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May 26, 2020

The Future of Work: Simin Patel on Tourism Experiences

“The walking tour we had planned in March will now probably be conducted in June or July, but we are ready for the challenges a walk in the time of coronavirus would bring.”

While #WorkFromHome is standard protocol now and many have come to find comfort in this arrangement, that isn’t possible for many professionals in industries which necessarily require the workplace to be outside their homes. In our new series #TheFutureOfWork, we talk to individuals whose nature of work doesn’t allow them to log on remotely and ask them how they envision their industries changing in a post-lockdown era. Here, we chat with historian Dr. Simin Patel, founder of walking tour company Bombaywalla

As a historian, how has your day-to-day work been impacted?
My routine of going to a library or co-working space or an Irani café to put in a day’s work has naturally been affected, and now I spend almost all my time in my studio, which is my happy place. I moved into the studio two years ago, after a disused prayer room in our family home was converted into a small living space. Several of the original architectural features were retained, like a wooden taakabari (built-in closet) in which ritual implements and prayer books would have been stored. Other than working on our new website, I have been doing my usual cooking though I have been ordering and eating too much bacon!

What are some of the ways that you are keeping yourself occupied? Where do you find comfort?
We are very lucky to have a lawn, so every evening at 6 p.m., all of us cousins sit around on the lawn and chat and occasionally we have a drink from our depleting supplies. I am reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, it’s solid historical fiction that sharpens my taste for vengeance, power and Venetian velvet!

How do you truly feel about having to bring your work into your home environment, if at all? Are there any ideas you find yourself contemplating?
I think some work which I broadly call ‘admin’ as well as writing work for the Bombaywalla website is fine to do at home. The more difficult task of writing a book, I am yet to try out. Maybe in the last week of lockdown!

What do you think the future of your industry and business will look like? How will you have to rethink what you do if social distancing is still in effect?
Our profession — as historians, independent scholars, academic entrepreneurs — is quite solitary, so of all the professions around, it is among those that is least affected.

Quite a few walking tour companies have ventured into online talks and virtual walks. We were not so keen on the idea and have spent the last two months developing our new website which has two important new sections: archives and books. The walk we had planned in March will now probably be conducted in June or July; and last year just as we negotiated and enjoyed the monsoon on our Vintage Watson’s Walk, we are ready for the challenges a walk in the time of coronavirus would bring.

Even the subjects of my interest, like the Irani cafes of Bombay, are carrying on business. So their story goes on, and all that is needed is documenting it. I made a few visits to my favourite Irani joint, Cafe de la Paix, which has been open throughout the lockdown, but I am not half as daring as the Irani partners who run these iconic establishments and haven’t visited in many weeks.

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