She grew up in the slums in Delhi and was married off at 16 . Now she owns beach side resorts, spa and a restaurant in Goa. Read on about her incredible journey from a shy introvert girl living in Rajendra nagar slums in Delhi to being an owner of hip and happening Chique Shanti in Goa.
My family is originally from Chennai, my grandmother migrated to Delhi at 13 when she got married to a 40 year old man. But my grandfather was abusive, so she left him along with my mother and aunt who were only little kids at that time. My grandma used to work as a maid and so did my mother when she grew up. My father was a driver . We are 5 siblings and I am the eldest. We used to stay in the slums in Rajender Nagar.
We were very poor when I was a kid. Food among me and my siblings were heavily rationed. Our only delicacy would be 2 pieces of bread with butter on Sundays. That would be party time for us. Once when the ruling party razed our slums, we even had to sleep on the street for 2 days before my father found a place to live.
My mother wanted to give me a good education but she had no means of doing it. So at 10 I was sent to a rich house who promised my mother that they would give me education and in return I would do work in their house. So I was made to clean utensils, dust and mop in the house, however in return I did not receive much education as promised.
I had an arranged married at a very young age of 16. I was a shy and introvert girl before marriage, but my husband was my biggest support. He is the one who encouraged me to come out of my shell, pushed me to go out and explore more. He has never stopped me from doing anything, wearing anything or talking with anyone. I share that kind of trust and freedom with him. I can proudly say that my husband is behind my success.
Shortly after marriage, I did a course on Kerala massage techniques and worked both as a maid in a school and part time in an Ayurvedic massage center.
In 2001, I had my daughter, but at that time both of us were spending 6 months in Ladakh for massage work and 6 months in Delhi, so my parents took care of my daughter. I would feel guilty all the time that my daughter was growing up without her mom. I wanted to spend more time with her but couldn't because I had to work. However I was determined to give her a good education and a good life. I was good in studies but I did not get much chance to pursue my education, I couldn't let that happen to my daughter as well and for that I had to work. Thankfully my daughter is also very good in studies, she got herself a scholarship in a very good school in Delhi. My daughter is now 21 and studying to be a psychologist. So when I see her pursuing a good career option all this hard work and sacrifices has been totally worth it.
Around this time, one of our friends suggested to open a center in Goa. We decided to take the leap and open a massage center of our own in Goa in 2007, but we did not have any money. A French couple Emily and Frederick, who were our clients in Ladakh decided to loan us Rs 1 lac. I mortgaged whatever gold I had to take some more loan. With that money we opened a small hut with only two beds in Mandrem Goa. I used to roam the beaches with our pamphlet to inform tourists of our small center. It was a lot of hard work, roaming the beaches in the heat and ensuring we got customers. But I was determined to make our business work, everything depended on it and it was our ticket to a good life. With the earnings from our center, we slowly repaid the full loan amount.
The massage center went well. Mostly everyone knew about us through word of mouth and slowly we opened another center. Gradually we expanded to 8 spa centers in Mandrem and Arambol.
At first some people would look down upon us because then many Indians had a bad perception about massage. They did not have much idea about ayurvedic massage and would think that I provided some other service as well. I would ignore the taunts and only concentrate on my work. But gradually as time went by, they understood the work we did and respected us.
Things were going really well until everything came crashing down. In 2011, I had an epileptic attack that left one side of my body paralyzed. I had been working really hard all these years and maybe all the hard work and stress combined brought this on. My brain was also not functioning properly and often I would forget things or people. We closed down all our spas except the one in Mandrem. The condition continued for almost 2 years and it was the darkest phase for my family. Everyone in my family felt that they were losing me. For me and my husband it was like all the hard work that we had put in building our business had been wiped off in an instant. It was a terribly gloomy period for us. I haven't ever given up in life, I wasn't ready to do that this time either. I decided to take one step at a time and see where life took me.
Along with medication I would also do meditation. I am a certified Reiki practitioner, so I put all my skills to use. In 2013 I conceived again. My family was hesitant since my health was not doing well, but I was sure I wanted to have my baby. Having my son Kabir brought the cheer back in our lives. Slowly I went back to working at the center again. However now I decided to have a proper work-life balance. I limited myself only to the administrative part of the business and hired employees to look after the massage and operations work at the spa.
Around this time, my husband along with my sister and brother-in-law also started Lamore beach side resort and cottages in Ashwem beach.
In 2019, I expanded to open Chique Shanti restaurant. But immediately after that Covid struck. My major clientele were Europeans and that reduced drastically. It was like starting from zero all over again. When traveling started again after lockdown, I used to mainly get Indian customers. However Indian customers prefer beach side property. I was hesitant to invest again on a beach side property, but my husband said that when we had nothing we took a big risk opening up on our own, it was time to take that risk again. So finally we invested all our life savings and I opened Chique Shanti homes, a hotel and cafe by the beach here in Mandrem.
My secret sauce for running a successful business? Its ME :) As a person my nature is to ensure that everyone around me is happy. I get anxiety when I feel someone is angry with me for some reason. This nature spills over to my business as well, whether its at the spa or restaurant , with my customers or my employees. I give my 100% to ensure that everyone is happy. If my customers and employees are happy the business automatically flourishes.
It was always my dream to own a resort in Goa, own a house of my own and to give destination wedding to my daughter. By the grace of god and our hard work we are proud owners of both and I can have a destination wedding for my daughter in my own beach side resort.
My biggest strength is my team who works in Chique Shanti cafe and spa. Most of them have been with me for more than 12 years. They are not my employees but like my family. They call me Didi and my husband Jiju. Just like a family we also fight and there are differences, but at the end we all love each other and every year during season time they all come back to me.
Reaching till this point happened on its own, I just went with the flow trying one thing after another. There was no fixed plan but I never looked back. Even now if you ask what is the future plan for Shanti, I can’t say because there isn’t. I am grateful for achieving what I have till now. It has been an exciting journey but there is no time to rest.