Mamta Sharma Das attributes a great deal of her personal achievements to the many obstacles she had to overcome in her childhood. Since her parents belonged to different communities and had a cross-cultural marriage, her family was often at the receiving end of societal prejudices. Mamta herself is no stranger to the ostracisation.
She says, childhood was full of struggles and compromises at every step. “Even when my father was alive, he had no hand in our upbringing due to the family conflicts,” she continues, reflecting, “The social stigma to be raised by a single mother is worse in a country like ours.”
No surprise then that Mamta had to assume responsibilities that were way ahead of her years. Being the eldest of two siblings, she had to fill in for her working mother and take care of her baby brother who is 10 years younger to her.
“He first called me Ma and we are still inseparable,” says Mamta who is now herself a mother to a six-year-old daughter.
The hardships and struggles of her younger years are an essential part of her journey. And while they have played a considerable role in shaping her personality, she refuses to let them be the only lens through which she views the world. Despite everything, she insists, she had a fairly happy childhood and a strong and devoted mother in whom she found her “hero and role model”.
“Her spirit had a profound effect on me,” Mamta quips. “So, I decided I will start working right after school, not because of poverty but because I wanted to be independent.”
In the footsteps of Frida, fashion, and feminism
At 34, Mamta today juggles between her many roles: motherhood, blogging, digital content creation, and entrepreneurship. She even runs a mini fashion empire on Instagram – where people recognise her by the moniker, The Bohobaalika – serving bucketloads of style inspiration to her 95,000 plus online followers.
This is besides the many collaborations she has forged with a score of brands and the clothing line, Viva la Vida, she launched as a tribute to her ultimate muse, Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter, who in her life and even after her death continues to be celebrated as a feminist icon worldwide. And who, says Mamta, had a great influence on her life as well.
“More than her feminism, I related to her pain, her endurance, and her zeal for life,” she tells us. “She found beauty in pain despite unimaginable tribulations and yet remained so colourful and vivacious. I massively picked that up as an inspiration in my own life.”
Today, Frida’s brand of feminism and her art aesthetics form an integral part of Mamta’s sensibilities. Particularly, her fascination with bold and vibrant colours has been shaped by her love for the surrealist artist. But as much as she loves Frida’s style, Mamta also borrows a lot from her own Indian roots, culture, and its riches.
“You can say that my style is a unique mixture of Indo-bohemian rhapsody,” she says explaining that this vision translates for her clothing brand, Viva la Vida, which is influenced by global cultures and its art scenes.
“Another thing I ascertained through a market research was that, relatively, a fewer number of specialised brands and retailers were catering to plus sizes in India,” adds Mamta. “Especially, young entrepreneurs and designers appeared to have completely ignored the essentiality of it.”
“We laid emphasis on making our clothes accessible by all, enjoyed by all, and worn by all,” she says.
From part-time stints to full-time entrepreneurship
Mamta’s journey in entrepreneurship has been fraught with challenges. She might be running her own business today and commanding a sizeable social media followership, but it wasn’t served on a platter to her. She had to work multiple jobs and pull several part-time stints during her college days to see her dreams come to fruition.
“I went to college during the day and served a variety of jobs to fund my education,” she recalls. “It includes my stint as a hostess at McDonald’s, then a tutor, an art teacher, and an art gallery manager.”
“But I didn’t leave my education or my dreams. And neither did my mom,” says Mamta adding that her mother constantly supported her through all her endeavours. “She recognised my creative abilities at a very young age and put me in classical dance, theatre, and arts to explore myself.”
It was in “painting and visual arts” that Mamta found her solace. Blessed with a quirky style and a unique chemistry with colours, she would eventually go on to apply this aesthetics into her work, starting with her clothing line to the way she has decked up her home in Kolkata in hues of yellow and blue, “imitating the beautiful La Casa Azul, Frida’s home in Mexico.”
“I haven’t been able to make it there yet, but I have followers from Mexico. People from all across the globe send me their postcards, artworks, paintings, accessories, and clothing designed after her,” she says.
Saree, not sorry
Of late though, Mamta’s social media posts and pictures showcase a great deal of the classic Indian attire, that is a saree. From chic chiffons paired with pearls and chunky belts to weaves giving a spin to the traditional gamcha, she dons them all, serving inspiration to her followers and also promoting Indian handloom and weaving. A tradition that she says is dying a slow, gradual death due to the lack of interest and buyers.
“I decided to join hands and collaborate with small businesses that helped the weaver community from becoming deskilled labour despite being skilled craftsmen for generations,” she tells us. “Especially during this coronavirus pandemic that has crippled the handlooms, I independently featured a lot of weavers through my page. These are weavers who couldn’t sell a single saree or handloom product in months.”
Well-versed in the language of social media, she even kickstarted her own campaign with the help of #showyoucare alongside the already trending #handmadeinindia. The goal behind this, as she explains, was to bring awareness and attention to the efforts of the weavers.
Be your own unique self
A woman of many talents, Mamta is a sum collective of her life experiences – but not in a way you would expect. She has taken the best from the worst of circumstances and never let her hardship dictate who she would become.
Perhaps, that is the reason why she wants her daughter to embark on her own, unique journey. And embrace her own, unique self, fearless or not.
“As much as I’d love her to be dauntless and strong, I would want her to be a product of her own life experiences,” Mamta says, leaving her daughter (and us) with some food for thought.
“I would always stay like a shield but I wouldn’t want her to see me standing to save her. I would want her to fight her own battles and pick her own lessons. I just know fear has a purpose, if we had no fear at all we’d all become casualties,” she quips.
(Video Production: Urmi Chatterjee, Text Edit: Javed Gaihlot)