Avalakki Chooda

Crunchy seasoned flattened rice speckled with fried peanuts

Chooda chai

Spring and Fall. My favorite seasons of the year.

There is something magical in the change of seasons. And, a zillion ways to soak in the beauty of it. I find it particularly enchanting to experience spring in small ways. Like say, seated in a reclining chair with feet up in careless abandon, in a balcony facing a thick patch of blooming trees, chirping birds in the background, a golden sunset punctuated by gentle breeze, chatting my heart away with my soul mate and kids giggling by our side, sipping piping-hot ginger chai with a side of something crunchy.

Like this Avalakki chooda.

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Heart to Heart ~ Lakshmi Wennäkoski of Pure

Some weeks back, when I was particularly feeling low for some reason, this idea just flashed to me and I pursued it almost immediately. After putting it into action, I am now bringing out a new interview series “Heart to Heart” here on Just Homemade. It is an interview from the heart, close to my heart and hope it will be to yours as well.

Heart to Heart seeks honest answers, not to the random, but pertinent questions that every blogger including myself, faces more often than now and then and wished they knew better. What better way than to draw from the very talented and accomplished bloggers who’ve been there and done it all and are truly inspiring in every piece of their work?

I couldn’t think of anyone else other than Lakshmi of Pure to kick start this series. Lakshmi needs no introduction – anyone who knows of her is surely enamored by her outstanding work and her aspirational personality. Here’s a chance to get to know more about her and learn how she does it all and makes it look so easy. Without saying much, I shall let Lakshmi take it away..

It had been my greatest pleasure to interact with Lakshmi, be it on her blog or on this account.Thank you for this immensely insightful interview Lakshmi..

Don’t let the length stop you from reading through. She has poured her heart and time into this. And, Don’t forget to read the Rapid Fire Round at the end..

What was your moment of epiphany for blogging and/or photography like?

Whether there was a single, sudden epiphany that led me to photography and blogging, I doubt. As an actualization of a longer chain of cognition and endeavor, realization is always traceable. Whether mundane or divine, it is the love-child of observation and contemplation. However, it may take birth in the mind by surprise because we are unable to see the symptoms of pregnancy.Cooking, photography and blogging present my inherent nature or conditioning by which I reciprocate in the world in a comfortable way at the moment. As creatively unromantic as it may sound, I consider them as my social duty and responsibility.It is not by accident a camera was given under my care. Why not a law book or a riffle? Camera is the fruit of my past desires and activities. It is a delivery I had ordered in my previous life but forgotten about! Now, it is up to me what to do with it.In my present life, by the blessings of saintly persons, I am in a transition to yoga perfection. I am reconstructing my identity from material to spiritual. Cooking, photographing and blogging, among the rest of my activities, support it. I value them in relation to self-realization. I study, practice and experience devotional consciousness through them.

What do you enjoy most about blogging/photography?

“To enjoy” is a verb I’m re-defining in my personal dictionary. Depending on the level of consciousness – sensual, moral, emotional, cultural, intellectual, transcendental, spiritual or devotional – it refers to different experiences. On a sensual platform the enjoy-er (subject) and the enjoyed (object) are observed in an opposite way as in the devotional reality! Material and spiritual perceptions are stark contrasts.

My enjoyment comes from being a servant! It may sound awkward considering the majority of the modern world is racing after mastery and domination. Servitor-ship is commonly taken as slavery and oppression. However, I find it liberating to accept the mentality of assistance. A little known fact in the mechanics of the universe is that the servant enjoys more than the served when the service is done with affection! The pleasure and satisfaction coming from helping others to realize their full potential is far greater than trying to gain happiness for oneself. We suffer because we think someone else’s enjoyment is away from us.

Everything that exists, including ourselves, is energy that is expanding from the energetic source. Despite the modern, scientific attempts to claim that everything exists by accident and without a reason, we see daily that nature is organized and follows an order. From my point of view the essence of life is in the relationship between the energy and the energetic source.

Cooking, photographing and blogging are activities by which I’m able to see the energy and the source connected, thus taking part in a harmonic, uplifting and, yes, enjoyable relationship with them. It sounds analytical and, perhaps, uninteresting, but those who are philosophically inclined, get a special kick in finding structures where there seems none. There is more to life that the senses meet!

Where do you draw inspiration from?

The source of energy is called Krishna in the yoga-tradition I am a part of. He is the summum bonum. He is indirectly everywhere and everything as energy, spirit (Brahman) and he is in everyone’s heart as a friend, guide and witness. Yet he is also separate from everything as a person with names, forms, qualities, pastimes and associates. I draw inspiration by cultivating a culture and philosophy based on realizing my relationship with him.

The word “yoga” means to connect to the source of energy. As a bhakti-yogi I’m aspiring to act with knowledge and devotion to Krishna. Whatever I do – from meditation to cooking, photography and blogging – is a yoga exercise.

What is your greatest photographing challenge yet and how did you overcome it?

Because I operate on the exploration of consciousness, my challenges relate to the impediments that cloud it. The job description of arts and crafts comes with a strong false-ego. We like to present ourselves as a doer, creator and controller: “The Artist”, “The Photographer” and “The Blogger”. Our true identity as an eternal, knowledgeable and blissful soul remains covered by such worldly, temporary designations often accompanied with unwanted passions like greed, anger, envy and pride. The self-discovery of soul is repeatedly tested by them.

Photography itself is a skill. There are mechanical, either gross or subtle, challenges in every expertise that will be solved by studying and practicing technical instructions. To me, the activity of photographing is secondary and supportive to the attitude or consciousness by which it is carried out. I won’t sell my integrity to please popular expectations or visual standards. As a result, the pictures may not come out as well as desired, but I’m content and happy because the intent is correct. The perfection isn’t in a picture but in a process that lead to it!

Art theory is based on cosmic laws. The combination of colors, forms and contrasts, composition, movement, the dialogue of light and shadow etc. follow universal principles. The patterns of balance that are expressed through art are detectable in all fields of life. Art offers an intuitive and emotionally engaging approach to the truth. It is a matter of seeing the forest for the trees!

You make blogging look so easy. How do you manage time and keep blogging from taking over your life?

By prioritizing my values and keeping blogging in line with them. Blogging is not a separate but an integral part of my life. It is a lap in the larger road map of details that will lead to a desired destination in a longer term.

While blogging, I give a full attention to it. I strive to be present and aware because “now” is the only instant to live and experience reality. “Now” is also the only gateway to the higher dimensions of existence, whereas the past and future distract and limit our vision.

Everyone has to find a pace of posting that is conducive to the objectives set. Online activities – whether blogging, flickr-ing, facebooking or tweeting – are, after all, online activities. How much do we want to invest in cyber-interaction? Does it contribute to the immediate, real life activities and relationships? If our “normal” perception of life is already somewhat distorted by illusion, the online presence is fertile to further add imaginary flavors and grandiose. It is a serious choice of association. Time management boils down to our goal of life and in what way we wish to advance as individuals.

If you were to start blogging all over again, what would you change or wish you had done better?

I’m a staunch advocate of the sincerity of motive. If there are any hang ups, they are related to the way – the process – I’m doing something. I don’t see in terms of good or bad pictures, exciting or lousy posts, and great or tasteless meals, but I’m interested in the state of mind they came about.

The beauty of living is that at any point we can readjust the course and revise our journey, without having to return to the square one, unlike in a board game.

What according to you is the most challenging part of blog content development process and why?

The most challenging part is not knowing who the readers are. As much as I would like to give others what I consider valuable, I don’t know how relevant it is to them or whether they’d be able to accept it.

The statistics serve a purpose of surveying the behavior and interest of the readership. Acknowledging the likes and dislikes, we can facilitate the needs of our visitors better while remembering we can’t compromise the content in order to please everyone. More original and specific voice we have, it will – probably – resonate with a fewer readers.

One of the pitfalls in interpreting numbers is to correlate online popularity with success. We are not competing to replace the position of the next cook, photographer or blogger, but realizing our personal process and potential in life. It is encouraging if someone appreciates what we share, but it is good to remember, we are deeper beings than the internet community sees.

Blogging is a very exciting creative outlet, yet it can become a burn out in the absence of focused vision and persistent passion. How do you keep things fresh and in perspective?

It helps me to treat blogging as a duty. In my internal plan it has its coordinates in a timeline that covers a week, month, year, decade, century, lifetime and eternity. To do something just because it “feels” good is too whimsical to me. Maintenance is a quality of goodness. It may be less attractive in the beginning but it works in a long term, whereas passion is nectar in the beginning and poison in the end. The deepest sense of spontaneity and creativity is in a moment of a total surrender that is supported by a steadfast progress and lifestyle.

How important is it for bloggers to interact with their readers?

Everything in life is based on interaction, whether we like it or not. We experience through relationships. Blogging is a faceless platform, which raises a doubt how deep the interaction can be.

I consider Pure Vegetarian By Lakshmi as a room in my home that I’ve opened to everyone to visit and have a visual meal. Some people peek in and leave; some step in and look around; some approach and exchange ideas; some find enough commonality and versatile interest to develop a personal relationship with me. The visitors are attracted by different aspects available. There are also many who don’t appreciate what I’m serving.

Being a food blogger, it is not difficult to over-zealously accumulate way too many props in the name of food photography. Your tips on minimalistic approach?

Again, it is a matter of motive and goal. We are cooking, photographing and blogging for different reasons. My general observation is that less we are in contact with our inner depth, more we take shelter of external things. When one’s identity is weak and flicker, ownership of “things” may create a false sense of security.

There is nothing wrong in being attracted to and utilizing beautiful colors, forms and textures. They are divine qualities. It is up to an individual whether they are used for liberation or imprisonment.

Liberation means that we respect and serve everything as energy that doesn’t belong to us but to the source it emanates from. Due to our desires, we come in contact with a certain quota of energy that manifests as talents; bodily, mental and intellectual abilities; family arrangements; locations; educational interests; jobs; colleagues…. and, on the grossest platform, as things and props. They may come under our care, but they don’t belong to us. Attachment to them binds and blinds us from seeing a greater universal network of love and our position and mission in it.

A person, who has given up ownership, is free! No matter the wealth or poverty he reaches, he will always be grateful, satisfied and happy because he is perfectly situated in every circumstance. How great is that! It is life without hankering and lamentation.

What do you do when you are not working on your blog?

The same as I’m doing when blogging! Activities require different attention and physical, mental and intellectual involvement, but the consciousness is the same whether I bring the garbage out or compile a post.

A piece of advice that you’d like to give aspiring bloggers who believe they have what it takes?

Everyone has what it takes: blogging is not rocket science! Whether your circumstance allows you to commit to it and in what capacity, is a consideration. Ask yourself what your need is: why do you want to blog? Is there any other, better or more accurate way to meet the need? Often we are looking for fulfillment in wrong places.

Internet is rupturing with desperation for acceptance, recognition, popularity and love. They are issues to be solved in one’s personal life, not online.

What is your food styling philosophy?

My styling philosophy is the same as my life philosophy! It is about being a loving servant of the forms and qualities I’m in contact with. I try to enhance their natural attributes by selecting suitable props and the angle of light. It is an intuitive and flexible process of revealing a visual storyline with a narrative, mood and characters.

Lakshmi’s favorite photograph
 
And here’s a lighter rapid fire round:

Favorite ingredient(s)

Bhakti or devotion to Krishna. All other ingredients are subservient to it.

Favorite childhood meal

Freshly picked forest blue- and strawberries with milk and sugar in the company of my brother.

One food you’d never eat

Meat.

Cuisine you wished you knew to cook

Bengali-Vaishnava cuisine.

One item from your bucket list

To do everything with a humble and loving awareness of my identity, field and goal.

A place you’d wish to see in your life time

The temple of my heart, in the season of full blossom. No external travel required!

A food trend you’d like to see in future

I would like to see a stronger shift of paradigm towards more compassionate and mindful eating as a result of cultivation of values like goodness, purity and truthfulness.

A gadget on your wish list

None.

What would you choose for your last meal?

I would be honored to have a morsel of remnants of a saintly person.

Your favorite photography tip

Learn to know yourself and be yourself!

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