In Focus

She Helps Women Run Their Kitchens, Literally!

The Draft Colaba, in continuance of the International Women's Day celebrations held on 8 March 2021, profiles superwomen of sorts, from all walks of life, for a full week on till 15 March 2021
(Read all the Women's Week stories here)

The Draft Colaba’s Anushka Singh spoke to local entrepreneur Rashida Amir on her journey from being a shy school girl to a bold businesswoman and the obstacles, the Bohri Muslim woman faced in a traditionally male-dominated field

Society has always controlled women despite their immense potential, capabilities and myriad achievements. The law of the land provides ample respite to women who face abuse, discrimination and ostracism but it's the general perception of the law enforcers and society at large that often prevent a woman from seeking justice and her rightful position.

Rashid Amir, on her part, wasn't one to be bogged down. When faced with pressures, she only rose higher. Born to a Bohri Muslim family in Mumbai, entrepreneur Rashida Amir went on to break popular notions and social barriers to make a mark for herself in an industry dominated by males.

"We are five sisters and, if you took our mother into account, my father was just one man among six women. We outnumbered him. Yet, throughout my childhood, I never felt that I was any less than a boy," recalls Rashida. "In fact, my father would always say that I am the son he never had."

WOMEN POWER: Rashida (extreme right) with her sisters and mother

Today, my mother, at 88, lives independently by herself armed with a couldn't-care-less attitude. She often quips 'whatever happens, we're all going to die someday, so why worry at all?"

Belonging to a family of independent women, Rashida did her schooling from Convent of Jesus and Mary in Byculla and graduation from Jai Hind College, at Churchgate. And, she even started working in college itself, albeit part-time. "I met my husband to be, per chance, at an informal meet at home itself. The casual acquaintance soon blossomed into love and...stayed for life."

After getting married to Firoz in 1979, she moved to Indore where, even as a home-maker, she remained active at several fronts. Daughter Natasha was born in 1982 and, in 1989, Rashida moved back to Mumbai.

TOGETHER: Rashida (centre) with husband Firoz and daughter Natasha

Upon returning, she needed to work and grabbed a chance to join her father's business i.e. an LPG cylinder distribution agency. "When that window of opportunity opened, I clung on to it and worked day in and out." Work, primarily customer service, involved dealing with all kinds of people from different walks of life.

"In those days, gas cylinders were scarce and I'd have people coming in expensive cars, frustrated as they hadn't had their morning tea as there was no gas and the poor landing up at the agency when they ran out of gas to even boil water for their infants. I learned to deal with all kinds of situations and different sorts of people," maintains Rashida.

A young Rashida
As a young girl, Rashida was interested in pursuing a career in fashion and "would have preferred a more sophisticated career and become a model, a hostess or a designer with my own boutique," says Rashida, looking every bit of her aspirational self even today. 

"I was independent right from the beginning. At 21, I travelled abroad alone even faced all kinds of tricky situations while building the business. From dealing with stern authorities to local lumpens who simply couldn't handle a woman in a position of authority," maintains Rashida. 

In what must resonate with most women in her place, Rashida faced resistance even from her own male staff, particularly labourers who'd refuse to take orders from a woman. "If I'd shout at them when they would not listen, they'd say...Madam, meri izzat ka kya and get offended." Yet, over time, the entrepreneur brought them around by being upfront and honest.

"I hit the ground running and learnt everything on my own. But, I just couldn't have done it without the support of my husband and parents," says Rashida. Women have an advantage as they are better workers than men and can multi-task when needed, she feels. 

FLASHBACK: Rashida with her daughter
Also, whenever she gets a chance she, in her way, empowers women in her vicinity. For example, if a woman comes for a fresh gas connection, Rashida'll suggest she "take the connection in her name instead of her husband's." Also as most women take care of the household, Rashida advises them, especially the poor, illiterate to "be wise with money" even show them "ways to invest."

Till date, even with her female staff, she advises them all to be financially independent and encourages them to be modern in their outlook. Self-esteem, she says, comes with financial independence. So, walking the talk unlike most traditional mothers, Rashida advises Natasha, "Marriage isn't all that important. You should face the world with conviction."

Whatever I have achieved is by sheer dint of hard work. Take one day at a time, just like I did...and good things will come your way."

In retrospect, a proud Rashida recollects, "I was a quiet girl in school and an average performer. Today, when I meet my friends, they say they never ever manage to do whatever I did in life and continue to." It feels good, she says!