October was a very busy month for me; I’ve been serving as a judge on the Women in the City awards, booking and planning a trip to India for later this month and returning to work in an office! I’ve joined a major investment bank and am now working full time as an interim diversity consultant, focusing particularly on EMEA corporate communications, benchmarking and networking/affinity groups.
My colleagues at the bank have been very accommodating in allowing me to turn up, learn the ropes and then disappear after three weeks in order to go back to India (Goa and Mumbai) in mid-November – a trip I’d booked in September before I had any idea that I’d be offered this job.
(As an aside, and in case anyone was in any doubt at all as to the continuing tough and brutal state of the job hunting market: I went for NINETY NINE interviews during my period of downtime. It would have been a round one hundred, but I backed out of a scheduled interview upon receipt of my current job offer).
One of the many friends in Goa whom I’m looking forward to seeing again is Bushita (her name means “grace” in Konkani, the Goan language). I had dinner with her on my last night in Goa earlier this year – and this is her story.
* * * * * *
I first met Bushita when I called in to her beauty parlour for a massage one rainy afternoon. After she had soothed and smoothed the knots out of my shoulders, we sat chatting, drinking tea and listening to the rain beat down on her flat roof. Over the weeks of my visit, we became friends and I learned that this shy, petite woman was, in addition to being a skilled masseuse, a very successful businesswoman. Against the odds and with little to help her on her way other than hard work and determination, she has become a property and land owner and is very representative of the female labour force who are fuelling India’s economic boom.
Aged 32, she was born and brought up in Goa, the youngest of six children, and endured a difficult childhood, primarily due to her father dying when Bushita was aged 6.
“I always loved school,” she told me. “And I worked hard to learn English.”
Aged 15, she met her husband Sabbas, a friend of her brother.
“He’s my only boyfriend, nine years older than me, and the only man I’ve ever kissed – and even then I made him wait for a year, because I felt I was too young.”
They married four years later. Finances dictated that they had a small wedding rather than the large Roman Catholic affair she would have preferred, although she hopes to have - “a huge party! You must come to Goa for it, Cleo!” to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary in 2022.
Bushita began training to be a beautician as soon as she left school in 1997; sighing, she told me that she would have loved to “carry on studying and go to university in Panjim”, but her mother needed her to start earning and contribute to the family’s finances. So, taught by a local beauty salon owner, she learned how to do facials and give massages and then sold her wedding jewellery to pay for a college course and improve her skills.
“My mother was horrified that I sold my gold! But I knew that it was the right thing to do and that I had to invest in me. How is it you say – speculate to accumulate? Yes!”
Charter flights full of holiday makers had begun coming to Goa in the mid 1990s and that led to the explosion of tourism as we now see it. Bushita told me that she could see that this influx of western visitors would be good for business, as long as she could learn some new beauty skills so, after she’d qualified at college, she went to work at a larger salon in order to learn how to do manicures and pedicures. Tragically, her first baby, a boy, had died seven months into her pregnancy and her difficulties continued when her second child, Hazel, now aged 11, was also born prematurely in 1999 and was very ill for the first few years of her life.
At about the same time, her mother inherited a piece of land located very close to what was then becoming a popular hotel. By borrowing from family members and using friends and neighbours as labour, Bushita built a tiny shop on the land to one day use as her dream beauty parlour. Because she couldn’t also afford to fit it out as a salon, she rented it to a tenant as a clothes shop in order to get some money for fittings. The shop remained tenanted for the next five years, whilst Bushita worked in a neighbouring salon, biding her time. She then took out a bank loan (underwritten by her mother) and built an upper story extension on to the shop, which she finally started to use as a salon whilst maintaining the clothes shop downstairs. Hazel’s Beauty Parlour, named after her oldest child, finally opened in 2005, a year after Bushita had given birth to her second daughter, Pearl Suezan; she laughed as she told me – “both of my daughters were born in September. I wanted them to be smart girls, born at the beginning of the school year – and this way, I could take my baby leave during the rainy season, when there are no tourists!”
Having worked upstairs for a few years, Bushita then saw her chance to extend again, and she started working from her home whilst converting the original salon into an apartment and guest house. She now presides over two apartments and three bed and breakfast rooms (“all with air conditioning!”), in addition to the salon and the shop, currently occupied by a Kashmiri jewellery business and told me, sighing, that she is very glad that she has diversified, as the beauty business is under threat. There’s lots of competition from the beach, as many former fruit sellers now offer beauty treatments as an easier way of working with the high spending tourist population.
However, her guest house is doing very well and that helps fund the expansion plans and renovations.
“It’s grown via word of mouth and referrals and repeat business – thank goodness!”
I saw the generation gap at work when Bushita explained that her in-laws, with whom she lives, struggle to understand her drive and commitment; “they do still want me to be more traditional, but they’re more accepting now, as they can see the business growing and becoming successful. I earn much more than my husband does [as a taxi driver] and they find this very strange – it’s almost unimaginable in their world. Because we all live together, we have disagreements over domestic ideas. Until recently, they used to nag me constantly about having another baby, ideally a boy, but my husband reminded them that I had nearly died twice and so now they leave me alone. Mostly.”
Luckily Sabbas has always been supportive and understood the need to earn money and do well.
“Over time, I have changed my husband; now we have short holidays alone together and sometimes go out for dinner. The children will grow up and leave to live with their husbands’ families, and we will be old, so it’s important that we are happy together. It’s our life and we must live it.”
What are your hopes for your daughters, I asked?
Deeply religious, Bushita would like her older daughter to be a nun, or perhaps a nurse or a doctor – “she is very caring.” And she hopes that Pearl will take over the business and ultimately run the salon and the guest house. Ahead of either contingency, she’s saving money for them both in order to pay for university or college in some capacity.
Over coffee, she confided that her greatest challenge is family based (“yap yap!”) rather than business focussed.
“The in-laws are so difficult and their weight of expectations are a great burden; if they’re fine, everything else is fine, if not – we all know about it. They are always very unhappy about my building projects when they’re underway, but they cope with it later on. They have a rural background with pigs and chickens and find this way of life to be so strange, still, after all these years.”
She continued, “Thankfully, my mother-in-law does all the cooking so that helps a lot in terms of domestic stuff and childcare. They’re also very good at disciplining the children.”
Once the Goan tourist industry shuts up shop each spring, Bushita goes on seminars in the down season to learn about new treatments (“next time you come, I will be able to do the gel nails”) and she also sells life insurance. She started this three years ago, as a way of earning money in the absence of tourists and has found that she enjoys selling door to door, to the extent that she has won both regional and national sales awards for achieving great sales figures.
“I get bored being a Goan housewife and I love business, so my advice to other women is: stand up for yourselves and speak up. You must always move forwards and don’t look back. You do have talents – yes, there may be barriers to your success, but don’t be afraid.
If you have a great idea – try it, be brave.
No can always become Yes.”
(For previous posts about my trips to Goa, please click on the words Goa and/or India in the “I’m writing about …” tag cloud on the right).