Food

What’s better than Instagram photos of food? An illustrated travel journal of culinary adventures

Yasra Khoker self-published her travel sketch book made during a 10-day trip through three Indian cities.

While visiting her sister in the UAE almost six years ago, Yasra Khoker was inspired by her niece and nephew. She liked the way they would spend hours after school copying pictures of dishes that appeared on menu leaflets. When Khoker returned to India, she began doing something similar.

Trained as an interior designer, Khoker had already been sketching for over 15 years. “Even while growing up in UAE, during family get-togethers, we would sit and sketch and make magazines and select stickers for our drawings,” said the 32-year-old, who now lives in Jaipur with her husband. “It’s probably why I still like stationary and cartoons.”

Khoker’s obsession with and appreciation for food is apparent in the way she talks about it – whether it is picking out the best place to get a fix of onion kachori in Jaipur, a tandoori chicken sandwich from Lucky restaurant in Bandra, Mumbai, or just the simple pleasures of a cup of tea. Khoker recently self-published an illustrated journal of her 10-day-trip covering Hyderabad, Mumbai and Goa. The mouth-watering journal is titled Food Swings.

“Instead of recording a moment in time as a photograph, I sketch,” said Khoker.

A page from the Mumbai chapter of 'Food Swings'. Image credit: Yasra Khoker.
A page from the Mumbai chapter of 'Food Swings'. Image credit: Yasra Khoker.

Khoker began her food sketching journey by eating out for a month and a half in Jaipur. She would turn up everywhere – restaurants, cafes or the peanut vendor outside Hawa Mahal – with her sketchbook and record everything she saw or ate. “Some people would get what I was doing and appreciate it, while some would stare awkwardly or comment about my weight,” said Khoker. “I started posting these on social media and was surprised at how much attention I got for it.” Khoker now writes a blog under the name Doodlenomics, where she posts her sketches and writes about her travel experiences.

A page from the Hyderabad chapter of 'Food Swings'. Image credit: Yasra Khoker.
A page from the Hyderabad chapter of 'Food Swings'. Image credit: Yasra Khoker.

Food Swings is not a recipe book or even a compilation of must-try restaurants, but simply what Khoker and her husband ate that day – whether it is the in-flight meal or her first glass of kokum juice. “This has everything that I saw or everything that intrigued me, like a market in Goa where women were selling mushrooms after the rains, the biryani we ate at Hotel Shadab or even the baked yogurt and bananas that I had to eat after developing a stomach bug,” said Khoker. “During the whole trip I was looking at the journey through the various meals I had and the things we tried there.”

In Food Swings, the reader will encounter the cashew feni, fish curry and even the chunky jewellery that is synonymous with Goa, along Hyderabad’s jauzi halwa. Also in it are images of biryani and haleem that were ordered by her husband, since Khoker is allergic to mutton and soy.

A page from the Goa chapter of 'Food Swings'. Image credit: Yasra Khoker.
A page from the Goa chapter of 'Food Swings'. Image credit: Yasra Khoker.

“There are times when I just look at what I’m about to eat and it just looks so pretty that I want to sketch it, like the time I went to the Ziya in Mumbai’s Oberoi Hotel and found every single dish presented in a way that looked so good,” she said.

While Khoker is attracted to foods that have a lot of colour, she is well aware that most Indian curries tend to be brown. “It’s about what kind of feelings it inspires in me in that moment. My love for a certain dish determines what I want to sketch. Whether it is a kachori or tea or samosa, it’s all brown but I don’t really have a problem with that and it works well in a composition.”

Image credit: Yasra Khoker.
Image credit: Yasra Khoker.

It takes Khoker ten minutes to an hour to complete a sketch, depending on what she is drawing. “If I can sit for long, I allow the paints to dry or I just keep a tissue paper in between the sheets. In places where there is a rush, I quickly do a drawing and fill in the colours later or maybe the other way around if I’m drawing something with a lot of gravy.”

Sketching in New Delhi. Image courtesy: Yasra Khoker.
Sketching in New Delhi. Image courtesy: Yasra Khoker.

Khoker has been approached by bloggers, writers and journalists to illustrate covers for books. She recently illustrated the recipe of a chutney that was Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar’s favourite – the Rahat-e-Jaan chutney.

Image credit: Yasra Khoker.
Image credit: Yasra Khoker.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.