No matter where I live, my connection with India always remains

No matter where I live, my connection with India always remains

Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Raga D’silva as part of her regular series for ‘iGlobal’ to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.

Raga Olga D’silva is the Co-Founder and Director of Speaking Minds, a speaker engagement agency and international bureau, and is an expert in the field of corporate speaking and B2B content curation. She is a prolific speaker and influencer on issues such as diversity & inclusion, unconscious bias and doing business in India. As the South Asian Ambassador for Diabetes UK, she works on helping the community in its fight against the disease. Raga is the author of ‘Untold Lies’ and a Trustee on the board of children’s charity CRY UK. The mother of twins divides her time between London, Mumbai and New Zealand – all three being home to her.

How would you best describe your relationship with yourself?

It has taken me 50 years to accept myself and finally love the person I allowed myself to become. I grew up in a very humble, traditional family in Mumbai. I followed social norms of a conservative Mangalorean (South India) upbringing; yet at that time defied tradition and married a close friend, who was from the north of India.

I was fortunate to have had great education and rose up the corporate ladder very quickly in India and was made head of a large division at Lintas (the number one advertising agency in India at the time) at a very young age. I continued to work in senior positions in agencies later in New Zealand before I set up my businesses.

My then husband and I had twins (a son and a daughter) and the lack of time for family and a desire to have a better quality of life, had us emigrate to New Zealand. We lived a dream life – beautiful home, cars, fantastic professional life, awards, accolades – and yet, I felt a huge void in my life.

I knew deep down that I wasn’t happy within. I was not being true to myself and in that was not being true to my family. Eventually, as my marriage ended for various other reasons, I found myself willing to explore my sexuality, and eventually met my same gender partner, and we have now been together for over 13 years.

This decision led to a lot of abuse, judgment; including being ostracised from family and I lost some friendships as well. There was professional and personal ghosting. However, I believed that as a woman, especially as a mother, if I wasn’t happy, I would be unable to bring up a happy family.

It took immense strength and courage to come out of hiding and live my truth. It took me 18 years to finally come out of hiding. My children have grown up with three parents and unconditional love. The father to my children is now one of our strongest allies along with the children themselves. That journey took its own time, with its own dramas and trauma. It is important to know that conflicts do happen, but if we allow ourselves to accept each other for who we are, then life works a way out for us.

In living my truth, I believe I managed to create a family that has love and respect for each other’s choices. We have all evolved together and are proud that we contributed love to this universe.

How would you describe your relationship with the UK and India?

I am one of those very fortunate individuals who has the privilege of calling three countries my home – New Zealand, the United Kingdom and India.

I live in London with my partner and our adult children. My partner and I set up a successful speakers’ bureau (Speaking Minds) in India along with two other partners, one of them is actor Milind Soman, which has its Head Office in Mumbai. As a result, over the last few years, we have had to balance our family and professional life between two countries. So, it was difficult to understand what was home. Lockdown changed this for us, and now we are in London and slowly I have started feeling at home here. Fully.

But no matter where I live, my connection with India always remains; which is one key reason, I set up businesses with India.

I was the first woman to be on the board of the India New Zealand Business Council in 2006 and held that position for three years. We did some path-breaking dialogues for trade between NZ and India at that time. I believe that UK and India have potential to grow this on a broader larger scale and I hope that I will be able to contribute towards these dialogues in the near future.

I still notice prejudice towards the LGBT community, based on fear stemming from ignorance. My story is an example of how love is love and that we can all blend in a society as long as the society is open to accepting love. Our community does need more allies and acceptance from our families and friends. I now use my influence in the community to change this narrative, whether it is through books, talks or through storytelling. My story is being adapted into a film and soon to be published novel.

What is the one lesson that you try to live your life by?

Live your truth. We try so hard to do things that keep our loved ones happy, our families happy, and we end up making choices that end up compromising our own happiness. Adjustment, sacrifice, compromise are all terms used to condition us so that we can keep everyone else’s happiness above our own and anyone that defies that is labelled selfish.

We need to learn to love ourselves first, so we can give our love to others in the best possible way. Closets are for clothes and things, not for our truth. I discovered that the more I hid my truth, the more I wore a mask. The mask did help me hide the pain and trauma for years, but it also created a darkness inside me that caused me much mental, emotional imbalance.

Now I live my truth, for me.

How do you juggle all your roles – entrepreneur/speaker/author/mother/ filmmaker?

First of all, let me share that it hasn’t been easy. Considering I moved countries three times in the last 15 years. I have always held jobs (and now businesses) that had me travel – both domestic and international. Initially, we managed with the support of my mother. However, later in life, we have had to create a support system of friends, paid help, and each other.

The reality is that it takes a lot of forward planning, creating systems that work for all, juggling, creating a support system and also being prepared for the challenges it brings. What has worked for me is self belief, discipline and my ability to connect with people. This trait helps because one has to rely on a support network when you choose to manage and juggle so many aspects.

I don’t know the meaning of the word ‘bored’ or ‘how to pass the time’. I use my time in the best way I am able, which means being a parent, professional, supporting others in their needs, being part of a wider community. And, I ensure that I have enough time for myself, my close circle of friends, relaxation and travel. After all, we have 24 hours in a day!

Reena Ranger is the Chair and Co-Founder of Women Empowered. In this exclusive multi-media “In Conversation” series for ‘iGlobal’, the dynamic entrepreneur-philanthropist catches up with high-achieving Global Indians across different fields to spotlight some insightful life lessons.

*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.

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