Divorce is not just about the moment you walk out the door, but all the moments that add up to the decision to leave the familiarity of years of joylessness, and take on the uncertainties of an unknown future. In “Rewriting my Happily Ever After,” Dr. Ranjani Rao – scientist, writer, and co-founder of her own publishing house – applies keen introspection as she relates life before, during and after the end of a loveless marriage. She talks of life beginning with her arranged marriage, life in the U.S. after growing up in India, and the difficult decision to leave. She outlines in detail all the challenges and the self-discovery that accompanied her choice to leave one night with her young daughter, and then rebuilding her life, first with grit and faith, and then pure joy. Any South Asian woman who can relate with Rao’s difficult choice, the terrifying loneliness of it, will find courage and fortitude in her journey as she rewrites her happily ever after. We got down to chat with the author, a thinker swimming in the depths of her life as easily as she skates the currents of it, providing her readers with an advance peek at 20/20 hindsight.
You’ve been something of a globetrotter, spending years in many different countries. How have the places you’ve been in shaped your identity as a South Asian woman?
Every place that I have lived has influenced my personality, my philosophy and how I view life in general. Each place has helped me cultivate an attitude of curiosity, sharpen my observation skills and be more open to new, unfamiliar ways of being. I have always been secure in my identity as a person from India, conscious of representing my country and a product of my culture but I have also known that identity is not a static construct, but a dynamic, fluid one, which is composed of our outer unchangeable facets and the inner, difficult to understand nuances. At this point in my life, I consider myself to be at home in the world.
You’re a writer and co-founder of your own publishing house. Along with these things, you have also been through several difficult times in your life. What are some of the philosophies that have stayed with you and given you strength?
The primary foundation of inner strength is self-awareness. The ability to see yourself and the impact of outside events and circumstances on your life with some degree of detachment gives us the ability to become dispassionate observers and tackle life more effectively.
Having a regular practice that assures physical and mental health, building a supportive ecosystem around you that energizes you, being open to lifelong learning, and maintaining a non-judgmental attitude are important for managing the ups and downs of life with grace.
What can readers going through divorce’s turmoils look forward to in your upcoming memoir? What do you hope for readers to gain from it?
My book is an honest chronicle of what happens after the relationship breaks down in a culture that is not supportive of divorce. Quite often people (usually women) continue in unhappy marriages fearing all the changes that lie ahead. There is social stigma, but there is also tons of self-doubt. By sharing my journey to independence, I want to let others in the same situation know that they are not alone.
The decision to share my true story through a memoir was not an easy one. During that difficult phase of my life, I had looked for a book to guide me but there were no such books. My hope is that my book will show readers that it is possible to create a life filled with authentic happiness despite the difficult cards that you have been dealt. I also hope the book will initiate conversation about divorce and help reduce the shame around an event which is becoming fairly common in South Asian culture.
What are some of the things you discovered about yourself after your divorce?
The most important discovery was that I was super resilient. Although resilience is not easy to define or develop, I found a deep core of inner strength and resourcefulness when I walked out of my marriage. In order to survive and ensure a safe home for my child and me in a city which was new to me, I had to deploy all my skills, develop new strategies and build connections. There is a reservoir of strength within us that we often tend to overlook. I found mine.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers?
While writing the book, I assumed that my book would be relatable to only a small group of people who were considering going through, or finding their way after, divorce. However, my book has been appreciated by people whose parents divorced during their childhood and by people whose children are in bad marriages. Based on this feedback, I am convinced that it has relevance to everyone who has given thought to the institution of marriage and has yearned for a truly authentic and joyful life.
For readers who are finding their way through divorce, I want you to know that you are not alone. There is grief and loss, but there is also hope and joy as you rebuild your life. I did and I have no regrets. I fully believe that you can rewrite your happily ever after.