Coinciding with Pride Month, National Award-winning director/producer Onir made an important announcement in mid-June. Known for his path-breaking films like My Brother Nikhil and I Am, he has decided to make a film on author Raga Olga D’Silva’s life story.
I first heard Raga speak when early into the COVID-19 crisis she anchored a show focusing on the discrimination faced by North-East Indians during Corona. To be honest, I did not know about her till that point. But this session that she conducted was so interesting that thereafter I started watching her live chats almost regularly and have been inspired to share my thoughts in writing too.
There is so much to write about this amazing woman Raga Olga D’Silva, and I wonder where I can possibly start. She is an entrepreneur, speaker, and author, all rolled into one. I first start with an introduction to her professional profile and, as they say, “save the best for last”. The best here is her story of courage and truth which Onir will bring to celluloid.
The professional side of Raga
Raga is the co-founder and one of the directors of Speaking Minds, one of India’s largest international speaker-marketing agencies. A motivational speaker herself, she has delivered speeches on the subjects of diversity, the LGBT community, personal branding, and doing business in India. Currently living in London, she divides time between India, the UK, and New Zealand and calls all three countries her home.
Earlier in 2007, Raga showed her entrepreneurial acumen when she started Global Village Limited, a company based in New Zealand that helps other companies make their market entry into India.
Debuting as an author
Raga forayed into the literary world with Untold Lies, which was published in 2019. The book, which is based on a unique concept of “stories that become poems”, subtly refers to certain aspects of her life. Also on the way is her second book, a semi-autobiographical story that will be adapted by Onir for the big screen.
The engrossing From The Other Side series
The brain child of Raga and co-director Nicola Fenton of Speaking Minds, the series From The Other Side is a brilliant creation. With the uncertainty that filtered in with the onset of COVID-19, the duo started this Facebook live chat in April, inviting motivational speakers to share their stories of positivity and optimism. Among her variety of topics, women empowerment is an important one.
Unfolding Raga’s story
As the host of From The Other Side, Raga makes her guests share their life experiences. But on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, she happened to do the talking, opening up about her life in a candid conversation with Shobha De. She also shared her story with leadership trainer and communication coach Neha Mishra in an Instagram chat.
Raga’s marriage was one which embraced diversity. She is a Mangalorean Christian who married her Punjabi Hindu friend. The couple was blessed with twins, and they were a happy family till Raga realized that she was attracted to women.
Raga says that her marriage was not unsuccessful; she had just outgrown it. Her moment of epiphany came when she reasoned out that she should live a life of truth and according to her own rules.
In an incident in which Raga’s mother discovered the letters which she had written to a friend confessing her interest in women, all hell broke loose. Not being able to accept the reality, her mother tried to physically harm her. With her husband coming to know the truth too, her marriage ended, and Raga was left to fend for herself and her children who were not even five.
The journey with jolts and bumps
Raga shares how tough life was for her with the hurt and the mental anguish she had suffered. Homosexuality might still not be universally accepted by today’s society, but the situation was even more difficult 18 years ago. It was not easy for a woman with kids to face the world. She had lost friends, faced abuses, and was called names. In her interview with Shobha De, Raga shared an account of a heartbreaking incident at a grocery store in New Zealand where a woman kicked her on the stomach, spat at her, and called her a lesbian.
Bonding over a cup of coffee
Raga’s partner Nicola Fenton, with whom she now shares a happy relationship, came into her life three -and-a-half years after she had separated from her husband. Nicola was like a breath of fresh air, providing her with comfort in her fragile state.
They first met over a cup of coffee and connected so well that one meeting led to the next, and they eventually found a soulmate in each other. In a conversation between the two uploaded on Brut India, they talked about their journey. Nicola fondly recollected how Raga’s kids, who met Nicola when they were 8, took an instant liking to her. They have been a happy family since then, and Raga’s children, now 22, look upon Nicola as their other mom.
Making peace and the hurdle of acknowledgement
Though it took time, Raga and her ex-husband did overcome their differences, and he has made peace with her choices. The children have been cared for by all three: their father, Nicola, and Raga. On a humorous note, she shares how she tells her children that they have won a lottery of being parented by two moms and a dad. In spite of the fact that Raga’s mother was vehemently opposed to her relationship with a woman, she ultimately accepted Nicola and gave her lots of warmth and affection.
However, there was something that was either shoved under the carpet or left ignored. Nicola was always referred to as a friend or a business partner. Raga admits how scared she herself was to acknowledge Nicola as her partner in the world outside, fearing the consequences she might have to face.
Coming out with Untold Lies
The book Untold Lies ushered in a new phase in Raga’s life. As much as she had lived a life of truth, she was afraid of coming out to society with it. But at the beginning of 2019, she pledged that she wouldn’t carry her old self into 2020 and thus the inspiration for the book was born.
Raga says that she felt the need to give the respect to Nicola that she deserved for embracing her and her children unconditionally. So in September 2019, she publicly shared the story of her sexuality. To quote Raga: “Untold Lies is about living my truth without the fear of being judged”. After 15 years, she had finally taken the step to shed all those labels she had lived with for most of her life. She terms her book as “the coming out of the third twin”.
All thanks to her partner, her ex-husband, and her twins, Raga came out publicly in the media, and they emerged as the modern Indian family. Among others, her story was picked up by Humans of Bombay, and she was invited to Barkha Dutt’s “We The Women” event that was launched by Facebook.
Embracing vulnerability and leading a life of truth
Courage is one thing; truth is another. Not all courageous people have the audacity to speak the truth, and Raga comes out victorious by finally overcoming fear and blending the two. Her social media handle literally echoes her thought. She champions the LGBT cause and, alongside interviews and speeches in the public sphere, regularly conveys her thoughts through Facebook and Instagram in a series titled My Pride Your Pride. The underlying message touches on the themes of truth, courage, and acceptance.
Raga’s story raises a volley of questions. Who gives another person the right to mandate how we should lead our lives? Can someone else set the parameters to make us happy? Is it fair to judge a person on the basis of his or her sexuality? I feel that the questions themselves have the answers.
As clichéd as it may sound, Raga’s life has not been a bed of roses, yet her determination has never crumbled down. Embracing vulnerability has been her greatest challenge, and she is extremely happy and proud to have lived her life in the most authentic manner possible.
With an immensely gifted director like Onir, who handles human stories with such depth and delicate sensitivity, we can be assured that the film based on Raga’s story will be a meaningful piece of cinema to look out for!
(This article was featured in Women’s Web )