‘Sometimes we need to go through struggles to realize what we exactly want. It is not easy, but not difficult either.’
I started my brand last year at the age of 51. I was a successful corporate woman heading a team, chasing targets and setting up offices for more than two decades. From there to here, becoming my own boss has been a beautiful journey.
Growing up as a single child was not easy. My parents had pinned all their hopes and dreams on me so that everything, including my career decisions, had to be as per their choice. They wanted me to be the ideal child that society adored and referred to as an example. I would get beaten every time I did something that was not like a “good girl”. Soon I turned into a rebel child.
I wanted to study English literature and pursue higher studies in administration or criminal law, but my father insisted on medicine. In spite of having cleared the English entrance exam to the best college in Calcutta, I was packed off to Siliguri to study medicine.
I struggled for three years in med school.
Being pushed into medical college against my wish, the first thing that hit me was a feeling of helplessness. I did not know who to turn to for help. The college was far from home and in a remote area, away from city life. As I had been admitted against my will, I could not connect much with my batchmates. Feelings of loneliness, anger, and frustration led me to believe that the only way to run away from it all was to get married.
All I wanted to do was raise a beautiful family and give my child the freedom that I never got.
I eloped at the age of 21, dropped out of college, and by 22 I was a mother struggling to make ends meet, managing two sets of parents who could barely tolerate each other, and coping with mental, physical and emotional torture from the man whom I had thought would be my saviour.
When you are in your twenties, your emotional thinking dominates your logical thinking. I compromised with every situation . I accepted my husband’s infidelity. I did not want anyone, least of all my parents, to know about it because I thought it would be a matter of shame to go back and tell them that I had failed. I was also not working at the time. I did not know what I would do with a child without financial support, and my ego would not let me ask for money from my parents. I began to set up for my daughter’s psychological stress. She would get scared every time we raised our voices. She became scared of speaking up. I was too young to realize the damage I was doing to her, but I held on because I thought having a father figure around was important. Or maybe because I was not close to my father, I was subconsciously hoping that things get better between them.
My daughter is everything that I wanted to be. I learned to give her complete freedom to do what she wanted, especially pursuing her own career aspirations. She made mistakes, changed paths, but eventually found her calling. We are best friends first, mom and daughter later. It is her maturity and constant support that has helped me to find myself at this age.
After seven years of marriage, I started working. It was not to build a career, but to utilise my free time. I decided I would put in my best efforts and deliver beyond expectation. I guess my administrative and marketing powers were strong enough for the management to take notice, and from feet-on-the-street I soon rose to the position of Regional Head, without any business school degree to support me. I created professional enemies in a strongly male dominated line of business. I made my presence felt.
It took me twenty years to move out of a marriage that was doomed from day one. I am glad it happened, but in 2010 when it did, it felt like the end of the world. Coping with a new job, a failed marriage, financial struggle and raising my daughter single-handedly all took a toll on my mental health. I went into depression for some time. The final straw was when my mother was diagnosed with end stage cancer. I had no one to turn to.
Looking back, I think the divorce was a blessing in disguise at that point because it shaped my career. The first thing I realized post my separation was that I had to be financially strong, and in no way could I let anything affect my job performance.
I made up my mind to handle all this and start a new chapter. No point in crying over spilt milk. Nobody except myself could change my life, and I decided to take charge.
In 2016 I decided to go on a trek to overcome my fear of heights and claustrophobia, but mostly my fear of being away from my daughter. As I stood at 12,000 feet, looking at the snow capped mountains and the clear blue skies, I knew somewhere inside I had lost the old me, like a snake shedding its skin. All this while I had been living for people, not for myself. I was tired.
Suddenly it felt like I had walked out of a cage after years and could finally breathe. I knew I wanted something more from life but did not know what. I was not happy with my current job, so I changed companies.
This time I went to the jungle. I realized I had a passion for photography. I wanted to travel, explore, break free. Rules and routines had started irritating me. Everyday I started finding myself.
In 2018 I launched my blog. I wrote my story. I was overwhelmed at the response. It surprised me to know how many women were stuck in similar situations. We always talk about female empowerment and feminism yet we still have educated women making compromises in order to be accepted by society or because they are not financially independent to walk out or because they’re simply scared to face the challenges of change. We tend to remain stuck in situations only because we lack the courage to think “why not”. Loving oneself and letting go are important factors that help in healing. To make things work, one has to take charge, because nobody is going to do that for you.
Around this time, I started working on my Instagram profile. As brand collaborations started happening, I could slowly feel myself calming down. I started planning. I had to be on my own. To be at peace. To slow down. To plan my day at my own pace. That is when I planned my brand.
When I decided to move out of my regular job, I knew there were two options for me: remain in the same work domain or get into sarees. I wanted to be completely cut off from my corporate domain, hence sarees were my natural choice. There is so much experimentation one can do with this unstitched piece of cloth. I hope to take my business to a level where I can help some needy women earn a livelihood apart from their weaving communities.
I have always tried to look at my experiences in a positive way and am still a firm believer in the institution of love and marriage. I also have a deep respect for all the wonderful men who have been supportive in my journey. Sometimes we need to go through struggles to realize what we exactly want. It is not easy, but not difficult either. We only need to listen to our hearts and embrace what comes, never mind if it comes late. Age is just a number, and I am happy to have found myself at 51. As my favourite quote goes, “Now is as good a time as any.”
What our children learn from our actions impacts their lives much more than books and education. Make them proud of their parents as much as we would want them to make us proud.
It takes courage to give up an established career. It takes courage to give up a regular income. But what I have achieved so far is priceless: my peace of mind. I have found myself. This is me, living life on my own terms.
A sales and marketing professional for almost 22 years, and having worked with Corporate giants like Apollo and Aditya Birla group, Kakali Biswas is now an entrepreneur, running a small sustainable garment business by the name DORA by Phoenix. Single parent, living with her 29 year old daughter who also works in the fashion segment.A wildlife enthusiast with passion for music, photography and cooking.