There’s no way you could have missed him on television. Although his 30-minute show may have had a larger female fan following, there was definitely more than one time even the men of the house may have been caught salivating over what was cooking in Sanjeev Kapoor’s kitchen. The Khana Khazana show was a weekly ritual that turned this professional cook into a celebrity chef. But, Kapoor’s own household didn’t always associate that sense of achievement with his choice of career, except for his father.
Having an elder sibling who was a budding chartered accountant, meant that the family expected the rest of the kids including Sanjeev, to follow suit. The Kapoor household had their own inside joke to encourage their kids to focus on education, “Padh lo varna chhole bhature banaoge”. Not uncommon given the times where parents would settle for nothing less than an engineer or a doctor. Sanjeev says, “Math was one of my favourite subjects and I wanted to be an architect”. And while he found his name on a waitlist for admission to an architecture college, he applied for a hotel management course at Pusa in Delhi and got through. While his unconventional career choice raised several eyebrows, he found all the support he needed from his father. His only advice was, “Be clear about what you’re getting into”.
Stand by you
It is this unconditional support he extended to his two daughters when it was time to pick colleges. Rachita, the elder one wanted to be a lawyer. So Sanjeev and wife, Alyona, helped her shortlist the colleges. They zeroed in on Symbiosis Law School in Pune since her maternal grandparents lived closeby and also for its proximity to Mumbai. When it came to the younger one, she was a sprinter who participated in 100 and 200 metre-races, who wanted to go to a college that would further her interest in sports. “It was unknown territory for us as well. We can guide them but ultimately they should be ready to face the consequences of their decisions,” says the father. So, how did he pick a college for her? He had some help from Scottish tennis pro, Andy Murray. Sanjeev met the Wimbledon champion in Dubai where he discussed his daughter’s career choice. “Andy then said she could consider Loughborough University in the UK since it was a very good sports college. It was a big decision to send her overseas and Sanjeev and I went to drop her. It was important to give her the assurance that if she felt uncomfortable, she could always get back. She just loves it though,” adds Alyona. The decision to go overseas worked really well for Kriti who, like her dad excelled in math but had no interest in science and there were very few options for her in India to pursue math without science.
Apart from being present for all important decisions, the Kapoors arranged to have someone they trusted to look after the kids in their absence. Savitri amma began working for the Kapoors in 1994, when the first daughter was a month old. “She was affectionate and yet very tough. She was very fussy about hygiene and did not tolerate things like not washing hands before a meal, not having a bath in time. The biggest advantage was her constant presence and just knowing that there was an elderly person at home always,” says Alyona.
Three years after Rachita, Kriti was born. And this time, the couple had inherited a fussy eater. Savitri amma, according to Alyona, would not rest till the child had eaten. “It’s rare to see that kind of affection. She fed the kids traditional South Indian fare such as tamarind rice, which they loved,” she says. The maid had her own signature dish in the chef’s home — appam with chicken stew. Not a single birthday would pass without Savitri amma buying thoughtful gifts for the girls. Sanjeev recalls how she would constantly tell the girls how hard their parents work to ensure they have a good life and how they should never take anything for granted. There was a never dull moment in the Kapoor household with Savitri amma around. It is only a couple of years ago that she moved to Visakhapatnam on account of old age. “Even today, she calls Rachita and Kriti on their birthdays,” says Alyona. And the kids continue to be equally fond of her. Earlier this year, both went to Visakhapatnam to celebrate her 90th birthday and took her out for lunch. “These are small but very important things. Relationships like these are hard to let go off,” Alyona concludes.
What best describes your parenting style?
Alyona: We were involved in their lives but never put any academic pressure on them. When Rachita was stressed about her college exam, Sanjeev told her that the worst-case scenario was getting a zero and that is not something to be stressed out about. I would tell them that you have the potential, so push yourself as much as you can.
How did you tackle sibling rivalry?
Sanjeev: Oh, sibling rivalry is still prevalent with these two! They have a lot going on between them. But they share a deep love for each other.
Alyona: Rachita jokes that we like Kriti more.
What kind of assistance did you give them with respect to academics?
Alyona: Sanjeev was the one who would always help them if they had a doubt.
What’s the best thing you did to help them discover themselves?
Alyona: Just let them be. We took them wherever we travelled. That was great exposure for them.
What is your most memorable milestone about your children’s development?
Sanjeev: Rachita’s disposition in general makes us very proud. She is very sensitive and now that she works with us, she is quick to point out something at work that seems insensitive or unjust.
Your most stressful moments as a parent and how did you deal with it?
Sanjeev: I used to be concerned when they would come back late from outings.
Alyona: If they are out for a party, I go to sleep. He is the one who gets all worried.
Which family rituals were non-negotiable?
Alyona: Sanjeev was always there for the sports meets and birthdays. Our annual holiday was non-negotiable for both of us.
What’s the difference in the way you and your kids grew up?
Alyona: There was not much pressure in our times, even when it came to academics. We were always outdoors but we had a curfew, which was strictly imposed.
If given a chance to start all over, is there anything you would change?
Sanjeev: Only Rachita’s height! There will be mistakes and things are mostly grey than black and white; so one should enjoy and learn from it. The imperfection is what is important. It is not about caramel but salted caramel.