The Bohra rida in its colour and variety

By Rabab Ghadiali, Life Counsellor and Umme Hani Vanthali, Attorney at law

Working in a Rida, Rabab Ghadiali

“Would you be able to come without your parachute on?” they asked. I got a little confused and asked, “What parachute?” They said, “The thing that you are wearing.”

We live in a society where often we shape our actions to make others happy. But we forget that we cannot make everyone happy. Being happy is a state of mind. Being happy is what one chooses to be. No one is responsible for your happiness. It’s something that you, consciously, make an effort to be.

Others can make you feel comfortable, pleased, delighted, content etc. but being happy is being in a state of acceptance with oneself – acceptance and acknowledgment of one’s own self – the good, the bad, flaws, strengths – the total you. When you accept yourself with everything that you have within you, you liberate yourself from making others decide what your choices should be because you no longer have to let your happiness depend on approval and acceptance from others.

One such example of doing this, is in wearing a rida – the traditional, coloured, two-piece garment worn by Bohra ladies. So let me share my bit here. I am a Life Coach and a Counsellor. Often for training purpose I have to meet corporate chiefs, directors of schools and principals to pitch my training modules. Obviously, when I do so, I’m in my rida. While the initial phone conversation goes smoothly, the awkwardness comes in when we meet for a formal meeting. I don’t understand. What happens then? What were they expecting? What did they think the person talking to them behind the phone would be like? A mermaid straight out of the ocean with a body half confused between a fish and a woman? Or maybe a Devasana, a princess of the Kuntala kingdom from Bahubaali 2 with arrows and bows in her hand?

Being a woman and high on intuition (deadly combination) I can sense their doubts. I can sense what they think. Will she be able to deliver what she spoke about on the phone? Will she be able to deliver the Life Skills modules while she herself is dressed in floaters? I really feel like asking them, “Hey, what’s the connection between how I choose to dress with the work I do? I mean I could be wearing a tie and a jacket and be a prophet or I could be covered from top to bottom and run a firm. What I wear and how I dress is absolutely my own choice. My dress is a reflection of my values but my education is the reflection of my character and both together make my personality. It is not until I start speaking that they then realize I am more than my rida and my rida is more than me.

This brings me to the conclusion that often we feel embarrassed or shy in our traditional outfit –the rida! Because we feel we won’t be accepted – but what is ‘’to be accepted’’? (I ask you this question, think!) Do not be defined by how others choose to see you. Be who you are, be proud of yourself and conquer the world with your rida on. Believe in yourself and stay firm to your roots the world will adjust. Your reflection of happiness and confidence is in accepting yourself. You can make people treat you the way you want only when you are happy and have found acceptance with yourself.

And oh, by the way, my answer to the director on whether or not I will be conducting the training program in rida was, ‘’Yes sir, I shall very much be conducting my events in my rida! What if your officers become judgmental and start picking on me. At least with my parachute I will have a safe landing!”

Life in Heels, Umme Hani Vanthali

While growing up in Mumbai, I had never heard the women around me lamenting about the affects of the rida on their professional lives. In fact, there was no conflict between wearing a rida and being professionally successful. The Indian Bohra women had happily taken up various roles in society and were doing a fine job executing them. I believe a lot of that had to do with the fact that Dawoodi Bohras are an established community in Mumbai. The name is synonymous with honesty, integrity, intelligence, hard work and loyalty. The gentle ladies do not have to socially reinvent the wheel. They automatically have the benefit of generations of goodwill and trust of their fellow Indians. It is not an unusual sight to see a Bohra girl in an ad for 10th grade class because she scored the highest in the state or to find determined Bohra women in ridas in every field from politics to medicine, from law to architecture.

When I first moved west to the USA, I was struck by how much I stood out. The locals had never seen anyone wearing a rida and they really did not know what to make out of it. Unfortunately given the political climate at that time, negative connotations were often attached to the garment and its wearer.

Going through undergrad and law school, I soon discovered that I was never given a clean slate by the majority of the individuals I came in contact with. I always started off with a prejudice that I had to overcome before I could even get the individual to look at the real me. For better or worse, no one forgot anything that I did. I had to always go the extra mile in every situation to make sure I was even in the game. I could never slack off or have a bad day. I always had to be prepared, always had to be on top of things and always had to just BE.

However, my experiences in the west have definitely made me stronger as a person and as a Bohra woman. Whilst in India I took my rida for granted, now I have to fight for the right to wear one in the US in any professional setting. It is easy to blend in with the rest of the crowd by dressing the way they do but it definitely takes guts to stand out. The rida makes me stand out from the crowd and that gives me a chance to make an impression that others will remember. Even though it took a while and it was very hard in the beginning, I have learnt how to use that opportunity for my professional benefit. People now respect the fact that I have the courage to stand up for my beliefs and values. Personally I have become more detail oriented and a perfectionist now that my actions and I always stand out. Constantly being in the spot lights makes you check and correct all your flaws immediately. For me, the rida has been the spotlight that makes me more visible to the rest of the world.

Having lived, studied and worked in both the USA and India, I don’t believe I have ever been held back or been at a long term disadvantage because I wore a rida. If anything, I believe the rida has made me the successful individual that I am today because I took nothing for granted. When I see a woman in a rida in a professional environment in the west today, it makes me want to salute her courage for coming out and standing in the spotlight and telling the world, “It’s ok to look at me! I’ve got the job right!”