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Memoir: Jigsaw Falling into Place

June 1, 2019
- Siddharth Saravanakumar

I loved painting with my fingers as a 7 year old, playing guitar till I bruised my fingers as a 12 year old, and deveining prawns with my granny for her curry as a 15 year old. The best memories from my childhood? Getting my hands messy.

Most people think of me as this happy-happy dude who knows what he wants to do with his life, started a student-run cafe, and who cooks all the time and experiments with food. It’s partially true, I do know what I want to do with my life, but it comes at a price. There’s a feeling of devastation when I come home- no parent would want to accept that their kid who’s in India’s most prestigious institute wants to throw it all away and cook full-time. The relationship with my parents has become sour and knowing that it will not be the same, at least for a few years, is a hard pill to swallow. But that’s the choice I have made for pursuing my dreams of becoming a chef.

I joined IITR in 2014 as a half-hearted physics undergrad, skeptical if I had taken the right decision. The thought of joining hotel management was still lingering in my mind- cooking was the only thing I ever liked- while physics at IITR seemed the easier route and a reason to smile for my mother. My father, on the other hand, was skeptical regarding Integrated M.Sc. Physics, as a non-B.Tech course at an IIT was an ordeal for him. The ‘ideal’ son that I was at the time, I promised dad that I’d work hard and branch change to a course that was better on paper. I write these lines laughing at my plight, wishing I could tell my younger self that cooking is what I’d continue to pursue in the final years of my college life.

There will come a time of confusion, anger, a constant feeling of being lost, and maybe depression in your tenure at Roorkee. Most of the times that phase will be in your second or third year, the years you have to make the important decisions of your life. It’s tough, it really is. What’s important is to make conscious choices that are unaffected by the path often taken and never look back. That’s the hard part-not looking back-because it’s so easy to point at the mistakes we made in hindsight and feel frustrated about it. Start making peace with your past, it’ll help in the long run.

The first few years of university have been harsh,but the final year of my Insti life has been rewarding. I stopped comparing myself to others, realized that cooking is my path in life, and did nothing but experiment in my cafe throughout my final semester. I loved every single moment of cooking in college, and it made all the previous bitter years of college worth it. No one came and handed me this happiness, no one gave it on a silver platter. I worked hard for it, visited the main building every other day, made the administration believe in my vision and as to why they must invest in this idea, and made sure they act on my idea. Trust me, it’s tough to justify spending the Institute’s money on a hobby like cooking. They did not understand it at the time, some of them still don’t, but those who do are happy when they visit my cafe for trying out the food. It feels great, it truly does.

The choice of becoming a chef, I must admit, was a product of the frustration I felt as a physics undergrad at IITR. I always thought I’d work a normal job till I’m 40 and then start a cafe of my own in Pondicherry. But college academics, particularly physics, frustrated me so much that all I could think about was doing something I love in the remaining years I had left in college, something that made me feel free and creative. I perceived cooking as an escape, but now I knew it had to be pursued more seriously. I’m really happy that I did.

I sometimes wonder if I were in a less intensive branch, would I have followed the herd and gotten a job like everybody else. If I would have ever come up with an idea of a student-run cafe in India and started Culinary Club, IIT Roorkee. I really don’t know, but in retrospect, I’m happy I chose Physics. It made me do the things I love, it made me cook. Culinary Club has been my surviving grace- the reason I was sane in the final year of my Insti life- and something that makes me really happy. That, and food shows on Netflix- Chef’s Table, Mind of a chef, Shokugeki no Soma, Eat street, The final table, Raja Rasoi aur anya kahaniya. Yes, you read the last one right.

Brilliant show.