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She gave it all up to follow her heart. ‘Coz this happy hippy was hungry for more.
What do you do?
It’s her openness and her broad smile that strikes you when you first see this energetic and enthusiastic lady who loves her city – Bombay and loves to show it off to eager tourists, both Indian and those from across foreign shores. From a highly-paid, highly recognized position of the Editor of a famous magazine, Mother & Baby to a self-employed woman; from sitting in an air conditioned, plush office to the hot and dusty city touring, she has done it all. She is loving every minute of her work and so are the tourists who travel with her. She is a foodie, a traveller, a writer and a businesswoman. Meet Priya Pathiyan, Founder, thehungryhappyhippy.com – a brilliant and gutsy woman who has made her passion her profession. She speaks her heart in a tête-à-tête with SHEROES. Over to this Hungry, Happy Hippy!
How did it happen? How did you end up in an offbeat, interesting and cool career such as this?
“It started after a trip to the Sundarbans, where I spent long days on a boat going through the mangrove-lined waterways in the hope of seeing a tiger. I made some good friends from Canada en-route and when they came to Bombay later, I took them around my city. Their delight in everything I showed them, made me think that I should consider this line of profession seriously. There were so many facets of the city that even people who had lived here forever, did not bother to discover. I felt I must share my knowledge with more people and if I can in the process earn some money too. It’s been more than five years since I first entered the tour guide profession and it’s only getting bigger and better.
As someone who has lived in and loved, Bombay or now Mumbai as we say, all her life. A journalist who has reported on the city for two decades, I feel pained when a visitor has a less than wonderful experience. This is often because the guide they’ve chosen either, doesn’t understand them and their world properly to bridge the gap. or doesn’t care enough about the city to showcase its many facets. This is why I’ve taken up this passion project that helps me show off the best of Mumbai to people unfamiliar with the city. Mine are private bespoke tours created for just one to four people. They may be based on a theme (such as culinary exploration, Jewish heritage, literary references), a neighbourhood that resonates with them (like taking a Portuguese family around Bandra), an activity (for e.g. antiquing), etc. Unlike other tours where people just sign up for a faceless guide who will show them whatever s/he feels fit, I make painstaking efforts to tailor the tour to what the travellers are looking for with detailed discussions over email and phone as a prelude to the actual tour.
The amazing response I get from tourists gives me a lot of satisfaction. The fact that some of them go away loving the city almost as much as I do, is very gratifying. And now that I’ve been doing this for some years, I have this extended family all over the globe.
What is your background? How did it help in this venture?
After seven years as magazine editor, I wanted more scope for creativity rather plan each issue, manage the team and all the back-end admin and marketing-related work that came with the job. I was craving more flexibility and freedom and wanted to get back to writing on lifestyle with a focus on food and travel. Besides, being a freelance writer would allow me to conduct more tours.
I studied Commerce but then found my groove as an intern in a mainstream newspaper called the Free Press Journal. After that, a long stint at the Times of India, to the Times Life to lifestyle pages in the Economic Times, gave me very varied exposure to a lot of different fields. Another long stint as editor of Mother & Baby magazine honed my people skills like never before. I think all of this prepared me for the next step.
I started small, just doing a few tours on weekends as I still had my fancy day job as magazine editor then. It was a bit awkward to switch from calling the shots and going for high-powered meetings in the week to walking around in the heat and dust on the street, playing a slightly more glam version of Raju guide! I quickly learned to differentiate myself from all the typical tourist guides. For me, it was all about arranging for unique experiences that were redolent of the essence of Bombay.
My family was encouraging if slightly bemused. Initially, I had to face some flak from other guides. The males would snigger and the females gave me the cold shoulder. Having travelled around the world, I connected with the guests on a deeper level and could discuss a much wider variety of subjects than the average Indian person.
We’re often told that to be a successful entrepreneur, we must adopt a man’s approach to business. That is just complete nonsense as we must use our own strengths. On the whole, women are generally better at negotiations, at multi-tasking, at thinking out of the box, at building ethical professional relationships and at creating an environment where not only we grow, but we help others get ahead too.
Any guidance to others?
Determine what you want to do and why you want to do it before you get into the how, when and where. Your reasons should resonate with who you are and where you want to be in life in the next few years.
Decide what you’re going to do in what time-frame. Make checklists and actually tick off the tasks you’ve accomplished. And yes, ALWAYS have a backup plan for contingencies.
Well begun is only half done. Don’t slip into ‘damsel in distress’ mode; just get out there and get things done. Keep yourself updated. Identify and read what’s relevant in your field.
Slowly, I see some freedom for women in the urban context to follow their hearts with unusual professions. We do have a lot of downers in the form of lack of safety, lack of opportunity, lack of social acceptance, lack of self-worth, focus on marriage as a life goal, etc. but with education and financial independence, women are increasingly gaining confidence to chart their own career paths.