His salt-and-pepper hair is tied in a ponytail. Faded jeans and a seemingly laid-back attitude make him seem like the quintessential “biker dude”, but his articulate manner tells a different story. Put him in a three-piece suit, and he would likely be equally at ease sipping wine in a five-star bar.
Thirty-six-year-old Alok Mehta has perfected the art of balancing the two passions in his life—his job and his hobby.
Mehta fell in love with bikes at the age of 13 when he first learnt to ride one. It was, however, his degree in mechanical engineering which taught him the rudiments of taking apart and putting together a machine. “It’s an incredible feeling to make a bike from scratch, because you know another product like it doesn’t exist,” says Mehta, who is currently posted in England.
Post-college, most people move away from their interests because they are unable to find the time or the money to convert a hobby into a full-time vocation. To balance a passion as a side activity with a job, Mehta and the other professionals who have made second careers out of hobbies know that the key is to ensure the hobby pays for itself.
RIDING THE DUAL WAVE
Today, Mehta comfortably juggles his job at Nokia and his passion for refurbishing bikes, through his father’s company www.dreamriders.co.in, which was registered in 2007 and Mehta runs with a couple of friends.
For Mehta, refurbishing bikes is not just a “denting, painting” job, as someone once termed it, but the medium for his creative expression. “You have to give your life a meaning rather than search for it. Indulging my obsession with bikes gives my life that meaning,” says Mehta, who handles the designing and technical aspects of modifications.
Sudhir Shivaram’s love for photography started in college. A wildlife photographer and a senior project manager with Schneider Electric, Shivaram says he was bitten by the shutter “bug” at Malnad College of Engineering, Hassan, Karnataka, where he joined the Malnad Amateur Photographers Society. “We were a bunch of amateur photographers who got together to shoot pictures and then discuss them,” says this 35-year-old electronics and communication engineer, who is based in Bangalore.
But professional wildlife photographers rarely make much money. To keep the hobby paying for itself, Shivaram charges Rs1,000-5,000 for the commercial use of his photographs, and around Rs3,000-3,500 for exhibits. But his love for wildlife drives him to give the photographs away for free if they are being used for conservation purposes.
The photographs are available mostly through his website www.thejunglelook.com. He also organizes weekend photography workshops.
Asif Khan, 29, an accounts manager with a multinational telecom company, is also a partner with RIFF Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, a music promotion outfit. RIFF works towards the promotion of Indian rock music and provides a platform for musicians; the most significant contribution being the initiation of the Jack Daniel’s Backstage Tennessee Annual Indian Rock Awards in 2007. “There was nothing to validate the efforts of the Indian rock groups, so we started these awards,” says this music enthusiast. RIFF also organizes concerts and music tours.
Khan knew since his college days that music would always be a part of his life. He used to organize music concerts at the Aligarh Muslim University while he was pursuing a degree in technology. “I never wanted to be a singer or a rock star but writing about music, and being involved with other aspects of it was something I enjoyed,” he says.
Khan says he knew he wouldn’t make enough money from a job in the music industry as he does in the telecom business. “I am accustomed to a certain lifestyle and I can’t leave my corporate job just to be in the music promotion business.”
For Mehta, the cost of modifying a single bike could range from Rs75,000 to Rs3.5 lakh. “It is hard to start a business like this. You must have cash, partners; need to rent a place to have a workshop. It is a struggle,” he says, remembering the tough time he faced when he wanted to set up his own bike-modifying unit. “But, because of my day job, I have sufficient experience and money to indulge in my whims,” he laughs.
Rakesh Borar did not mean to convert his passion for salsa and Latin American dance into a business, but a very strong emotional reason pushed him into it. “When my (dance) teacher, Kiran Kalunauria, lost the function of both his kidneys, I, along with some of the other students, decided to set up a business for him,” says Borar, who started learning dance while he was in college as a means to stay fit.
In 2003, he set up six studios and handled the business for his guru. Alongside, he set up his full-time business, an investment advisory firm, Alchemy Finance, in Delhi. When Kalunauria died in February 2006, and the studios closed, the students kept coming back for more. Borar knew then that his dancing career was far from over. He opened “Two to Tango”, a studio in Delhi, in December 2006. The 41-year-old now conducts weekend sessions there. The classes cost Rs1,500 per month, and the group goes to the nightclub, Capitol, at The Ashok hotel, every Thursday to practise the moves.
From 9 to 5, Deepa Krishnan, an IIM Calcutta graduate, is at her day job, as a successful banking technology consultant. But after work, she lets her passion for history and architecture take over. “I found most tourists in cities were given cookie-cutter tours. They were actually clichéd and unimaginative impressions. I thought I could be more specific with my city tours through proper story-telling, and create a cultural mosaic that people can identify with,” says the 39-year-old Mumbaikar.
Krishnan organizes city walks in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai through her three websites: www.mumbaimagic.com, www.delhimagic.com and www.filtercoffeetours.com.
But for Krishnan, the toughest part about being in a job and indulging her passion was learning to negotiate the grey zone between family, work and passion. “When my daughter was little, I had to set my ambitions aside. I had to choose not to do this as my family may have suffered, but now that my daughter is 14, I can juggle both. In fact, my daughter and mother also write for my blog,” says Krishnan, who sometimes works 12-14 hours a day to stay on top of things.
The family quotient
Krishnan may have let her passion take a back seat until her daughter grew up, but Shivaram and Mehta try to juggle home, hobby and work. “I don’t have any free time,” says Mehta. “Family time is minimal. I can’t say that my wife is very happy with the amount of time I spend with them.”
But the Internet has been a blessing for Mehta, more so since his move to England—he can keep in touch with clients and suppliers on email, and can answer queries regarding modifications while he is at home.
Shivaram has two children, and says he has to work hard to divide time between family, work and his passion for wildlife photography. “Apart from the overnight trips that I have to make outside Bangalore for photography, I try and shoot early in the morning when I am in the city. I start around 6am and finish by 11am, so that I can keep the rest of the day free for my family,” he says.
Borar, who belongs to a traditional Marwari family, found it difficult to tell his parents about his love for dancing. “My parents are extremely conservative. Earlier, they were not happy about me dancing, but now they do not say anything. They figure it is just a hobby,” he says.
So, would any of these professionals give up what they love doing for some free time? No way, they chorus. “Why would I give up on being in on the latest in Indian rock music, and being mates with good musicians? I can even get free passes for friends,” says Khan.
Though Shivaram’s wife, Vasudha, bought him his first lens and advised him to take up photography full-time, he is not convinced. “If I do that, it becomes my bread and butter, and I feel I will lose my passion for photography,” he says. “Maybe when I retire, but right now, I am fine with my job and my hobby existing side by side.”