B(re)aking Bread: Sheikh Aamir, technology manager and baker

For Dubai resident Sheikh Aamir, experimenting with food has always been a de-stressor after a hard day’s work. Being in the IT industry, the pace of work picked up during the pandemic. Keen to choose a hobby that would be physical, relaxing and stimulating at the same time and seeing his 13-year-old twin daughters Khadijah and Zahrah (he also has a son Ali ) get busy with baking during their stay-at-home period, set him thinking. "But rather than bake cakes, I wanted to recreate something that was close to my heart," he says. Being a Kashmiri, what better way to go down memory lane than by recreating authentic Kashmiri bread – the kind one would get at a Kashmiri artisan bakery.

"Almost every Kashmiri kid has been to a kandur (the Kashmiri baker) at least once. And when you are there, you see them making the bread," he says, explaining how he picked up the basics of Kashmiri breadmaking. He also would watch YouTube videos of breadmaking in similar cultures. "In terms of time, it took me a couple of weeks to perfect it; in terms of attempts quite a few."

He uses a regular oven to bake the bread at home although he often uses a wood pellet grill as well.

The going was not easy. ‘There were a few mishaps – bread getting burnt, being too salty and in some cases the dough failing to rise.

For Aamir, a Kashmiri, what better way to go down memory lane than by recreating authentic Kashmiri bread – the kind one would get at a Kashmiri artisan bakery
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"Once my bread turned out so hard my son broke it with a karate chop," he laughs.

Although he used to enjoy cooking even before the pandemic, baking Kashmiri breads is an enriching experience, he admits.

"Baking bread is my mindfulness moment," he says, "and breaking bread with friends and family is something that truly leaves me with a sense of joy."

Over the months Aamir experimented with many varieties of bread, including breakfast specials like girda or chuowut, afternoon tea breads chochwur and lawasa and special occasion bakes likes kultche and bekerkhyen. If his family and fellow Kashmiri friends are to be believed, he is becoming a connoisseur in the craft.

From management to mythology: Ashraf Karayath, executive director and bestselling author

With more than has 25 years of business experience coupled with a background in management philosophy, Dubai-based entrepreneur Ashraf Karyath until recently never thought he would become the author of a book, that too on mythology.

Hailing from Nadapuram, in Kerala, India, Ashraf arrived in Dubai in the early 90s and ventured into many businesses, including fast food, business consulting and enterprise software solutions.

As part of his professional life, he had opportunities to study management philosophy, self-help theories, and principle-centred leadership. "I soon realised that it’s not only hard work that determines a person’s success; it’s the inspired action that comes from within, especially when a person identifies his innate strength and vision," he says.

After more than 12 years of research, Ashraf finally decided to use the stay-at-home period to put the finishing touches to his novel
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About 17 years ago, he chanced to attend Ashtavakra Gita lessons in Dubai and was surprised to find deep-rooted philosophies like new age science, self-help studies, theory of the law of attraction, and quantum physics embedded in them. "Existentialism was one of my favourite subjects, but what I found in Ashtavakra’s lessons were more advanced and revealing than what Sartre or other thinkers advocated. This led me to question how we can balance our spiritual and business life. I also toyed with the idea of writing about it."

After more than 12 years of research, Ashraf finally decided to use the stay-at-home period to put the finishing touches to his novel. Titled Janaka and Ashtavakra, it was published in July this year and soon rose to be the top 20 bestsellers on Amazon.

It narrates the story of the ancient King Janaka (father of Sita in the Hindu scripture Ramayana) who becomes obsessed in his quest for spiritual liberation. "My book is about Janaka’s turbulent life, impending war in his kingdom, and treachery and intrigue within his palace. When the whole world believes a calamity is imminent, Janaka upholds his conviction and deep-rooted faith that there’s a connection between what is inside and outside a person, and realises that war is not a solution. With the help of his guru Ashtavakra, he unravels a new era for his kingdom. Based on the grand epic Ramayana, my novel renews and deepens beloved characters for modern readers," explains Ashraf.

According to him, the story also holds prominence in the context of the pandemic. When the entire world is gripped by fear and uncertainty, people tend to lose their expectations and faith. Anxiety, stress and fear breeds in them, which in turn, affects the immune system. "This is the time where we all need to calibrate ourselves to the strength of our inner well-being, which is dominant and inherent in us. Spirituality is nothing but tapping into those innate strengths. We need to have faith in a universal, timeless principle, such as ‘Where there’s a problem, there’s a solution’." Every adversity, he says, carries with it an equivalent benefit or truth.

The book priced Dh35 is available on amazon.com

If you can’t travel, paint: Shehla Sanam Abdulla, lead Montessori teacher and artist

In 2000, Indian expat Shehla Sanam Abdullah was clear about one thing from the time she arrived in Abu Dhabi as a newly wed to join her husband Hisham: she would continue her studies. Going on to earn an MBA even while being a doting mother to Thanaaz, Ziyan and Yazan, she then pursued a teaching career after acquiring a Cache level 3 certification and a two-year diploma with Montessori Centre International in London.

However, even in the midst of her studies, career and raising a family, she never gave up her passion for art, sketching and doodling as often as she found the time even getting some commissioned works done.

"I also love travelling and we planned to visit China this year," says Shehla. However, the pandemic put paid to her plans.

When the pandemic put paid to her travel plans, Shehla decided to pick up her long-forgotten water colours and brushes, and paint the places she hoped to visit
Stefan Lindeque

That’s when she decided to pick up her long-forgotten water colours and brushes, and paint the places she hoped to visit. "I felt I would at least get some vicarious relief seeing my travel plans materialising on my canvases," she says.

Shehla started out with places on her travel wish list – Morocco, Portugal, Turkey, Germany, Japan, Greece in a series entitled "quarantine travel dreams".

"As I drew, I also started researching and learning about these amazing places. So I indulged in some storytelling entwined with some snippets of information about the place," says the artist. Once she started sharing them online, she began receiving an avalanche of messages from friends and family appreciating her work. "A friend recently mentioned that a post from me was one of the highlights of her week as it left her feeling as if she had travelled to the same place. I also got requests for commissioned pieces from people who wanted to recall their favourite travel destinations," she says, thrilled at the responses her hobby generated.

Another exciting project that landed on her lap was to illustrate a children’s book. "Though these are all new and challenging, I have also found that art, for me, is more of a personal expression. It has been an outlet to explore and express myself and it has been my saviour during these troubling and depressive times," she says.

The biggest lesson the lockdown has taught her is that there is never an age for one to pick up or revive a new passion. "All we need is focus and motivation and to realise that sometimes we just need to allocate some quality time to our personal growth. There is nothing more rewarding than the ability to put a smile or motivate another human being."

Shehla’s instagram handle is @doodleartistry.

The PR poet: Anuroopa Mukherjee, PR agency owner and poet

Dubai resident Anuroopa Mukherjee believes a sense of passion is crucial to making any task a success – be it running her own boutique PR agency or dabbling in Hindi poetry which is her childhood avocation.

"I’ve been writing poetry since childhood and quite a few were published," she says. However, she could not pursue this hobby after she got busy with her career when she came to Dubai 17 years ago.

But a few years ago, the passion to pen poems began to grow in her again. "I began writing and reciting the pieces during parties and get-togethers and a few friends suggested I should reach out to a wider audience and that’s how the idea of a YouTube channel Meri Lekhani (My Pen) was born," she says.

Anuroopa is now working on short stories and memoirs
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Her son Aadit, 12, helped in creating the videos and uploading them on the channel. "I record the poem on my phone and then he integrates it with the music and imagery to create the video. He also translates my poems into English and that goes in the description on YouTube," she says.

Launched about two months ago, Meri Lekhani features poems with themes such as love, life, time, inner voice and emotions.

Anuroopa is overwhelmed by the praise and appreciation she is getting. "Someone suggested I should be writing lyrics for Bollywood movies while another suggested I start another YouTube channel offering lessons on poetry recitation," she beams.

Encouraged, Anuroopa is now working on short stories and memoirs, which will be shared on the channel. She is also planning to enrol for a professional voice over course to enhance her presentation.

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