The accolades Uma Ghosh Deshpande, has received are truly impressive. She’s been voted one of the top five most powerful Indian women in the Middle East, one of the UAE’s 40 most influential Asians, won second place at a major fashion show in India and has been the brand ambassador for Danube Buildmart, Natura Bissé and Swiss watch giant Philip Stein.
She is also the anchor of the popular High Life in Dubai, a talk show on an Asian entertainment channel, and frequently turns heads when she steps out of her home in Jumeirah.
Despite all this, the 30-something says, “I don’t take fame too seriously. I like to remain grounded and I don’t allow success to go to my head. I’ve often had parents come up to me and say that they want their daughters to follow in my footsteps. It’s a compliment I truly cherish.’’
With a petite stature but big dreams, Uma is proof that, with the right attitude and work ethic, you can realise all that you aspire to.
A former air hostess in India, Uma followed her husband Yogesh to Dubai in 1999. After a short stint as a recruitment professional in a local organisation, she decided to realise her dream – and use her academic qualification of fashion design – and launched her label, Pepper by Uma, in 2002.
“What changed my life was winning the runner-up title at the Gladrags Mrs India contest [a beauty competition for married Indian women] in 2005. After the contest, I got plenty of offers to walk the ramp and anchor shows on TV.’’ It led to her setting up her TV production house, Queen Bee.
She also got the opportunity to display her talent in films, designing the attire for Jimmy Shergill and Saloni, the stars of 2006 Bollywood film Rehguzar.
Uma attributes her success to strong relationships. “While I enjoy success and fame, I don’t let it interfere with who I really am,” she says. “Relationships are what matter deeply to me, and being at ease with my loved ones is what touches the real person within me.
“At all times, I keep my head, work extremely hard on my productions and strive to learn every day. I adopt the same attitude at home and am a hands-on mother, cooking for my husband and son.” A star in her own right, Uma shares her secrets and dreams with Friday.
I graduated in fashion design, but I soon realised that not many fashion houses were recruiting fresh graduates at the time, so when I found that the Taj Group of Hotels was looking for people for their graduate training programme, I applied and was selected. I learnt a lot, from the art of making conversation to walking the correct way – with your head held high and back straight – and after the training, I was assigned to guest relations.
My salary of Rs2,500 [Dh167] was barely enough to subsist after I paid Rs1,000 as rent at a paying guest accommodation. But that hardly mattered, because I was learning so much in my job and meeting such interesting people. I consider that the most beautiful time of my life.
Six months into my job, my life changed when I met the Jet Airways chief Naresh Goyal. He told me his new airline was looking for crew members. I applied, was selected and after a rigorous training programme, began flying in 1996. I loved the fact that I could get to see so many new places.
I married in 1998 to Yogesh, who I’d met at fashion school. The same year, he got a job in the sales division of a company in Dubai and I followed him here.
My first job in Dubai was at a recruitment agency, but in 2000, after my son Dhruv was born, my career received a setback when I slipped into post-natal depression – a condition I would really like to make a documentary on some day.
So many women undergo it, and few are aware of how to exactly deal with it. I had no idea what was happening to me. A psychiatrist prescribed medication that had serious side effects. That was when I decided I would get out of this depression on my own.
I drew up a schedule, began working out regularly and watching training videos on YouTube. I planned my diet, read self-help books and within a year, I was back on my feet.
I then launched my label.
But it was the Gladrags Mrs India contest that changed my life in many ways. The day after the event was broadcasted on television, I was inundated with offers to appear in fashion shows. It was a shock but flattering.
I became the anchor on a TV show for the Dubai Shopping Festival. After 25 episodes, I launched my own production company, Queen Bee, in 2005.
I’ve met some incredible people from around the world, including Dita Von Teese, Salma Hayek, Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and Shahrukh Khan to name a few.
Two years ago, Yogesh joined me in the company to look after sales and marketing.
We benefited greatly from his expertise.
I learnt how to interact with people as a child. My father, Ranjit Ghosh, was an officer in the Indian Air Force, and thanks to his frequent postings in different parts of India, we got to experience different cultures and meet people from various walks of life. Living a cosmopolitan life and learning to adapt to different cultures has taught me to blend instantly and easily with people.
My mother, Tapati Ghosh, has had a very strong influence in my life. A stay-at-home mum, she ensured my siblings and I got a good education.
I am passionate about food and enjoy cooking a variety of dishes. On weekends, I love spending time with my son.
I would like to produce a feature film that changes the stereotypical image people have of this region. I want them to see the vibrant life of the UAE, which has a good cultural mix of the East and West. And I would also like to feature successful Arab/Asian women in this region in a touching and entertaining manner.
I also intend to spend more time supporting a charity run by my mother-in-law in Nashik, called Vanita Vikas, which provides meals and education to poor students.