OUTSTANDING: An outstanding wildlife and nature photographer Assavri Kulkarni is an outstanding example for children with learning difficulties.

The story of Assavri Kulkarni, a dyslexic child who overcame her limitations, to become an outstanding nature photographer. She is married to the eco-warrior Nirmal Kulkarni.

By Pravin K Sabnis

Assavri Kulkarni was born to Chitra & Vivek (Bala) Kandalgaonkar in Betim village on banks of Mandovi River in Goa. The family was into fishing & boat building. Her father was strict yet broad minded who taught her to drive at 14 but never gave the car to drive until she bought her own. He would wake children at 4am to study & swim. She swam for the state at one point of time
Her childhood was a struggle as a dyslexic child. She had difficulty in studying but parents or teachers did not understand her predicament. She hated school because of the disconnect. All she internalised was experience of crossing the river by ferry & walking to Mary Immaculate school in Panjim everyday, ice cream factory on the way, eve teasers near Church Square, coming home to forcefully eat non veg food which she didn’t like
She found solace in art & drawing. She kept staring at her river searching for answers to flowing questions. By age 8, she had started cooking food. Living in a joint family brought on negative strokes from all kinds of insensitive & abusive persons. She was close to her grandmother & father but it was a struggle to have simple things in life despite being in a financially strong family
The real challenge started when she announced decision to join Art College. Her father wanted her to be a chartered accountant. She told him that she could not understand numbers. Unable to convince him, she rebelled & joined Art College with money borrowed from a neighbour. Her father was livid & stopped talking to her for over a year. Each day was tearful & difficult
She was in top 6 which gave her privilege to select photography as specialisation. She needed a camera or would have to let go of photography. At age 16, she did a modeling assignment & short interviews at All India radio, sold photographs clicked with her friend’s camera to earn first 10,000 rupees. That was not enough to buy a camera but the seller Piyush Shah gave her time to pay
She won first award in photography competition organised by Goa Heritage Action Group. Besides 3000 rupees & lots of recognition, her father reconciled & accepted that he had erred. She kept winning awards in photography at national & state tourism awards
At 16, she met Nirmal Kulkarni at college. He was impressed by her love for animals & of course the delicious food she carried in her tiffin. They explored nature together, climbed peaks of goa & trekked in the forests. The friendship turned into a partnership for a lifetime
In final year of college, she stood second in University with a silver medal & national recognition of Vilas Bhende Award for photography. She started commercial shoots for hotel industry alonside fashion & portait assignments. In a men’s world she was first woman photographer in the commercial sector in Goa
Her first national fashion magazine shoot came from Sucheta Potnis for Kingfisher magazine. She shot for them for 9 years including Verve, Elle Man’s world shoot, Rolling Stone, People, Mint, NCG, BBC food & local Goan publications. She was part of jury for primary round of Femina Miss India & other competitions. She regularly taught photography to kids & adults & lectures at many colleges
At 24, she married Nirmal & continued their passion for travel & nature. At 27 she got into yoga & that become her routine. It powered her physically as well as mentally & challenged limitations of conditioning. It was the right time to pass on the positive nurturing to a child
Her first coffee table book Markets of Goa was published by Department of Art & Culture. The delivery of 8 years of photo documentation as a book & her daughter happened in same month in 2015
Multitasking & independence made her decide to nurture her daughter with Nirmal. Their work took a back stage but it was worth it. In 2018 she published her second book on photography ‘Light on Photography’ published by Sapna Sardessai’s Printers Devil. It is a guide book for students of photography & includes articles she wrote for Navhind Times
Her connection with food came from her grandmother who introduced her to markets & cafes in Panjim. She keeps researching & experimenting with organic cuisine. Her recipes on her food channel Assavri’s kitchen are followed by many on social media. She plans to open her organic cafe soon
She has worked over last 2 years on her next book on Kunbis as well as a small hand book on her experience in parenting & kid’s tiffin recipes for new mothers. She is working on an international art exhibition of her Black & White drawings in pen & ink
Besides creating new recipes, her hobbies include travel to less travelled places, playing cricket, growing rice & veggies, spending time with nature & living by sustainable choices. She is off chemicals & stopped using soap, creams, shampoos for last 3 years. She created her own brand of body wash & hairwash under name Curcuma which is completely plant based. She has always been plastic free, carrying her steel dhabba to restaurants to carry back leftovers. They have no television in the house & use the time in better ways

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