I grew up in Hyderabad in a nuclear family as the younger of two sisters. I carried invisible baggage on my shoulders, thrust upon by society. I tried very hard to be ‘like a son’. I forced myself not to cry watching the sad scenes in popular Hindi movies by keeping my eyes stretched with my fingers. I hoped I didn’t grow breasts and went out of my way to do the heavy lifting. My idea of beauty was muddled. I was fairly independent and learnt to ride a cycle, scooter and then drive a car much before the expected time. I pushed myself hard ‘living up to the expectations from a son’ in the family and the near community.
I was in a hurry to get financially independent. As I was busy trying to be something I wasn’t (a boy), I curbed my natural disposition. Classical dance that was a passion took a backseat and life carried on. I excelled in studies and NIIT and MBA and found a job. I didn’t know how to cook as it was something that ‘women’ do. I didn’t want any privileges or any consideration for being a woman, I got into uncomfortable situations many times because of this attitude. I remember I was doing my summer internship and had taken up a project that required me to do a survey in summers in Surat and Rajkot, amongst the hottest places to be, the VP happened to be in town and invited me for dinner. I went to his room for the same. I made some bad choices, but in my head, if a boy could do it, so could I. He made a pass at me and I had a narrow escape. Many such incidents happened. I continued to blame myself. My mind was agog with piercing thoughts – my disposition may have led them to such lewd behaviour, I gave inappropriate signals, perhaps…..There were battles to be fought and won. There were loans to be taken and paid. There were walls to be scaled. There was no time to get married. I moved to Delhi. Bought a house and paid the 15 years loan in 9 years. By then my ‘singledom’ was becoming a matter of debate amongst friends, family and strangers. Within my extended family, I was an example of what not to become.
 
 
Me doing my Grah Pravesh havan with my mom and sister
“Yeh mat karo varna, Didi jaise reh jaoge”
I was seen as a bechaari -people assume you have a lonely life and are bitter and angry when you are a single woman. The assumption is ‘shaadi nahin hui’ rather than ‘shaadi nahin ki’. Questions like what is wrong with her, “ki uski shaadi nahin hui “became part of life. Neighbours would drop in at ungodly hours on some pretext or the other to check if I am living a decent life since I live all alone in a 4 bedroom house.
“Teri Chiita ko aag kaun dega?” Asked a friend once, who came to me to borrow money from me, and went on boastfully that her son will perform the religious sacred duty!
Male friends were uncomfortable socializing one-on-one with me publicly. I felt I was a dirty secret to be hidden. I was taboo. 
Friends were getting married and having kids, running about for school admissions and didn’t have as much time for me as before. 
The society being as patriarchy centric as it is, there was more reinforcing, guards of my society would ask me, whose house I am visiting every time I entered my society – every day. The list of such big and small things is endless. So, when I hear divorced women make it sound like an achievement, when they manage home and work, I find it odd as it was the natural way for me! To struggle, to fight against odds, to be respected, be bold enough to wear red in a wedding, to fall sick and stay at home all alone, to come back late and not worry about the judgmental eyes, to be judged constantly and yes, by all and sundry!
I had to fight to gain respect and I did. I took a step back and started being good to myself. I was becoming a person my extended family started looking up to owing to my professional status. The younger cousins wanted to be like me. The tide had turned.
The guards started saluting me as I changed my attitude towards them.
 
I stopped looking at myself as a victim and started viewing myself as an empowered, independent and liberated person. 
I started revelling in my femininity, I took to classical dance again while pursuing my career as an advertising professional. My weekends were about dancing and my weekdays were about my office.
 
 
Dance became a balancing force, it allowed me to indulge my feminine side. A side that I had repressed. I was doing well, life was good but I was thrown out of the Dance institute where I used to go, for reasons I haven’t understood and don’t want to spend time and energy doing. I was desperate, I knew that I had to find a way to pursue my dance, it completed me. I lived in a flat and didn’t have space, I wanted to sell it and find another place. I had to discontinue. I was at my wit’s end. I remember putting up a post asking for basements. I spoke to kindergarten schools to check if I could get a place for 2 hours every week. I had to find a solution. I decided to break a loo in my house that was attached to the Servant’s room, I created space, got soundproof flooring done, and started calling Guruji home. I then decided to open a dance academy for working women like me who love to dance but don’t have access to the right Guru or a place that works on flexi hours. I set up Marigold Society of Performing Arts. I worked very hard and received accreditation from Prayag Sangeet Samiti. I found a lot of support from Gurgaon Moms who stood by me. I am grateful that I have been able to build a reputation for my own venture, over the years, we do shows and I feel fulfilled that I am able to spread the joy of dance to women and touch their lives and support my Guru in the process. I have so many acknowledgments from people in terms of how Kathak has helped them deal with their illness, their grief, and so many other adverse situations.
 
During the #Metoo movement, I put up a post that was taken out of context and misconstrued. I was heavily trolled and received threats, day and night. I lost a lot of credibility but am thankful that my organization stood by me. I decided to change my digital footprint. I am a woman who believes in building other people and decided to showcase it and not be embarrassed about it. I started to write for TOI to express my views. I mentor women both within my organization and outside. I have been recognized by the WEF as a ‘Woman of Substance’.
 
During the Pandemic, I contracted Covid and by God’s grace it was a mild case. I read a few posts on Gurgaon Moms from women who had lost their partners to Covid and felt an inner ‘call’ to make an intervention. I started a support group for them with Yoshita a friend who I connected with through Marigold and Kathak and Sarita my college buddy. We started an initiative, Subah. We mobilized an ecosystem of support – volunteers, coaches and buddies, experts on finance, legal, career, taxation, compliance. We do a lot of work – from grief management for widows to grief management of children, from career coaching to just mindfulness exercises.
 
The journey of life-fulfillment, self-healing and self-discovery continues and it’s a journey that I am proud of. People ask me how I manage so much and say, it’s probably because you are single and I smile and tell them, I do it in spite of being single
 
Chandana is the President at 82.5_communications & Founder at Marigold Society of Performing Arts. 
She is a known name in the advertising world of India She is also an artist doing her bit to make Kathak, the classical Indian dance form accessible to working women and SAHM. In a leadership position in the Ogilvy Group, she has been a part of many brand launches and relaunches across categories through her career span – Vistara Airlines, Honda Amaze, Voltas A.Cs, Royal Stag, Philips, and Lava Mobiles to name a few. A lot of work she has helped create has not just worked for the brand in the market but has been appreciated globally and has gone on to win international Creative and Effectiveness Awards.

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