Almost every Marathi household consults the Kalnirnay calendar before making a crucial decision. Whether it is a puja, buying property or planning a new investment, Kalnirnay is an important part of our lives. I grew up hearing statements like, “Is there a holiday tomorrow? Check Kalnirnay and tell me.” I have witnessed mad scrambles for this calendar at Girgaon and Prathna Samaj where I lived before my marriage.
Over the years, Kalnirnay has become a permanent family member in our homes. Just like an elder who is consulted before any important decision.
Noted journalist and author, SHAKTI SALGAOKAR-YEZDANI joined her family business, a year ago. She calls herself a student at Kalnirnay; rightly so because the legacy of the calendar is so rich, it can get overwhelming to understand the nuances. Read on to know more about this prolific writer who is taking her family legacy forward with furore.
SALGAOKAR…naam toh hum sabne suna hai…
(laughs) All through my life, when people heard my surname they’d ask me about Kalnirnay. I must confess that I fought very hard to create my own identity. And when someone introduced me as the girl from Kalnirnay family in a professional environment, I would be a little furious.
The legacy of my family and the legacy of the brand has given me a lot! So to work for the brand was an honour from where I saw it. Although it was never a career plan, it seemed like the most natural thing to do.
And several times when asked why I was working outside when I could join the family business, I’d vehemently defend my choice to chase my own identity.
My mom and dad were very supportive of this journey for both my sister and me.
Tell me something about your childhood. What were the building blocks that led you to become the person that you are today?
I was the eldest grandchild for both my grandparents, so I was really lucky to have spent a lot of time with them during my early years. We lived together, so there were a lot of checks and balances. If Papa (my grandfather) spoilt us silly, Baba (my dad) would make sure we had a healthy dose of reality. If Manuaai (my grandmother) would feed us all the goodies we wanted, my mother was making sure we ate our vegetables first. As we grew up, my sister and I, we rebelled against my parents, but our grandparents assumed the role of a friend and made us see and understand our parents’ perspective. So there was a great balance that made sure we had a rich, culturally textured childhood, but it also made us aware of the larger picture.
Both my father and grandfather had some of the most prolific writers, thinkers and leaders they called friends.
Dignitaries like P.L. Deshpande, Bhimsen Joshi, Babasaheb Purandare, to name a few, would often visit our home, and we would participate in conversations with them. I think that’s the real education that my family gave us.
During these conversations, we were never treated like kids. We were treated as equals, and our silliest questions were answered with love and respect. Looking back at those times, I feel extremely grateful.
My grandmothers — Nimmai and Manuaai truly shaped my thinking. They candidly shared stories from their lives with me and strengthened my belief in myself. They made me believe that I could be whatever I wanted to be because I am a woman and not in spite of being a woman. That makes a huge difference. It is thanks to them that I grew up completely unaware of any limitations that the society casts upon women. My fondest memories are sitting by my grandfather and chatting or hearing stories in my grandma’s kitchen as she cooked.
Who I am today is the sum total of my parents’ and grandparents’ thoughts, values, aspirations and dreams.
Is there an incident that took place in your childhood/growing years that was a turning point in your life?
When I was a child, I used to make up stories. And I believed them to be true. I would go around talking to myself, and this was very worrying for my mother. Once, when P.L. Deshpande and Sunitabai had come over for tea and kande pohe, my grandfather told them about this. I was really young, and I remember feeling a little embarrassed. Sunitabai laughed and said that she used to do the same thing and that it is a sign of a creative mind. I know she said it to lay my mother’s worries to rest, but that moment was extremely liberating. It made me make sense out of this habit and I think on a sub-conscious level, that is when I decided to become a writer.
What made you choose this field as a career? When did you decide you wanted to make your passion your profession?
We seldom choose things. We decide and aim for things but people around us, opportunities that we get and what we make of them really makes the choice for us. The written word chose me. During my BMM course, I wanted an internship and I got one Bombay Times thanks to Smita Deshmukh who was then the City Editor. BT was my favourite newspaper (it was a newspaper and not an advertorial supplement back then). The Times of India, at that time was a great university for a young journalist.There were a lot of new things happening and a young enthu cutlet like me could find something to do every day! While I was writing stories for BT, someone sent me to Shashi Baliga, who was the editor of Filmfare and was working on The Times Food Guide. BEST.JOB.EVER!
It was also a lesson in humility. All the big names in the industry like Ayaz Memon, Shashi Baliga were so approachable even to a piddly little intern like me. They would totally tell me off, but they also sent me off with feedback to get better.
Until I worked at the Times of India, I knew I wanted to write, but I decided to become a journalist in those 2 months spent at the Times there.
After my graduation and post-graduation, I joined the newspaper, Yuva. That’s when my grandfather asked me why I wasn’t joining the family business instead. Until that point, I had never thought about working at Kalnirnay as an option.
My father intervened and said, “She must work independently and suffer a few tough challenges. If she joins the family business, she will always be the Boss’s daughter. And she will not grow. Let her go out into the world and make a few mistakes.”
And that was that. Ten years after that, my father asked me if I wanted to work with him. Though I hadn’t ever thought of it, I was honoured by the question. And I decided to say yes because I felt somewhat confident about bringing some value to the organisation that has given us so much.
These days, joining the family business is a rare phenomenon. Share your experience…
There is so much that is expected from you, at the same time it can be daunting because suddenly my father who is also a dear friend to me and my sister, is now my boss. There are certain expectations because everyone sees you as a daughter and grand-daughter. But one has to create their own identity and earn their place in the organisation. But what helps me even today is the fact that my father aids me in finding my individual voice. He encourages me to be independent but knowing that he’ll help me if I falter, gives me great confidence.
Just like anyone else, there must have been ups and downs in your life, what were they? How did you overcome them?
Of course! But I run the risk of writing a novel if I list out all of them. But two of the startups I worked for were eventually shut down. Even though I had moved on from them, it was a deep personal loss for me. One was a newspaper called Yuva and the other was CampusJunkie. Both were projects aimed at the youth. And both were way ahead of their time. It was hard to deal with their closure.
I think when you’re low, channelling your energy into a creative project is the best way to heal and get back to normal. It’s easier said than done, but you have to constantly work at it.
The most trying times though were when I was trying to get my first novel published. Those rejection letters would be daggers into my soul (sorry the filmi keeda always creeps in). It made me question my ability, I wondered if I had any talent at all. One fine day, my grandmom asked me what was wrong. When I told her, she said nonchalantly,
“A rejection letter is not a death certificate. Get up and write more. Now, taste this paapletchi aamti (fish curry) and tell me if it tastes good. ‘Cos, if it is tasteless, then that would be a real tragedy.”
Yeah, my grandmom was epic. I am yet to meet a woman as strong or as frank as her. That incident taught me one lesson. If you have your family with you, even the worse of times can be a breeze. And two, paapletchi aamti must always be well-seasoned. *wink wink*
How different are you in your professional life from your personal life? Tell me something about your role as a daughter, sister, mother and friend.
Well, I don’t know, you will have to ask my colleagues and friends. But I think I am more or less the same. I feel that work should always be fun. My only question to my team every day is: are you having fun? We spend a large chunk of time at work. If we aren’t having fun, learning new things about ourselves and our work, then is it really worth it? My team’s motto is to have fun while doing the most mundane of tasks. It brings a joy to us and it reflects in our product.
We are a close-knit family. So my mom, dad and my sister are my anchors. I am lucky that my husband and my family on his side are equally warm and tight-knit as well. My role as a daughter, wife or sister is a matter for these guys to comment on. But I am a very good mom to Bono (my dog) & the cats. They might not agree but I know I am an awesome mom!
Who is your role model? What qualities of your role model did you apply in your real life?
Nora Ephron. I want to have the ability to take everything around and turn it into a copy. She was strong, she was witty and she was successful. But what I love about Nora is that her success was in breaking away from the mould and creating real stories that real people could relate to. And while she had a successful career, she was a committed wife and a mother. In fact, she made me realise that we must not idolise just one person. People have flaws. And something that works for someone, maybe a disaster to us. So I find inspiration in every person I meet.
Whom do you turn to in times of adversities? Has it helped? How?
I want to say God, but I think the poor fellow has enough people turning to him. For me, it is my husband. Firstly, he makes me see humour in everything and makes me laugh. And secondly, he has the ability to weed out all emotions and look at any situation and find a practical solution. I don’t always listen to him and boy! have I regretted it when I don’t. But he is the first person I run to.
– As told to Mayura Amarkant
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This is the 17th interview in the #StayInspired series. Here are the rest:
- #StayInspired – 1: Dreams keep people alive
- #StayInspired: Marriage is a warm & intimate cocoon
- #StayInspired: Born today, 4 Inspiring people
- #StayInspired: When I was 13, my grandma wanted to marry me off
- #StayInspired: God rejected my death
- #StayInspired: Meet the Dhoni of Indian Corp Comm & PR
- #StayInspired: He is the original TaxiMan of India.
- #StayInspired: The ‘Vamana’ of Alternative Medicine
- #StayInspired: Making Indian education ‘student-friendly’: Meet the new-age Lord Macaulay
- #StayInspired: Ram Kamal Mukherjee – Beyond Bollywood and Biographies.
- #StayInspired: “Story-telling is my life breath” Karaan Guliani director, Sarvann