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Something is right about baking cakes

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Pavitra Paniker

If someone had told me that I would be baking cakes twenty years ago, I would have dismissed it. Perhaps, would have been a bit shocked and offended too. But a lot has changed and I have changed too.

Pavitra Paniker
Pavitra Paniker

I was brought up in India and as a student, engineering and medicine were considered the summits of success.

Despite being overcrowded, I still choose the engineering summit. After scaling the summit, I landed with a job in a software engineering.

Comparing my life and career to a train ride, it was, what one would say, ‘chugging along nicely’. On the way, I acquired the title of both Mrs and a Masters, and a promising career in a Big Four firm; the ride was looking good.

However, the birth of my daughter changed everything. The train ride had started to exhaust; hours in a day seemed severely insufficient, the timetables had to be torn apart and rewritten and a feeling of incessant guilt pervaded work and home.I resigned and the guilt was back. It felt wrong to be doing nothing so I dappled in a few projects and finally settled on baking.

I used to enjoy baking with my mother and grandmother, and it became a pastime that my daughter and I loved to indulge in on a weekend. I had been on a couple of short, cake decorating courses; I had  even travelled to India with a load of decorated fruit cakes for my family including a floral one for my grandmother and  one for my father’s birthday with a cricket pitch and cricketer among others.

My friends had thought I had lost it. It was unthinkable for them that I had used precious luggage space to carry 5 kgs of cake instead of the more desirable gifts such as perfumes and electronics .

Well, since I had apparently lost it, I decided to go all the way.

I made one call to the HMRC and I was a registered businesswoman. Pav’s Cakes was thus born.

Bespoke celebration cakes with great personality and flavour became the mission. It was scary at first but the initial orders from my good friends boosted my confidence.

Pav’s Cakes is a small business and is only two years old. Though still a toddler, it gives me the flexibility and the opportunity to be creative. I work from home.  I rely on word-of-mouth advertising and have been getting some business through my website which has helped to take my business further.

I am proud of my vintage inspired hand painted cakes.  They are versatile and can be incorporated into any theme. The vintage painted bird cage cake has been a favourite especially amongst brides.  My cakes are a blend of the East and West; the patterns and motifs I choose are heavily influenced by the East and the hand-made sugar flowers are characteristic of the West; something different from other cake decorators.

However, in running your own business, the setbacks are many and initially they are quite demoralising but they are an integral part of the learning curve.

I must admit that during the process, I learnt new things which in turn gave me an opportunity to hone my skill.

Now, my confidence level oozes out as I make wedding cakes for others; I feel proud and satisfied. I have learnt to take pleasure from small steps that I take.

I have reconciled that giving up a steady salary and certainty is a small price to pay for the happiness I get when I watch my daughter rush into her classroom in the morning, and am greeted by her cheeky nonchalance when I pick her up.  There are days when the bank account looks grim, the orders sparse and a fog of expenses descend; on those days cups of tea and a lottery ticket purchase have helped immensely.

I haven’t hit the big time in the world of cake decorating. Not even close. But I have sensed a deep satisfaction.  Through my cakes, I have been a part of special occasions that celebrate 60-year and 40-year wedding anniversaries which are incredible milestones. The same can be said for the birthdays, weddings and christenings that I have catered to. These are cherished moments for my clients.

After much adjustment, this is the formula that works for me. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I have some remarkable friends who are very successful career women with beautiful children, happy homes and accomplished cooking skills. These women are powerhouses of energy and dynamism.  I admire them and often wonder if there has been a mutation in their genes that I missed out on!

Twenty years ago, I would have never dreamt that I would get a space in a newspaper to talk about my business. Maybe, I have done something right!

(Chester-based Pavitra Panicker tells Anjana Parikh about her journey into the world of baking cakes.) 

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