, she works from home, when she has time to spare. She watches people's clothes and reads fashion and trade magazines to keep abreast of the latest in fabrics, colours and styles.
Catering is big business in Mumbai. Many women make good money preparing and packing lunches, sweets, snacks, diet meals, pickles, batter, masalas and such quick fixes in a city where home cooking is kept to the minimum. As for chocolates, it is virtually a cottage industry. There must be a few hundred women making confectionary to order from home. Much of this is done as a hobby. But some are really professional, with Cordon Bleu or Swiss School certificates. "Chocolates are replacing the mithai market," says Shilpa Bhambri, of Cake Line. This catering graduate's hobby was cooking, and then baking. She was in a marketing job, but gave it up. She started Cake Line five years ago and has a vast repertoire and bakes to order from home. But more interesting is her two year old venture of Gourmet Gifts. Now you can say it with chocolates. If you want to greet someone sweetly, Shilpa will bake a cookie card/letter iced with your wish, pack it in an oversized envelope and deliver it at their doorstep. If you want to announce or congratulate a baby's birth, you could order a "It's a boy/girl" hamper.
If good ideas can be copied, the fine touch cannot. Unaiza Punjabi makes cards, coordinated accessories for the home and packs trousseaus. Now who would buy homemade cards when you have hard selling giants like Archies or Hallmark around? People would, from Unaiza. For one thing, she customises the card. It is your personal message or just a feeling, that she finds the right words and visuals for. Secondly, her work is professional. She uses chord, felt, buttons, pearls, silk or just anything at all. Her script is like print, except that it is more spontaneous than the fonts in style books. After one exhibition she had 250 orders. As she crafts each card herself, her eyes nearly popped out for strain. Now she has two people to do the basic cutting, but the finish is hers.
If these hobbies strike you as typically feminine, here are some that are not: Shehnaz Sura designs car seats and accessories, Cerena D'Souza makes wines, Namita Karnik screen prints T shirts, Erika Cunha makes creativity kits for children.
Erika Cunha has two things going for her. She has enormous patience with children and comes up with a flurry of ideas to keep them thinking. She runs science and art workshops for young children at her Malabar Hill home. Thrice a week, the little ones come in and do things parents would never let them do at home: mess around with paints, gum and paper. They handle a worksheet, which is like solving an educative puzzle and also try their hand at painting, printing or craft. "I have been holding workshops ever since," says Erika.
As an offshoot began the creative kits. The volcano kit lets the child build a clay volcano, and on adding the given liquids, watch "lava" frothing out. In a safari kit, children fix together animal cut-outs and paint them. Simpler kits involve making necklaces, matching earrings and key chains. "The kits are aimed at enhancing creativity and eye-hand coordination and motor control," says Erika. The prices range from Rs. 60 to Rs. 400. And that is pretty reasonable, as her dyes, punches, printing and packing are of a high standard.
Half the literate population claims reading as a hobby. But one book lover, Maya Lalchandani, turned her pastime into a unique enterprise. She runs a "Dial-a-book" service. You can call Maya and place an order for the book you want. She checks availability and calls you back. When the order is confirmed, she delivers the book at your doorstep. If you live in Bombay, there is no delivery charge. For an order over Rs. 300, she offers a 10% discount. Maya also has a website (www.mumbaimart.com/maya), where you can order online. An associate of Amazon.com, she can source any book from them without your having to worry about forex hassles. She eventually plans to open a bookstore, "with old worldly charm, where one can browse and unwind at leisure, and there is no hurry to leave."
There are many reasons as to why these hobby ventures are successful. The basic one being the fact that, in Mumbai people earn hard and spend hard. They also look for the personalised, in an attempt to gain identity in the milling crowd. But all this does not take away the creativity and enterprise of the Mumbai woman.
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