Nobody can tell your story better than yourself: Baatein founder Chhaya Dabas

22 October, 2020 | Priyanka Sharma

Chhaya Dabas Lifestyle & Fashion

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX, Baatein founder Chhaya Dabas spoke about her passion for poetry, her passion project Baatein, how the pandemic changed gears for Baatein and much more. Read...

The power of stories is what drives Chhaya Dabas’s Baatein. A young entrepreneur who is carving a niche for herself in the space of poetry, podcasting and community building. She has been a cancer survivor, has 2 TEDX speeches to her account, and has been a UN GirlUp Summit speaker. Last but not the least, her personality evokes positivity and dollops of inspiration. We recently got into an exclusive and an insightful chat with Chhaya and here’s what she had to say.


Q1. What started as a poetry blog on Instagram page has now transformed into a literary community. How would you describe Baatein?

I would describe Baatein as a young girl’s dream to allow other people to express, to allow others to exhibit their emotions in the most abundant of form, to create a space for people to be able to communicate, create, collaborate and eventually a space which allows anybody, be it be an individual or an organisation to connect with somebody, an audience and the youth of the country through a creative and well-articulated means. Baatein is a culmination of 6 years of wanting to express myself and eventually helping others to do so as well..

Q2: It is often said that poetry emerges from a deep emotion. Be it love or grief. You have personally had such an inspiring journey. From battling cancer to speaking at the TEDX twice, being a speaker at UN GirlUP Summit. Take us through it, when did you feel that poetry is your calling?

My journey into poetry or rather expressing myself started when I was 10 years old. I wrote my first poem at that age. I remember my grandfather and my mother were in the kitchen and I wrote something down. It was just a gush of emotions. It was a thought I had been tinkering with and I just wanted to release it. Like a dance to dances, I wrote. It was called ‘The days gone by. ‘ It had a very whimsical rhyming scheme. At that point of time, it came across as something, which was way beyond my years and way beyond my age. My grandfather is a PHD in linguistics and my mother has been a teacher for almost 10-12 years and a university topper. Coming from them, that this is one of the best pieces they have read, especially coming from someone so young meant a lot and bolstered my curiosity in poetry. I started Baatein in my second year of college. Poetry happened to me at a very young age and I’m really glad that it stuck by me in all these turbulent ups and downs, through entrepreneurship and through dark gloomy days when everything doesn’t make sense and you just want to express your angst. In those times, words do come to you.

Q3: It isn’t a 9-5 job and I’m sure it must have a lot of risks involved. Did you ever have any apprehensions about Baatein as a career move?

Yes, being an entrepreneur and actually building a creative idea into something that could actually support others and me financially, is a bold decision. Risk is inevitable; it is there in every job or any work that you do. But, I think it was coupled with a lot of thrill, faith and the audacity that in the end I will only have myself to blame, so why not give it a shot.

The idea of Baatein came up in college. It was started by 3 of us, a girl from Hindu College, a boy from NSIT and myself from IP College for Women Delhi University. We decided to write things together, manage it together, and organise things together. We decided to start it on Instagram because very few people were exploring it for means we were. Finding the name was an interesting task because we shuffled through various Greek and Russian names but settled on Baatein as it was in our mother tongue, relatable and not restricted to writers or poets. It was for anybody or everybody who wanted to express themselves.

I did have apprehensions. I worked at an NGO for a while after completing my masters from Kings College. Soon I realised that it was not my calling. I was born to lead, I was born to create something of my own and give my name to it. After several restless nights and breakdowns, I finally had a breakthrough. That’s when I said to myself that I am going to give Baatein a shot as I feel I am able to communicate ideas really well and do it really creatively.  If in the process, I can help someone else then why not. If I am lucky, someone might want to pay me for it.  Just like that, we started with a small team of volunteers from across Delhi University. Some of them joined us full time eventually. It is a long way to go, we are still in the take off stage and taking one day at a time. All the risks were worth taking.

Q4: -The pandemic has been very difficult for businesses across the board. How has Baatein steered through this phase?

We declared a work from home mode on March 17. We had just hired 2 new people who joined us on the 16th and we on-boarded new clients and we had just got a new office. We were on the runway, ready to take off. When the pandemic hit, we slowly lost a couple of clients as they lost businesses on their end so naturally they had to close the tap on our side. We eventually realised that this is the time that we must focus on our community. This time allowed us to give more time on our foundation, where we came from, and focus on our grassroots. We launched Zubani, which is on its way to become India’s largest depository of Indian stories. All oral so that more and more people can access them. We revamped our blog. We recently on-boarded 3 new clients. While our physical operations reduced, we got a chance to work on our online operations and that’s when I think the magic happened. We were very patient. The pandemic did affect us and hit us like an asteroid but we eventually learnt to adapt to the new normal.

Q5: -Tell us more about ‘Zubaani’.

Long time ago, we interviewed a lady named Savita. She’s a masseuse with UrbanClap. We interviewed her for humans of Bombay and once the interview was done, I was really moved by her story. She lost her husband to cancer 4 years ago; she battled with depression for a year and eventually fought her way to take care of her daughter. She is currently battling a court case for property owned by her husband and completed hijacked by her in-laws family. All this while, she has kept her spirits and head held high. She is very vocal about women empowerment. While I was writing her story, she asked me how will people in her village read her story since they don’t have access to social media, they don’t know what social media is and they might not be able to read English. That’s when the idea was founded that if our stories don’t reach the people that we are covering then what is the point of covering it. I credit her to encourage us to start Zubani. We want more and more stories to come out. Whichever story we do, we make sure that it reaches to the person in the most accessible way possible. We hope it emerges as a beautiful community-led initiative. It is growing very rapidly. If you have a story, share it with us because we love stories and we adore stories.

Q6: On a parting note, I have 2 questions for you: What is your message to people who need a dose of motivation? And whom do you look up to for inspiration?

All I want to say is that I feel one thing that should never go is your faith in yourself because nobody can tell your story better than yourself. Not let that faith go and don’t lose hope by small hiccups in life. Life will always be filled with ups and downs.

Lastly, I look up to everyone around me for inspiration. My friends, family, parents, our house help. Every person I have met in this journey, all the people I have written about, have mentored me, supported me, have faith in me, all the women entrepreneurs who have walked the path before me and created paths that I can walk on. And eventually life.  No day is the same and that thought that each day is a new opportunity, is what I draw my inspiration from.