Last Tuesday, the pulpit was shared by two speakers from different walks of life, but both seemed to have tread a path that only passion can help us navigate. The speakers were Pooja Dhingra and Zoru Bathena. The latter is the BMC’s biggest nightmare, and the former a young entrepreneur who introduced a Parisian culinary experience in India. Their speeches, obviously, had nothing in common, although to have them address us on the same day was a celebration of the old adage, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” The common link between them was their stubborn will to make a change.
Pooja Dhingra wanted to add to the variety of desserts in India, for before founding Le 15 – if you plan on heading to Le 15, which you definitely should, do not miss out on the dark chocolate macaroon – and the Studio Fifteen Culinary Centre, she often grappled with the question, “Why, in Bombay, does one see only five different kinds of pastries? One only sees brownies, cheese cake… Why isn’t anybody doing anything fresh?” The way forward, thereafter, was to convince her family that she didn’t want to be a lawyer, as she had envisioned for herself earlier. Soon she was in Switzerland chasing another dream, a dream that was at most times buttery and chocolatey, but at other times “like going to battle everyday.”
On the other hand, Zoru Bathena, like most Mumbaikars has been observing that the tree cover throughout Mumbai is rapidly depleting, but unlike most Mumbaikars, he’s raised his voice. In fact, he’s managed to raise his voice to a pitch that is audible even to BMC officials. In his own words, “City planners believe that cutting a tree can be balanced out by planting ten more trees somewhere else, but it doesn’t work that way because trees take fifty to a hundred years to grow.” He painted a very gloomy picture of Mumbai in the years to come by suggesting that the Metro project, when complete, would have done away with at least five thousand trees. Both speakers have the results to show for their hard work. By fighting tooth and nail to curb the felling of trees by short-sighted city planners, Zoru Bathena has saved over two hundred trees from being hacked, and also deserves credit for the reason why fewer trees succumb to the mealybug epidemic. You can imagine what a struggle that might have been. Our second speaker tells us about an equally alarming experience: While working out of her kitchen, she was summoned by an official from the BMC, who was so rattled to see a woman running a business that he blurted out, “Are you running this business because your husband is no more?”
In the end, those with a sweet tooth can thank their stars that Pooja Dhingra “fell in love with chocolate, butter, and everything it had to offer.” And although she was awarded the Rotary Club of Bombay Uma Jain Award for Young Woman Achiever, the real honour was to have the entire club feel dejected when they realised that she wasn’t carrying any samplers.
Zoru Bathena, the recipient of the Taru Lalvani Award for Environmental Protection, might not be able to relate to his co-speaker’s struggles against longstanding patriarchy, but he sure had us know about the repercussions of losing our longstanding trees.