On December 28, 2014, I posted a picture of the book I was reading on Instagram. I remember the moment well. I was in Kashid, at my sister-in-law and her family’s gorgeous, welcoming home. I had wrangled my way to the hammock, poured myself a glass of wine and was planning on spending the entire afternoon at that spot, reading. The book that had me engrossed at the time was John Masters’ Bugles and A Tiger: My Life in the Gurkhas. As I read through the book, I thought of two friends who would love the book and immediately posted a picture of it and tagged them both. Who would have thought that innocuous post would change my life!
After a few hours, someone commented on my post, “If you like this, you may also want to read Manohar Malgaonkar. Who I believed had a similar style of writing.”
I immediately wrote back, “It’s funny you say that. We have bought his entire list to republish them one by one at Roli Books….”
And thus began a conversation with a stranger who had surprised me with his knowledge of forgotten books and authors.
Was he a writer? A publisher? A historian? I went through his Instagram feed and found out that he was a photographer with an enviable and eclectic array of photographs – from food photography to wildlife and from landscape to wedding photography. It was a balmy afternoon and the rest of the holiday makers in our group were taking a nap. The crisp white wine enabled a calming of the mind, and I googled the photographer and soon found myself at his website. As it happens, I was looking for a photographer for an ambitious project that would require a combination of skills – lifestyle, portrait, architectural and food photography. He seemed to have them all and… he was very easy on the eye!
I shot him an email and heard back within a few hours. We set up a time to meet once I was back in Delhi. He invited me over one evening to his studio as it would be easier to view his work. My job entails commissioning books and projects which means one has to be on the lookout all the time. If I read something that appeals to me and sparks an idea, I try and find a way to contact that person and propose a project. Therefore, it’s quite normal to cold call someone and meet them. This evening was no different. I went thinking at best we’d spend an hour together, make the inevitable small talk to begin with, go through the images and then I would leave with a decision to make whether he was well suited to the project. I was wrong. The evening lasted over two hours, during which an entire bottle of wine was consumed and I viewed his portfolio and we discussed our favourite photographers and photo books. Needless to say, I commissioned him to the do the book.
Over the next three months while we drew up the contract, built the team and charted our travel plans to visit ten former princely families for a royal cookbook, ours was a strictly professional but friendly relationship. The first shoot was in Mumbai and then in a small charming hamlet in the Little Rann of Kutch called Zainabad. It was excruciatingly hot and the author, photographer and I traveled deep into the Rann to capture the essence of the area. We returned to Delhi satisfied with our first shoot and I was so pleased that I had managed to find two supremely talented people for the book. But more importantly, the three of us got along very well and there was an easy camaraderie.
I did find myself thinking about the photographer a little more than I should have, but being well aware of our professional relationship, I dismissed it. As luck would have it, the photographer had the same thought but fortunately he chose not to dismiss them!
And so two years on, after having published a very successful book together (Dining with the Nawabs) and traveled thousands of kilometers together (from the Cholistan desert of Pakistan to the incredible landscape of Andalusia and more recently to the base camp of Mt. Everest), Karam and I are engaged and will be married in December 2017!
A chance encounter on Instagram allowed two strangers (who knew so many people in common, but had never met!) with similar interests, unusual taste in books and a thirst to travel to come together. That’s the thing about social media, it’s not always a bore!