Today is eShe’s founder Aekta Kapoor’s 46th birthday and while that’s not a number of any particular significance for her or anyone, we thought it’d be a good day to help our readers understand who exactly is the woman behind eShe, and what is on her mind.
A lot of readers are curious about your story. Why don’t you ever write about it in your own magazine?
I first ‘came out’ about my life story on Tiny Buddha eight years ago. After that I compiled my blog into a book 100 Paths: A Woman’s Search for God in the City. After that I stopped writing about myself and began to focus on other women’s stories instead.
But for those still interested in knowing, here’s my story in brief: I was raised in UAE in a conservative Punjabi family and was socially conditioned to believe a woman’s place is at home. At 20, I had a very reluctant arranged marriage in Delhi. By 24, I was a depressive mother of two. At 30 — when I had just got my first job after years of being a hollow, hopeless and suicidal homemaker — I encountered Nichiren Buddhism and had an ‘opening of the eyes’.
I left the marriage with my two little girls, got another job I loved in a fashion magazine, and was constantly exhausted yet determined to be happy no matter what it took. My experiments in spirituality as a single mother are chronicled in 100 Paths. I’ve also shared my journey on The Life Engineer.
When I was 38, I married my secret boyfriend of many years. At 43, I quit my full-time career in fashion media and launched eShe. My daughters are now 23 and 21, and are with us during the lockdown, after which they will fly off wherever they have to.
Your article Dear Daughters, Please Don’t Get Married went so crazy viral, it has got more views than all the other thousands of articles on eShe put together. What were you thinking when you wrote it?
I believe we do our most inspired work when we actually aren’t thinking too much. On that particular day, I was due to send the issue off to press, but there was still lots to be done. Pulling up my sleeves, I wrote this piece in 20 minutes. I had my husband give it a read (after all, he is mentioned in it), predicting, “This is going to be controversial.” He smiled wryly and shrugged his okay.
I didn’t even have any proper photo of me with both my daughters, so I just used the last one on my phone with my elder one who’d gone off for higher studies just a few weeks earlier.
The article is still getting lots of views, so I’m considering taking a fresh new photo with both girls and updating it.
It’s funny how one little thing ends up becoming the defining work of your life. I’ve been talking and writing about women and equal rights for years now. Then suddenly, one impulsive thing and boom.
Do you really think your daughters should not get married?
Yes. I think their entire generation and all the ones ahead should reject marriage. I think girls should choose their partners consciously, carefully, and opt for equal, respectful, meaningful relationships instead of husbands.
Won’t society fall apart if people stop getting married?
Let it. To build something new you have to break something first.
Besides, any society that discriminates against people for their gender, caste, class, skin colour, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or any circumstance of their birth needs to be demolished, IMHO.
Do you hate men?
Men are not the problem. Patriarchy is. Once we reject marriage, we render patriarchy impotent.
Indian men — who are used to being treated like princes and earning dowry and a housekeeper for free in marriage — will have to work hard to win women partners, and will become less boorish and entitled.
Indian women — who are used to being dependent and imprisoned in the home — will have to earn their own upkeep and will become more confident and independent.
It will pave the way for a more equal footing in relationships.
Is eShe a feminist magazine?
It sure is. And we’re not interested in featuring anyone who does not believe women should have equal rights and opportunities as men.
It’s also a magazine about women’s stories and their personal journeys and growth. What do you hope to achieve out of this?
I hope to chronicle our times through the female gaze, through the day-to-day experiences of today’s women and girls. I hope to remind people in these divisive times of our shared humanity. I hope to ignite women to live their truth, even if it may be hard at first. I hope to inspire those who are seeking ideas, and encourage those who need a little push to take a big step.
Above all, I hope to awaken women to the fact that none of us is insignificant, and each of us has a valuable story to share. This is the space where we ‘see’ each other, acknowledge each other’s struggles and stories, and honour each other’s truths.
What do you tell men who often ask you, “Why don’t you ever feature men?“
Because we are a women’s magazine. (We have featured transpersons, though, because we feel them.)
Men don’t get it, though. So I am open to suggestions on how to answer them.
Happy birthday. What do you want as a birthday gift from God this year?
A healthy, happy, humane, safe, socially just, and covid-resistant planet. So be it, so be it, so be it.
Read more of Aekta’s thoughts in her monthly column Rare View.