All By Myself: Gauri Devidayal | Verve Magazine
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October 17, 2018

All By Myself: Gauri Devidayal

Text by Meghna Pant. Photograph by Joshua Navalkar

As a society, we often mistake being alone for being lonely. Women travelling alone must be pathetic. Men eating alone must be sad. We forget that silence isn’t empty but rather full of answers. In the first part of our series restaurateur Gauri Devidayal reveals how escaping from her surroundings is sometimes the best way to find herself

In Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall (1977), the lead with the same name is ambitious and self-sufficient, but has to call her ex-flame to kill a spider in her house. Throughout the world cultural tropes have portrayed women who are alone as pariahs, despite Jane Austen and Florence Nightingale and Harper Lee and Diane Keaton. It has taken many formations and revolutions for women to realise how truly exquisite doing things alone really is. In India, sadly, we still have a long way to go in this regard. Women are rarely seen exercising agency, let alone occupying public spaces by themselves. It is therefore heartening to see women embrace solitude not just on land but also in water.

One such person is one of India’s favourite restaurateurs, a partner at Food Matters India Pvt Ltd and Colaba Hospitality LLP, which have brought forth popular restaurants such as The Table, Magazine Street Kitchen and Miss T: Gauri Devidayal — who has recently taken to scuba diving.

Recalling her first dive, Devidayal says, “I was extremely nervous about the idea of diving — I think I’ve watched Jaws 1975 too many times for my own good. But I decided to try it once. The first time was in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. We were supposed to do one dive and snorkel. The minute I came up from my first dive, I immediately wanted to go back for a second round!”

The journey from jitters to love for diving happened for various reasons. “First of all, contrary to my expectations, swimming with fish is not scary, but extremely calming. Being underwater with marine life has been one of the most stunning and peaceful experiences of my life,” says Devidayal. “You can’t talk to anyone or check your phone every five minutes. It forces you to focus 100 per cent on the beauty of nature around you.”

So deep is her love for diving that she’s made many trips since her first: “I sometimes pick vacation spots based solely on whether or not I can dive there!” On her last diving trip in the Seychelles, Devidayal got PADI-certified (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) for open-water diving. She was also rewarded with a unique experience: “On our first dive there, we happened to spot a whale shark, which is apparently an extremely rare sighting. I was quite scared at first to have a shark circling above me but quickly realised that the shark was least bothered by my presence. It was only later, after coming out, that I realised how lucky I had been to have had a sighting of this particular species!”

As Richard Yates said in Revolutionary Road (2008): ‘If you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone’.

Read Part 2 with Kaneez Surkha here.

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