Finding their place in the world

Supreeta Balasubramanian
Filed on March 20, 2020

(Neeraj Murali)

Ahead of the Mother's Day, we meet children who fuelled their mother's dreams when they were almost about to give up

It's never too little, too late
It is an unusual dining set-up at an eatery in Dar Wasl Shopping Centre, Jumeirah. The concept revolves around an intimate experience with the food being prepared by a home chef. In the kitchen, Namita Menghani is busy putting together a hearty meal for her guests. Her enthusiasm is infectious, as is her attentiveness. For a moment, it seems as though with every dish she prepares, she is proving a point. to herself and the world.

Namita is a quinquagenarian who entered the chaotic world of culinary business last year with ChaChi. Her daughter Reya explains the concept, saying, "ChaChi came up when the owner of Ummi Dubai decided to bring different moms on board and showcase their culinary prowess. It was Karan (her brother) who suggested that ChaChi should also participate." Chachi, in Hindi, means aunt. Karan and Reya decided on the name because their mother was fondly called so by many of their younger relatives.

That their mom simply loved to cook was never lost on Reya and Karan. Namita herself admits that she developed a passion for it when she was in Grade 5, but never really thought of taking it up professionally. Following her marriage, the passion did help her in becoming one of the joint family's most loved members. The children would never be allowed to order in; if they never complained, it's simply because what they ate at home was at par with anything the outside world had to offer.

Growing up, Reya says she always believed that her mother secretly wanted to be something more than a homemaker. The realisation strengthened when her mother supported her decision to work at a relatively younger age. "When I wanted to work, and other people were asking what the need was, it was Mom who encouraged me to try different things - which is how I figured out that she may have wanted a few things for herself as well," says Reya.

It was her 50th birthday that changed a few things for Namita. Having undergone a surgery for diabetes, she was on the verge of recovery when her children proposed the idea of having her start something of her own that related to cooking. The decision didn't meet with any raised eyebrows; rather, it brought a family together for a larger purpose, with Reya and Karan paving the way for their mother's foray into business. "I truly believe that everything has a time. The older you get, the more you get comfortable in your space, and then it's difficult to start something new. You are either full of confidence or fear. My mother's journey has been inspiring, to be honest," says Reya.

The biggest gift Namita has received through ChaChi is that of a routine - something she admits she enjoys very much. "I am so occupied because, every day, I am preparing a new menu," she chuckles.

Winding up our conversation, we ask Namita if she has ever regretted not doing this earlier in life. "When you start, you don't look back. So, no regrets," she says.

Chuck DIY, embrace DIT - Do it together
We like to believe that women empower other women. The question is, how does this work with those women who raise us, the ones who have known us all our lives? More importantly, how do we empower such women? Nagina Arshad, a banker by profession, and her sister played an instrumental role in helping their mother turn her passion for cooking into something more.

Today, Nagina's mother, Amina Kauser, runs a small catering business with her two daughters. "The Punjabi genes run strong in the family - that means food, food, and lots of food," says Nagina. Amina grew up in a large Punjabi family. The youngest of eight children, she had a loving childhood, and one that was full of flavour. Food was a big part of Amina's life growing up, and naturally cooking became her true passion. Despite this lifelong connection to food, it was only five years ago that the family seriously considered the possibility of converting Amina's talent into a business. "Our mom loved to cook and learn new dishes. We used to have gatherings where she would cook happily for 40-50 people at a time," says Nagina. Armed with such a passionate chef, raving positive feedback and a determination to empower their mother, Nagina and her sister started making a plan. Amina needed a little convincing but was eventually won over by the support of her daughters. The trio leaned on each other to get the job done. "The three of us sat down and planned everything and, then, she was good to go," says Nagina.

Amina's catering business is now growing slowly, but surely. Marketed as "Ama's Recipe", the family-run business keeps improving because of the chef at its helm. It's been five years since she started out and Amina says she still follows top chefs closely and reads cook books, trying to perfect her recipes. From delivering orders to getting groceries, the daughters continue to support their mother's growth in any way they can. And, of course, they motivate her, as they have from the beginning.

A feminist utopia, one would imagine. But put this question to Nagina, and she says, "Feminism acts as a way for people to take action and aspire for equality. Everyone can be a feminist."

Own your dream
Hira Ahmed is no stranger to hard work. After all, it was at the age of 16 that she began working as a teacher and then donned many hats subsequently, including that of an interior designer and a travel and tourism business owner. It is then no surprise that when she came to Dubai many years later as a mother of three, she considered setting up a business again - this time a cleaning and maintenance service. Her kids were already teenagers by then and Hira raised them mostly on her own.

"We were very young when she started her own business, but I was always happy because my mom's a hard worker. She gives her best to everything so I wanted her to take it easy with her own business rather than working a nine-to- five," says Hira's daughter Maria. Even though she had the support of her children and her own tenacious nature to fall back on, the road to success wasn't exactly a cakewalk. For Hira, the move from Karachi came with the unique problem of learning whom to trust. Having only worked with family back home, she had to struggle to identify dependable business partners. It helped to have an iron will to realise her goals. "She is wiser in terms of collaboration," says her daughter.

Maria is grateful that her mother works as hard as she does, and muses on how her relationship with Hira has changed over the years. "She was hard on us from a very young age, pushing us to study and work at the same time," says Maria, now a video and content curator. "I feel that's one of the best things she's done to me because I've learnt a lot in term of business. She's taught me to never say no to anything and always give my all in whatever I'm doing. Most importantly, she's taught me to never give up even when everything is looking hopeless."

Much like her mother, Maria has a strong personality and a stubborn will that often clashes with Hira's. They have learnt to settle their arguments by respecting each other's decisions. "Without saying a word, we both understand what the other person needs. So, you know that says a lot about our bond."

Maria has seen her mother struggle - moving to another country, raising three children on her own and successfully running multiple businesses. Today, she says, this helps her understand and connect with her mother at a different level. "She's become a stronger and confident person. She never backs down," says Maria, with obvious pride. Backed by her children's support and her own strength, for Hira, there is no way to go but up.
wknd@khaleejtimes.com


 
 
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