Dine at Taj By Day, Worry about Rent at Night: Confessions of a Lifestyle Journalist

JJ Rankin

I'No matter how many glitzy soirees I go to, courtesy my indulgent editor, it doesn’t really translate into any real dough.

As I finish up the interview, I get a call from my editor. “Hi! Listen I’m invited to dinner at XYZ Pavilion Royale (or Grand, or SuperSized, whatever five star properties suffering from penis envy call themselves), they are hosting some food writers and some really cool food historians at dinner. I won’t be able to make it. Why don’t you go?”

“We’ll write about this right?”

“If you want to, sure. But go have fun, eat, socialise. It is an eight-course Lombard meal, you’ll love it.”

Do I want to go hang out with posh, food connoisseurs while the entire country disintegrates and the world around me grapples with a deadly virus? No. Do I have to do it? Yes. I get paid by the word. I imagine a table full of jet-setting, bruschetta-lovers in their mid-40s who can name a wine by its province, who are expecting my Max Mara-clad editor, but instead will find me – a freelancer in six-year-old denims, who just bought a second-hand microwave that only re-heats.

No matter how many glitzy soirees I go to, courtesy my indulgent editor, it doesn’t really translate into any real dough. I’m not broke like I don’t know where my next meal is coming from. But then there’s rent, electricity, internet, Uber, fresh underwear, Metro smart card, groceries, gym fees, phone bill, a new vacuum for mom. And Chef Alberto’s pasta doesn’t fix any of these issues.

I’m not the only freelancer caught in the crosshairs of capitalism. At media tables, I run into food writers, bloggers or influencers attempting to be a part of a lifestyle that’ll never be theirs. And then there is the question of what we are all personally interested in. I am certain we all feel the dissonance keenly – especially as the world around us erupts in protests against CAA.

Deep down, I am a bleeding heart liberal, but on the surface I am what everyone derisively labels “a champagne leftist”.

I get a WhatsApp message from a friend: “Hey. we’re headed to the protests towards the South Cross today. You wanna come?” I want to go, but I have the eight-course Lombard meal and sparkling conversation to make. It’s a strange, contradictory existence at times, but those bills won’t pay themselves.

I fire up the best distraction there is. Tinder. Message from Danny: “Hey it’s Danny. Remember we met at Mallika Tshering’s Bhutanese food pop-up? How you been?” This dude owns two gastro clubs, why is he DM-ing me? A hookup or a review? Probably the latter, because all the women on his Instagram are over six feet and look gluten-allergic. In the last few months, I’ve matched with enough brewery boys to know they don’t want to get with a random 5’6” freelancer with body dysmorphia.

The next morning, I find myself at another hotel, brunching with my editor and her designer friend, whose summer line-up I have to cover. The woman at the door had stopped me with a polite smile, wondering what business I had inside. I don’t mind; I wouldn’t let me in if I was her either. As the two chat about the designer’s sustainable fashion line, my thoughts are hovering over the ₹375 I paid to get to the hotel. Should I ask my editor when my payment is coming through? Is it in bad taste to talk about freelance paychecks in front of a ₹1,400 black rice salad?

Another ping: “Hey, we’re protesting near the HHI grounds. Come if you can?”

“See you there,” I write back. Yeah… I’m probably gonna miss my deadlines. This contradiction between my two lives is so incongruous. It is also exhausting, and I am aware that I am in the thick of a vicious circle. Deep down, I am a bleeding heart liberal, but on the surface I am what everyone derisively labels “a champagne leftist”. But I have no option but to live with it – women don’t live by fresh air alone. My paycheck should be in soon, but I’ll only be left with 20 per cent after I’m done with my bills and rent. I get another message while waiting for the metro. Tinder Danny. “Hey, all set for the review on Tuesday! See you soon!” For now, the choice is clear: Bleeding heart will have to wait.