Once upon a time, somewhere in the streets of Bengaluru, storyteller and educator Asambhava Shubha met the love of her life, engineer and photographer Nishant Kumar Gupta, and they together launched a passion project called ‘Zaikaana’.
They meet people from diverse backgrounds and document their stories while keeping food at the centre of their conversations.
“The name ‘Zaikaana’ comes from the word zaika which means flavour. We chose this name because from the very beginning, we knew that the stories we wanted to share were going to be weaved around conversations, food and travel,” Shubha told LiveWire.
One fine day, while she was visiting one of the cafes with her partner, whom she had met a month before, a thought struck. “Stories of people are so interesting but not all of them get the light they deserve, so how do we bring them to the limelight?” said Shubha.
That’s when they decided to launch project Zaikaana.
Shubha says that because she is a food lover, the couple decided to keep a food angle to the project. “Somehow it felt like anyone who’d have an interesting food story is bound to have a very interesting life story. So, the idea was to bring these stories into the spotlight and have those features feel like the heroes and heroines of their own story,” she added.
Zaikaana launched in May, 2019. It is a strong team of three – Asambhava, co-founder Nishant and the editor, Ajay Chukka.
Inclusivity and sustainability
She elaborates on the two main aspects they wanted to cover through their project. First, she says, they wish to include factors like sustainability, diversity and inclusivity in the stories they cover.
“For one, we reached out to a drag artist, Maya, who had been on the cover of Vogue.”
Secondly, she added, they aim to create a platform where these people and their stories can meet and connect. For this, they hosted an offline event last year called ‘Tagey’ – an Urdu word for thread. On this platform, she says, they bring together all the featured artists so far – musicians, spoken word performers and so on. They also kept some favourite dishes of those featured artists, she added, and each dish had a unique story to it.
This year, due to COVID-19, they hosted the event online.
According to Shubha, they paid special attention to sustainability and inclusivity factors yet what matters the most to them is people. “We want to cover people and we want to show through our platform that a passion does not have an age or a gender,” she said.
Shubha also mentioned that so far they have successfully covered 20 feature stories. One of them was that of a Navy veteran, Viswa Prakash Chandrasekharan, who is now spreading awareness on Hydroponics farming – a method of cultivating plants, usually crops, using mineral nutrients solutions, instead of soil.
“I met Commander Prakash aka ‘CV’ through an acquaintance and asked if we could do an episode with you. He agreed and we went to his greenhouse to cover the story in a semi-documentary style,” said Shubha.
They have also covered the story of a 44-year-old ‘boss lady’ who owns a food truck. “She has had 19+ jobs in her career, is a single parent and loves to drive. She has now authored a book and is a part of a political party too.”
Around the same time, they spoke with a 63- year old retired documentary filmmaker, Suresh Chaudhary, who, at that time, was a part of the Uttar Pradesh government and now takes classes in some government schools.
According to Shubha, they have two main projects lined up for the upcoming month. Under one of them, she says, they would be covering an owner of an ad agency, RT, who launched a platform called ‘My La Pure’ to empower all the female home chefs whose husbands lost their jobs during the pandemic. “Here, these home chefs would run the restaurant and would tell people about their dishes and if they like, they can buy it from them,” she said.
In the future, she says, apart from covering more such diverse stories, they also wish to convert this passion project into a full-time occupation.
“But how are we going to do that?” she said, “One, we want to keep a space for the stories to be alive and second, we wish to encourage all those people who are interested in writing or have a knack of storytelling and have them on board as a part of the extended team, perhaps.”
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Prachi Batra is an intern at LiveWire. She loves watching sunsets and writing stories while sipping light coffee.
All images provided by Asambhava Shubha.