Shasvathi Siva is a vegan on a mission. In 2017, after quitting her job in advertising, she launched Cowvathi, a one-stop shop for dairy-free substitutes to common favourites like cheese, dips, cream cheese, and curds. Through Cowvathi, she also offers cooking workshops that introduce people to using vegan alternatives in recipes and culinary techniques that work without dairy. “I used to be this frustrated young advertising professional, but I think I had a lot of passion for veganism. I started saving up for about a year, and I really cut down on shopping and not spending on anything unnecessary,” she told Sassy about her early days of starting up.
What began as a Mumbai-based food brand soon began to be stocked in department stores in Chennai, before going pan-India! “For 3 years, I had a great experience…of course, there were ups and downs. It was not at all easy, but we became pan-India and expanded a bit. Then lockdown happened and I ran into a lot of delivery-related issues and had to temporarily shut it down.”
This is not the first time that life has thrown her an unsettling curveball. What we find particularly intriguing about her is that in a world of hustle culture, she focuses on taking the time to prepare for change as well as to process the emotions that come up for her during the course of it.
Not too long ago, Shasvathi drew from her personal experience to start a support group for people who have gone through a divorce and are familiar with its trying process. “My divorce took place in 2019 and 2018 was a very difficult year for me. It was isolating and very difficult, while people talk about it like it’s no big deal. However, I don’t know why I should be defined by my divorce. I don’t like the tag [of being a ‘divorcee’], I don’t like the word, and I don’t use it. I’m strongly against it. I feel like you’re single or you’re not. That’s when I realised that it was so stigmatised. What is there for me to be ashamed of?”
While her own family was incredibly supportive of her, she also realised that she needed people around her who could relate to her experience, and she to theirs. This is when she connected with some others online. They too had been through divorce and the familiarity of their experiences helped them understand each other better.
Speaking about the need for a supportive community when going through a lonesome experience like divorce, she shared, “I thought that if it’s a community of people who went through this [together] and shared their experiences, while being there for each other, then that makes a big difference. You get to learn from the experience of somebody else’s and you tend to believe a stranger a lot more [because of their relatability].”
So, she took a few months off for herself following the divorce. During this time, she focused on her healing so she could be in a place where another person and their story would not trigger her or cause her to become emotionally invested. “We are at 750+ members now and it’s all organic. It was initially an offline community in Bombay, and a lot of people from other cities would keep texting me asking to be a part of it. However, I really believed that the energy in the room mattered…when people listened to each other and were hugging towards the end of each meetup, it was quite something. I just didn’t want to make it online although I wanted to involve more people.”
“However, everything went online when COVID hit us anyway. Even after this pandemic, if we resume meeting in person, it would probably be once in a while. The response to online meetups has been fantastic! It has become accessible to lots of people and many of them join in from other countries as well, which means that they would stay up at night just to attend, since our meetings are between 4 pm and 6 pm IST.”
Through the support group, the community members gain access to a ton of information such as the legal process of a divorce, how to find a lawyer, what it feels like to be in court, how it feels after a divorce, how you deal with the emotions that come with it, especially when it is Valentine’s Day, and plenty of other smaller nuances that we don’t commonly speak out about in society. “The main reason I talk about divorce is that this false notion needs to be shattered. I want people to speak about it everywhere without shame, make a post about their stories online, while having divorce parties; celebrate it, celebrate freedom, celebrate getting out of a relationship as much as you do when getting married. Wedding celebrations are one of the biggest parties people have, and it makes you happy. So should a divorce; so, if you need something to mark this change in your life, celebrate the hell out of it. I think it’s important to own that space. It’s a decision I made and I’m going to be happy about it. I’m not any lesser of a human because I had a divorce.”
While it’s not fair to expect people to be continually resilient in the face of adverse situations that cause them grief, heartbreak and upset, it is important to show up for them in ways that create a sense of community. It is crucial to dispel the shame around taboo topics such as divorce, miscarriages, and various other experiences that people go through with little support. This often happens because other people don’t want to address the topic directly, and the survivor may not personally know people who have had relatable experiences.
Having gone online with the support group, Shasvathi occasionally encounters certain online trolls. When asked about shutting down haters on the internet, Shasvathi was firm in her response: “Some people tell me to not glorify divorce, to which I reply that people like you are the reason that stigma around divorce exists. I’m not glorifying it, I’m just normalising it. However, besides a few trolls here and there, people [and especially women] have been genuinely supportive, helpful and motivational.”
Shasvathi also emphasised on how healing from a divorce is a process. While joining a support group can be helpful, it is important to not assign a deadline to grieving and adjusting to the change that it brings to one’s life. “[The divorce] took a lot out of me and I don’t think I could say the word for a few months after. While I was preparing for a divorce, I couldn’t believe that this was happening in my life. [At that time,] I casually started chatting with someone on Twitter who had also been through a divorce; she actually took the time out to meet me for a cup of coffee. That’s when she explained that it is not a big deal and that I should get out. When someone who’s been through a divorce tells you that it’s okay, you’re gonna be fine - that made a world of difference to me. I felt lighter and so much better after talking to her. Earlier when my friends had said that it was just a divorce…[I felt that] it’s never just a divorce, you lose a lot in the process. But when I saw someone go through it and lead a kick-ass life nonetheless, I was like wow.” And that’s the energy she brings to the support group as well.
To learn more about the divorce support group or to attend a meet-up, reach out to Shasvathi on Instagram here.
Edited by: Tejaswi Subramanian