When I was presented with the opportunity of sitting down for a no-holds-barred interview with our founder and CEO, Raj Girn, I wanted to bring to light the purist interview possible. I wanted to strip away the glitz and glam and the endearing over-the-top persona we all know and love of the woman that has launched North America’s longest running South Asian multimedia company. I wanted to know the mindset of how she came into being one of the most charismatic and fearless South Asian female entrepreneurs of our time.
So, I would like to introduce to you, the first of our two-part series: Raj Girn in the Raw. Part One: The Woman . . .
You’ve been asked to grace your own magazine cover for years but you’ve always said no. Why now?
Because I’m finally ready to tell my story the way it should be told — in the skin and bones, nuts and bolts, God’s honest truth kinda way that I have experienced it. It’s only recently that I’ve healed from things that I’ve been subjected to and things that I have subjected myself to. My story is for those of you who have ever suffered in silence as I have. If, unlike me, you haven’t yet found your road to your truth, maybe this will help you get one step closer to it. And maybe you’ll honour me one day in the not so distant future, by telling me your story too. No rush; when you’re good and ready. I’ll be waiting.
You have built a successful multimedia company and all of that as a single mother. But before we talk about the entrepreneur side of you, I want to talk about the woman that you have become. Since you’ve shared with me that everything started for you once you got divorced, let’s start there.
What prompted the decision to get divorced?
The marriage wasn’t working.
In what way(s)?
It actually didn’t really stand a chance from the get-go, to be very honest, although we gave it a real kick at the can for eight years.
There were just too many things working against it.
Well, for starters, I didn’t want to get married when I did. I had been offered admission at three universities to study Law the same year I was asked to get engaged. I was 21 years old and dead against giving up my education for marriage and to an arranged marriage at that, where we had barely met twice before the pressure was applied to say “yes”. My parents told me I could continue my education after marriage because saying “no” wasn’t an option since I was of prime marriage age and the match was just too good to decline. Knowing that my parents wanted the very best for me, I relented, even though it went against my belief that people should only ever get married if they love each other. I’m a Pisces (ever the romantic) and I always believed that I’d get swept off my feet after being wooed like a Disney princess (Laughs). Silly to some, I know, but unflinching to me at the time, so when I got married this way, my heart was broken.
Secondly, I had to move to Canada where my husband-to-be was from. I had at no time in my life, up to that point at least, thought that I would ever leave the U.K. because I loved it there and it was my home.
Thirdly, I wanted to get married in the U.K. with all of the people I grew up with, kind of like a final send off. I felt since I was the one having to give up everything I knew, at least the marriage should take place in the U.K. Besides, that’s what the tradition is in my culture and I was horrified when I found out otherwise. We got married in Canada with none of my friends and very little family in attendance. I was miserable but the wedding was beautiful.
Fourthly, I had no family or friends that I grew up with in Canada so it was a massive isolation dynamic for me being I was surrounded only by my husband’s family who were all very different from me.
Fifthly, it took quite some time for me and my husband to find each other in the marriage and although we fell in love (It was so hard not to love him because he was just so unbelievably kind hearted and generous — and still is by the way.), I don’t believe we actually ever found each other but not through want of trying.
Finally, looking back as the woman I am today, at the girl I was back then, I believe the marriage ended after eight years because I was just far too young to understand how to navigate it, him and myself. Also, I was full of unresolved baggage, as stated above, with no means of knowing how to remove it. Simply put, I was a mess and really unhappy — not with my husband and my life, but with myself because I felt inconsequential. “Why am I even alive?” I used to think to myself. This organically led to me checking out of the marriage and once I did that, I didn’t know how to check back in even though we went to counselors, etc. I finally conceded to the belief that I needed out in order to go in and find me, before I could be with anyone in a substantial manner, moving forward. And that took years — to filter through the bookcases of novels, short stories and poems that had been written about me by me and by my culture.
Do you ever regret your decision to get divorced? Be honest.
No, I don’t regret my decision because it was important for me to set my husband free also. Free to find a woman that knew how to be with him and knew how to make him happy because he deserved it.
For myself, I do think sometimes that it would be easier to do what I do professionally, if I wasn’t alone. And even though I didn’t think I deserved love after this marriage ended because I ended it, I do believe that I’m ready now and that it’s time to share what I’ve nurtured as self. So, wherever you are man of my dreams, come get me baby! (Laughs)
Divorce can be an earth-shattering moment for some. When the ink was dry, how did you feel?
I don’t think the ink has ever fully dried in my case and if truth be told, I haven’t really allowed it to. The parting of ways wasn’t as difficult, relatively speaking, as was all of the peripheral stuff that came along with it. I thought the hardest part was going to be in the actual doing, which as earth-shattering as it was, was the easy part compared to all of the compounded “other stuff” that hit me like a curve ball. As a result, I’ve deliberately circled back to this experience from time to time, when I’m faced with a particularly difficult challenge, to remind myself that I’ll find a way out because I’ve already fought and won the nature versus nurture war.
(Pause) Deliberately keeping the ink slightly damp has helped me back to my ground zero many a time.
Ground zero for me is where I get to regroup and/or start again. It’s kind of like jump-starting your willpower, which in my case, is to push the boundaries of the status quo. I’m not one to judge people’s decisions in life because each to their own, as it should be, but when something doesn’t align with my core value system (because the very nature of it by default is ever evolving), I opt first to fix it. If I can’t, I need to move along, back to my ground zero point of reference. Because I didn’t have a ground zero prior to getting divorced, I fell into a passive depression instead during the last two years of my eight-year marriage, before I mustered up the courage to speak up, as passive as it was. I just couldn’t hold all of that stuff in anymore.
That stuff that makes you feel inconsequential because you don’t know who you are so you can’t pitch a direction for yourself and all because you’re petrified to face the jury — in my case, the strike of the judging gavel of my family, who I didn’t want to disappoint, and my culture at large which I didn’t want to be the butt of jokes for if I was to fail in my quest to stand for something that mattered to me.
So what did you do?
This time in my life was hugely transitional for me. I believe it was about the dark stuff that had to happen so I would be able to see the light when it finally dawned.
(Pause) It took me a decade, after making the decision to get divorced, to actually have the guts to look back at what I had transitioned through. I went from knowing my everyday as a married woman to knowing absolutely nothing about even the very next minute of my life as a divorced one. I still don’t (laughs) but now I revel in it as it keeps me in flight rather than keeping me curled up in mortal fear as it did during the time I was going through the transition. Divorce was, and remains, the single most difficult decision I’ve ever made because the crux of its failure never hinged in Bollywood drama — there was no physical abuse (although there was a ton of emotional challenge), no extramarital affairs or even in-law drama.
(Pause) I think that was the reason why my pain was never acknowledged and consoled by my family and loved ones the way I feel it should have been and could have been; coupled with the fact that the decision to part ways was mine which further justified the notion that I clearly couldn’t be suffering. And I didn’t make it easy for my family because I never really sat them down and told them that I was in pain post divorce. I was my own worst enemy and I admit that and in some twisted way, the pain brought me comfort because I knew it so well.
(Pause) My older sister got divorced a few years after me, but hers was due to her discovering an extramarital affair. She was devastated. Rightfully so, my family, including me, ran to her rescue. I’m truly proud of my sister for stepping out of that marriage with two teenage girls in tow, to start again from her ground zero. It used to anger me that this man could treat my kind-hearted sister with such disrespect and I always felt she was far too good for him. (I know, I know, I was being biased, but in this case, I was right, LOL!). I used to see how he never appreciated everything she did for him. But then she met her second husband and all of that ended. I realized that if all this hadn’t happened, she would have never discovered what it meant to be treated with the love and respect that she truly deserved. The reason I’m sharing this is because I remember thinking how devastated my parents were when this news broke and how steadfast they were in their support of my sister, as they should have been, but that they had never been that way with me. Although I completely understand the pain they felt for her, as did the rest of us, I must admit, it further contributed to, and prolonged my own pain. I felt like my situation just really didn’t matter to anyone.
It took me a decade to finally get over the crushing and chronic pain of all of it; partly because of my fear of the unknown world I had entered into after the divorce and partly because of the feeling of rejection from those I loved as it related to my right to feel pain at all. The lack of acknowledgement is what really broke my spirit. Whether I deserved to feel pain or not, the reality was, I did. And what made it worse was the fact that I agreed with them — my family, society, all of them. I believed that I didn’t deserve to feel pain because I chose this life — the life of a liberated, divorced woman with an infant (my son was three at the time).
(Pause) It’s funny because in my culture, at least when I was growing up in the 80s in the U.K., we used to look down at divorced women from our culture, me included, thinking that clearly there must be something wrong with them if they were divorced. And then I became her by choice. (Laughs)
Did you think there was something wrong with YOU when you got divorced?
No, I didn’t, because I was 1000 per cent sure of my decision. But I did see the outside world go from light to dark on me.
I expected society, people who didn’t know me, to look at me as a second-class citizen as I had once done to women in this stature, but I didn’t expect it from those who knew me.
The family I was married into had a huge extended family that all lived close by and were very close in general. They would come over all the time and invite us over and we’d go out together. This lasted for eight years while I was married. Once the marriage was over, it was shocking how quickly they all disappeared. Not even a phone call to see how I was. All communication just ended like I didn’t exist. (Pause) And I realized that “I” didn’t exist for them, ever, and that it was always the “wife” who existed. Once she was gone, so was I. It’s during times like this where relationships are tested that truth manifests. It was a difficult but very educational lesson for me at the time. I learned that I should never just assume that people bother with you because you think you add value to their lives. I felt like an ornament on their family Christmas tree and once Christmas was over, so was I. Later, however, I figured it was probably not as morbid as all that and the truth could have been that they just didn’t know how to handle it so it was just easier to walk away. Either way, the lesson was learned – I never took relationships for granted again.
The funny thing is that all these years after the divorce (it’s been 13 years now), I remained close to the immediate family I was married into. They have helped me raise my son, along with my own family, and have never once treated me or my family any differently than they did when I was their daughter-in-law and sister-in-law. Go figure.
Can you describe what the pain was like?
The best way for me to describe the pain is to say that it was emotionally induced but physically manifested. It could be anything from a constant throb to an intense jab in my head, chest, legs and back. It sounded like the symptoms of anxiety to me so I had myself tested a couple of times but they couldn’t find anything wrong with me physically. In the low of it, I was bedridden, but no one ever knew. I just couldn’t tell anyone for fear of being mocked; especially being a woman in my position, heading up a media company where people knew who I was and considered me to be unstoppable and unshakeable (which in my entrepreneur avatar I am).
To this day, my parents and siblings don’t know about these symptoms because it doesn’t matter to me anymore if they acknowledge my pain or not. Why? Because I think I’m over it and they don’t deserve to be party to something that they didn’t even know I went through because I truly don’t feel they ever meant to cause me discomfort, let alone pain. My mum is a spitfire and I love her zest for life and my dad is a gentle but cheeky soul. Looking at them now, I don’t see the pain I used to see when I looked at them before. I hope this means I’m finally over it. Time will tell.
How did you get there?
My spiritual practice, (which, although I’ve been on for many lifetimes now), in this particular lifetime has seen me go through three key phases of elevation. The one I’m in now is the one where I have finally found some level of real contentment.
How did that come about and when?
It started actively about five years ago. The first time I could hear silence was the first day I felt peace in my life, and that progression of learning more and developing my practice further is where and when I starting finding myself. Once this began, the pain was replaced a bit at a time with a euphoric stillness that you can only really know when you have experienced it. And I’m finding myself each day that I’m blessed to be awakened. The funny thing is, the more I learn, the more there is yet to learn so I realize that I haven’t actually really learned anything (Laughs). AND, I can smell the roses now and they finally smell like happiness.
Are you dating anyone right now?
A few men yes! (Laughs).
How is it?
It can be challenging when you’re a woman in my position.
Because I’m always at some point in the process, subjected to that perception they flip to when they realize what I do for a living. Some men shy away in intimidation, while others date me because of it.
What are you looking for in a man and in a relationship?
I’ve put it out into the universe that I’m looking for a man that can share his whole with me as I share mine with him, without either of us getting lost into each other. I’m not looking for that “half” that everyone keeps talking about because that means there’s an entire 50 per cent missing or simply not available to me. No thank you!
Until he enters my life and I his, I will continue to date, but my indelible problem is that I get bored very quickly. My G-spot is conversation. Hit me there and you’ve got me. And, once you’ve got me, I have no rules in the bedroom, kitchen, balcony or hanging off a chandelier. The meeting of the “wholes” (Laughs).
I don’t want to be a Disney princess anymore because I’ve discovered that I’m a Queen – the empress of my temple, which I must respect, as must all others that enter it.
Has remarriage ever entered the picture?
Have you been pressured to remarry?
Everyday (Laughs). Have you met my mum? Thank you!
Before we get into part two of the interview, I want to end part one by asking you if you were scared, relieved, excited about your new chapter after all of the dust had settled somewhat from the divorce? All of the above? None of the above?
The very core of my DNA is that of an adventurer, a creator, an innovator, a believer in the impossible being possible. It’s these characteristics that feed my flight, without which, I wouldn’t know how to proceed. I need purpose — one that makes sense to me — in order for me to invest my spirit into it because I don’t know how to invest in something any other way. So, to answer your question, remembering who I was then, I would say, all of the above.
At this particular juncture in my life, post divorce, it was all about discovering who I was outside of being a daughter, sister, ex-wife and mother, which is all I had known up to that point. This is a journey I have been on ever since and have since realized that I will be on throughout eternity because discovering self is not defined by matter (what we tie ourselves to) but by spirit (what we release ourselves from). There’s solace in knowing that you never really reach nirvana because it keeps reinventing itself, thus giving you infinite ways of experiencing it. I guess it’s why I’m liberated in many ways from what our world calls “normal”, because I’m always stoked at learning something I didn’t know before, which in turn feeds my experience. It’s why I was destined for entrepreneurship— I must keep jumping off the cliff and figuring out how I’m gonna land before I hit the ground!
By Hina P. Ansari
Click here to read Part Two of our exclusive interview: Raj Girn In The Raw – The Entrepreneur.
Photography by Agnes Kiesz / Pure Studios
Tunics by: Alia Qureshi / New York Fashion Designer
Makeup by: Gargi Patel / Vasanti Cosmetics
Hair by: Roz Mogani / Makeup Defined
Shoot Direction/Styling by: Daniel Pillai / Dapper Media
Copyright 2015: RG Media Enterprises Inc.