From the ghats of Varanasi to the heart of Delhi, college dropout Ananya Rijhwani’s journey

9th Oct 2015
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“You don’t need an MBA or a college degree to be a successful entrepreneur,” says college dropout, Ananya Rijhwani.

Having started a wedding studio almost a year and a half ago in Delhi, she feels that entrepreneurship is not about instant money or instant success – “there is no failure for an entrepreneur. It is about the journey, a new chapter everyday,” she says.


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Ananya has continued to remain immune to the skepticism that surrounds her. From ‘aunties’ harping eloquently about the achievements of their kids, to customers who think Ananya is a kid who can’t be trusted with business decisions, and concerned relatives and family members who feel she could have done much more with her education. The doubters are many, but Ananya has learnt to survive.

“I have learnt to pay my own monthly bills, take care of studio expenses and wages. I have gone through frustration, insecurity, doubting my own self and my dreams after continuous failures and bad days at work. Being away from parents, and not being mature enough emotionally to handle all this, I have often cried for days, been depressed and not eaten for a couple of days at a stretch and had to take glucose injections. My relationships have suffered – my dad telling me he doesn’t know where I will end up in life, my mom crying and telling me, she doesn’t understand what I want from myself. I have gone for days and nights without sleep and lived through times when I had no friend to boost my morale and applaud my choices in life.”

What has kept her going is, “Don’t focus on earning more it will only bring more stress, focus on the value you want to create through your work,” something she has learnt from her father.

HerStory spoke with this young entrepreneur to know more about her journey from the ghats of Varanasi to weddings and Delhi.

Childhood

Born and brought up in the small town of Varanasi in UP into a Sindhi family, her father’s export business alongside a home stay exposed Ananya to a variety of people from across the world. Vis-à-vis other kids, her upbringing was different. “I have always been a free child. I hardly remember a time, when I have asked my dad, ‘Can I go here?’ I have always been that daughter who has told him, ‘I am going here for this.’ And he has been amazingly supportive and never refused his daughter to explore anything or absolutely go everywhere.”

The seeds for her leaning towards arts were probably sown when she started learning kathak at the age of three. Her 10 years in a co-ed convent saw her as one of the geeks inclined towards humanities. Things were to change in her class 11th and 12th when she changed schools. Although it was a big cultural shock for her initially, Ananya did well for herself. The new school helped her grow as an individual and allowed for her over all development.

Finding her calling

As her school education came to an end, Ananya found herself directionless! Much like many youngsters at that juncture in life she was unsure what she really wanted to pursue as her true calling. Dropping out of college within a year, she even joined a diploma course in travel and tourism management to appease her parents and as the elder sibling started helping with running the home stay. However, much to the chagrin of her parents, she dropped out of the diploma course too.

The free time gave her the chance to go and explore the beauty of the world-renowned ghats of Benares through her camera lens. Gradually, she stated walking tours in the city for their home stay guests, most

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of whom were foreigners. While her father was trying to catch his breath in the hope that perhaps Ananya had found her calling in tourism, Anaya was thinking about how to move away from the family business and make a name for self. Reminiscing about the time she says, “By then I think I was bitten by the startup bug.”Ananya says, “I have been a dreamer since childhood. There is nothing bigger than dreams.” It was that dream that finally hit her. She wanted to start a photography studio specialising in wedding photography. In July of 2013 she got started in Varanasi, continued there for a few months and then left home.

At the age of 19 with 40 thousand rupees cash in hand, her savings from the few weddings she had covered till then, she moved to Delhi and set up her studio.

Life behind the camera

A self-taught photographer, Ananya’s sheer love for colors and celebrations made her choose weddings. “I love weddings because of the culture and traditions they hold. Weddings are stories of age-old meanings and rituals. Primarily I love storytelling through my pictures.”

While most of Ananya’s friends think of is bunking college to catch a movie, Anaya is looking at expenses and bills. She does not have remorse, only determination. “This is what I chose. I have become so much more mentally stronger than my age with the realisation that it is hard to make money and success is not on overnight phenomenon.” She admits that the child inside her does rear its head once in a while wishing to live the life of a 19 year old.

With an in-house team of five members, Ananya’s world is teeming with activity. “I have seen days when we as a team have shot in two different cities, while days when we had no weddings at all. I have seen days with bad clients, days when team edits were delayed, days when I never saved a penny from the project, days when the team couldn’t be paid well, days when clients never paid me as promised.”

Her biggest challenge however, has been, setting up client expectations. “Most of the clients watch our best work and expect theirs to be the same. It’s hard to make them understand that every wedding is different. People change. Lights change. Everything changes and you just can’t expect the same output all the time.”

Another challenge she faces is to “Keep my head straight when all I want to do is party like 20 year olds. Sometimes its really hard to keep my head down and work, after all I am a youngster too,” she says with the twinkle in her eye.

Not the one to shy away from her own mistakes she shares that she has learnt from them and they have helped her to grow and do better.


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Technology and photography

The invasion of mobile into our lives has been all pervasive. With Instagram and Facebook and the selfie craze, everyone is a photographer or no less. When asked what Ananya thinks of it, pat comes the response. “Today photography has become a global cacophony of freeze-frames. Millions of pictures are uploaded every minute on Instagram and Facebook. Correspondingly, everyone is a subject, and knows it – any day now we will be adding the unguarded moment to the endangered species list. Easy access to cameras and photo sharing mediums has lead to this, but as someone had rightly quoted, “Photographers use their cameras as tools of exploration, passports to inner sanctums, instruments for change. Their images are proof that photography matters – now more than ever.” With that she rests her case.

Given this frenzy and her age she often is pegged as the DSLR owner with a photography page on Facebook or written off by other’s saying what were her parents thinking while allowing her to pursue this profession. Though exasperating, Ananya knows, “It’s not easy, and but at the end it’s all worth it when you can stare back and say proudly, that you have lived your own life your god damn way.”

I have a dream

Ananya has put her craft to good use. Her weekends are spent teaching kids in an NGO. “I have been associated with a few NGO’s since the time I got into photography. I started with, FairMail, an organisation in Varanasi, and currently with Protsahan, a NGO that uses creative education, and art innovation to empower street children and young adolescent adults.”

At the NGO she teaches sexually abused girls, and kids who have drug abuse issues to be independent and be empowered to earn their own livelihood. “We use creative design techniques, photography, theater and cinema to impact and empower these children. We educate with creativity and empathy. We also adopt certain artisan families and communities and provide them market space.”

Ananya claims that art made her who she is; photography gave her power to express herself. “It made me realise that I was not the one who could be normal, I was made to be different. Life is not about venture capital, or success but it is about that dream and no dream is big or small. Somehow with those girls, I am dreaming to make them forget their hardships of life by making them express themselves through art.”

Inspired by other women in the filed of wedding photography such as Stuti Sakhalkar Dasgupta, Tanushree Vaidya, Anushree Gavas and Richa Kalsekar among others, she wants to photograph more and more weddings across the world, in the process travelling and documenting different traditions and cultures.


Slideshare ananya rijhwani 

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