When Tanya was all of 15, her mother had to sell off her jewelry to pay for her school fees. This pushed her to take up odd jobs and she embarked on a career of a sales person. After eight years in the industry, she quit her job and started a music band Gravy Train, which after moderate success broke off in 2.5 years. Back to the drawing board, she took a year off to compose music, and launched herself as a solo artist in 2016. Today she is multi-tasking as a solo artist, founder of a hot sauce company, voice-over artist, host of karaoke nights, emcee at events and what not.
Meet the self-proclaimed middle-class hustler as she talks about how success and failure are the essential ingredients of a delicious life, and how one always keeps following the other.
Tanya Nambiar, Singer, Delhi
Interviewed by Chirantan Shah
Why did you decide to give us an interview on success and failure?
I have experienced repeated success and repeated failure from close quarters. I feel that the two are constantly there. I have come to strongly believe that one has to experience both to get ahead in life. I am somebody who has always had big dreams. Maybe it applies to every middle-class girl – I have always encountered success and failure in equal measure in my pursuit of those dreams.
Take us through your journey in detail. You said that you started working very young at 15-16. What exactly pushed you to do that?
My parents are the most hardworking people I know. My mother was a teacher back then, my dad had his own courier business. Sometimes you take wrong decisions and things don’t work out. We faced a financial crunch, because of which my mum had to sell off her jewelry. When you are fifteen and you see your mother sell her gold chain just to pay a Rs 6000 school fee, it hurts you.
Though, I am really grateful that my family has experienced so many financial problems because it really pushed me to turn things around. It made me who I am today.
After finishing school in 2005, I enrolled for History Honours from Gargi College in Delhi University. In the breaks at college, I started taking up odd jobs. I have done everything from being a sales girl at exhibitions, to working in BPO’s.
For me it was just about making some money, to at least fend for myself, even if I could not provide for the family. That’s what pushed me. Later, I worked as a sales person for a training organization. In my last job I was a corporate sales manager for a publication house. My job was to sell magazines to the corporates. Sales taught me the whole hustle, grind that life is all about.
How did music happen?
When I was 22-23, I realized that sales was not something that I was enjoying anymore and I had bigger ambitions. I always knew that music was a really big part of my life. But I never saw it as a career option.
But at one point in time, I said, “Screw it, I am not married, I don’t have kids, I can do what I want. This is the time to experiment. I will give myself a year.” With my job, I started hosting karaoke nights, to earn some money and hustle. I call myself the middle-class hustler. I always try to figure out, how I can make something profitable.
While I was hosting karaoke nights, people said, “Oh you sing so well! You should take this up fulltime.” That really motivated me. And bam! I quit my job, took up music full time, formed a band. I got that little bit of success.
Tell us about your first band.
The first band I started with a bunch of friends was ‘Gravy Train’ – our first gig was in a Christmas celebration – we sang two songs. We played in some of the best festivals, got a lot of media coverage and mileage. That was all me pushing it. I was the singer, the songwriter, the PR person. We had not put out a recorded sound, but we were able to get a lot of gigs because that sales person in me was always pushing my band. We were doing really well…
And then, after 2.5 years my band split up. It hit me very hard because it came to an end suddenly, after I had invested so much time and emotion in it. When you are in a group with other people, not everybody has the same drive or same passion as you. It is important for everyone in a band to be on the same page. Sadly, not everybody in my band was. Everybody had different dreams and aspirations. I was so heartbroken. It felt like an end of a relationship.
What was the silver lining?
Looking back, it was good that it didn’t work out, because then I got to launch myself as a solo artist.
During this period, I realized what my passion for music was. Even when I was not performing, the passion didn’t go away. I decided to focus, write music and find a new direction. I was half-expecting the fire to die down, but it didn’t. After a year of writing, I relaunched myself as a solo artist in 2016 at the age of 28.
It was difficult having to relaunch yourself after being in the scene for so long. Starting off all over again – being your own manager, taking care of the signing, the stay, the flight, managing the schedules of the three artists who work with me.
Things were going well, I was getting some gigs, and then one of my musicians left. He wanted to go to the US for a bit, so again I had a little set-back. Now I have accepted that setbacks and failures are constantly going to be a part of what I do.
Tell us about your hot-sauce startup.
My husband has been in the hospitality industry for a really long time. We had this huge fight one day, and he made some very interesting sauces at home. They were so delicious, that I knew immediately that this could be our business idea. He comes from a family which has always been in secure jobs, whereas I come from a family that is used to betting it all on an idea if you believe it’s a winner.
My in-laws did want him to continue his job, but he was not able to, because the hospitality industry has really long hours – 17-18 hours a day. I was certain that we were sitting on a million-dollar business idea. Eventually he got convinced and took the plunge with me.
Last year we launched our own business of hot sauces called ‘El Diablo’ named after a dog breed.
It took off because of my network, the salesperson in me pushed it. People got very curious about the sauces – there was nothing like them available in the market – uniquely flavored, no sugar, no preservatives.
We decided to go into retail this year. We are facing so many setbacks though; from arranging funds to setting up a manufacturing facility, and the large margins the trade demands. Sight. Everytime you taste a bit of success, you are bound to hit a roadblock soon after. So now we are trying to find our way around this and get into retail market.
Does pursuing so many different things not distract you from music?
Everything else that I do, the anchoring, and other things are all to support music. In music, I get a cheque that is split among four of us. I do everything else so that I can continue the dream of singing. I don’t see myself stopping ever. I want to sing even when my teeth fall off. People ask me how do I know that this is my calling. I always say if you are able to do something 24/7 without any complaints, then that’s what you are meant to do.
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic, but we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
Love to me means loving like a dog. Dogs are really kind, they get happy for the smallest of things. They give unconditional love. I believe you love somebody because you love to be with them and spend time with them – it is the inner happiness that you get when you are with someone. Love is when you feel love like a dog.