An Ode to a Beautiful Soul – Shabnam Siddiqui

Jyoti Shekar

We have lost a lot of people since the pandemic hit the world. And ironically, not every person has been lost to Covid. A lot of different diseases, calamities and other tragedies are also taking human lives. It is almost as if the earth has had enough and wishes to unload. But my only request is, don’t take the good ones so soon. They help us learn, they help us grow, they help us believe in the good side of humanity.

One such person we lost recently is Shabnam Siddiqui. Shabnam was an Executive Director of United Nations Global Compact Network in India. She was a friend, a rare kind of leader who commanded respect and not demanded it, and a great photographer with a legendary love for the wild cats. Her passing away has come as a shock to many and she will be sorely missed. I have learnt and been inspired by a lot many things that she did and said. And here, I pay my respects to her and give an ode to the departed soul, by sharing an interview of her that was published in Eyra earlier.

Here are a few excerpts of our conversation from that article:

Jyoti: You work with public and private sector alike. Have you had any experience with the infamous glass ceilings? Some women face glass ceilings, others glass walls and some are absolutely confident there is no such thing. What are your thoughts on it?

Shabnam: I think glass ceilings exist. In addition to gender, ceilings and walls are also determined by the community you belong to, the region you come from, the language you speak and the lineage you can / cannot boast about. In life, we will come across people who have gotten tired of the struggles and accepted their place, and there are always others who keep fighting. I belong to the latter group.

Not that I was ever ambitious as such. For me, deliverables have been more important than hierarchy, and I have always shone in the professional responsibilities I have undertaken. I can be confident that no one is better at the job that I do, and of course all of us have different roles to play, so the ideal space is to work together.

And I have learnt in life that not only the hand that rocks the cradle might or might not rule the world, but the hand that rakes in the most money will rule the world for sure, irrespective of the gender, community, region that the hand belongs to. Money alone has no glass ceilings.

It is always beneficial to understand the market and your worth in it. Let me narrate a small story as an example.

A father, before he died, said to his son: “This is a watch your grandfather gave me, and is more than 200 years old. But before I give it to you, go to the watch shop on the first street, and tell him I want to sell it, and see how much he offers you.”

He went, and then came back to his father, and said, “The watchmaker offered 5 dollars because it’s old.”

The father then said to him: “Go to the coffee shop.”

He went and then came back, and said: “He also offered 5 dollars, father.”

“Now go to the museum and show that watch.”

He went and then came back, and said to his father, “They offered me a million dollars for this piece.”

The father said: “I wanted to let you know that the right place values you in the right way. Don’t find yourself in the wrong place and get angry if you are not valued. Those that know your value are those who appreciate you, don’t stay in a place where nobody sees your value.”

Jyoti: I hope more and more people realize this before it’s too late. Back to women, Eyra’s sole aim is to tell them that they have a choice and they have a voice. Anything you would like to share with us?

Shabnam: Women definitely have a voice and a choice. It’s important to find your own safe spaces to grow, to nourish a talent / hobby that gives you pleasure, the ability to decide what is important and of value for you and then take accountability for those choices. Never let another person tell you what you can or cannot do, find it out yourself. Never put others down, especially because life comes a full circle before we know it. I have learnt in life that many a times it is more important to be kind, than being right.

And most importantly enjoy each moment of life. This is the only life we have.

Cherish it and celebrate it. Unless we realise our worth, no one will think us to be worthy. I end this with a short poem by Laura Ding Edwards:

If the mountain seems too big today, then climb a hill instead

If the morning brings you sadness, it’s ok to stay in bed

A day is not a lifetime, a rest is not defeat

Don’t think of it as a failure, just a quiet, kind retreat

The mountain will still be there, when you want to try again

You can climb it in your own time, just love yourself till then.

Shabnam, keep smiling as you always did, continue inspiring others to do good, and be in peace and happiness wherever you are.

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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