By Ayesha Dahra
My father was in the Indian Air Force, and as a child, I moved around with my parents until dad joined the Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment in Agra to develop better parachutes. I lived in Agra right until my post-graduation from St John’s College, and then married a paratrooper in the Indian Army.
We had two children in the early 1990s. Two decades ago, when my children were still very small, my husband and I separated. I took child custody, while he moved abroad to work in the UN.
Left to my own devices, I moved to Gurgaon and tried setting up my own clothing business, but it was an uphill task. Every few months, my landlords would ask me to vacate the premises once my business picked up and I started getting a lot of footfall, or if they found out I was a divorcee. Frequent moving ate into my income, so I decided to shut shop and get a job.
I managed to find a position at an advertising agency, even though travelling in public transport from Gurgaon to north Delhi was excruciating. When the owner found out I was a single mother, he told my supervisor, “Don’t let her get too comfortable.” They began picking on me, until I had no option but to leave.
Similar circumstances forced me to leave other jobs too. Sometimes, it was internal politicking; at other times my salary would be withheld for long periods. It almost became a pattern: I was hired for my leadership and management skills but once people found out about my marital status, the witch-hunt would begin. People would make up stories about my supposedly immoral personal life. And male gossip is the basest and most sickening.
I do have a secret pleasure though. Eleven years ago, once I had enough money to invest in a personal hobby, I joined a school to learn classical dance. My kids have been my biggest support and have attended all my performances till date.
There was a good phase when I had a well-paying marketing job for seven years. But last year, I had to leave the company when they withheld my salary for several months. After so many years in the industry, I thought it was a good time to start something of my own.
So I launched Ranakah.com, an ecommerce portal for pure silver and mixed metal jewellery. The idea is to preserve our beautiful Indian designs and help artisans sustain an art and craft form that requires a great amount of perseverance and detailing.
It takes courage to make a difficult choice – such as leaving a bad marriage – but it takes even more courage and strength to deal with its consequences. A society such as ours can be ruthless to women who don’t toe the patriarchal line. But I say, women should be just as ruthless in their conviction and faith in themselves. Don’t let them get to you; your life is worth fighting for.