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Never rush into relationships. Being best friends first and knowing that the other person has good intentions for you is essential: Somy Ali

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“Dil to khoya hai yaheen pey kahee pey”, as I happened to watch this melodious song on youtube I was struck and overwhelmed by the innocence and fragility of this beautiful girl who starred in many Bollywood movies back in the 90s. In my quest to find out what Somy Ali has been doing lately and what keeps her active, I was surprised to discover that she has gone from a fragile and timid young girl to a woman who has dedicated her life to a Nobel cause. Thus, I decided to reach out to her for an interview. Having suffered a breakup from a serious relationship, she returned back to Miami from Mumbai, where she channeled her energy to bringing smiles onto the faces of many women and children, rather than allowing herself to be consumed by her own pain.

‘No More Tears’ is a Novel effort taken in this direction by Somy Ali. Through this initiative, she has been working with front-line workers and the FBI to rescue women and children who are victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking, as well as members of the LGBTQ community and captive pets. She has been working relentlessly at the grassroots level and has been hailed as a messiah to the women and children who are victims of domestic abuse and trafficking. I was deeply engrossed in a freewheeling discussion with actor Somy Ali about her journey from Mumbai to Miami, how her breakup with a megastar of Bollywood led to the work of philanthropy. In addition, since Somy still looks the same, questions regarding her diet, fitness, and beauty secrets were inevitably asked as well.

Q. Currently, where are you staying and how are you dealing with the pandemic situation?
I have been back home in Miami, Florida, for the past 20 years since I left India. We are all coping and trying to remain optimistic. As a frontline worker with the police/FBI working with rescuing domestic violence and sex trafficking victims, I was fortunate enough to get vaccinated during the peak of COVID. Nonetheless, with the new variants, I take all the precautions that are necessary.

Q. During lockdown face, there was said to be an increase in domestic violence cases?
Yes, for my NGO, where we would get on an average 15-20 calls a day, during March of 2020 we began getting 30-50 calls a day seeking help. There are many factors behind the rise in cases, with people being laid off work or even furloughed. Many were self-medicating and perhaps still are with drugs and alcohol leading to an increase in domestic violence.

 

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Q. How were you working during this time to extend help?
Considering we have safe housing not a shelter, we were able to help 400 victims since March of 2020. The shelters were at full capacity; thus, they were referring victims to No More Tears which is unique with its safe-housing model. We were able to provide mental counseling via Zoom to the victims, basic needs such as food and clothing and legal assistance. Above all, we were able to save over 400 women, children, men and even pets in domestic violence situations as well as sex trafficking.

Q How did this transition from Bollywood to an NGO unfold?
I always wanted to do something in the activism or social work field ever since I was a seven-year-old kid in Pakistan, I would bring little refugee girls from Afghanistan who had crossed the border to our home when I found them begging on the streets. I could not understand why I had a house, and they did not. I believe that’s when the activism seed was planted. Therefore, when I broke up with my ex in Mumbai, I decided it was time to head back home, finish my education and start my NGO.

Q. In society, there are umpteen number of social issues, so why did you choose to focus on the particular cause of domestic violence?
For one, I grew up in a home and a culture where it was a norm to hit a young girl or a married woman for that matter. It was and unfortunately to date is a patriarchal culture. Aside from that I myself am a survivor of domestic violence in my teenage years and early 20’s. It would be hypocritical of me to deny that fact while I live and breathe a mission of rescuing victims of domestic violence for the past 14 years.

Q. Do you think domestic violence is still prevalent in big cities when women empowerment is a global phenomenon in our current time?
Absolutely! It’s all a farce and remains to be extremely prevalent. What happened to the MeToo movement? Similarly, it is highly prevalent everywhere, not just in rural areas, but it does not discriminate whatsoever whether you are a layperson, a celebrity or someone with significant clout. If a man/woman know they can get away with zero consequences after beating you to the pulp, they will do so with zero remorse. I see it on a daily basis with my NGO and read about it in the news universally. Nothing has changed and we have a long way to go.

Q. Is it true that domestic violence and literacy rate are inversely proportionate?
Not at all. What’s true is that there is a very deep-rooted stigma attached to talking about it. The victims feel embarrassed rather than the perpetrator. I know this from personal experience as I was in denial for several before speaking up. Our society is to blame for this stigma as it’s all swept under the rug including sexual abuse of children and statistics prove that the abusers are usually someone within the family. This makes it furthermore difficult to speak up and eradicate the stigma.

Q. Describe how domestic violence differs from physical violence and whether it also includes mental trauma and suppression?
In a nutshell, domestic violence is a pattern or behaviors used to gain or maintain power and control on an individual. This comes in many forms from financial abuse where the spouse has complete control of the money, consistent verbal abuse and threats of killing them. Physical, sexual and verbal abuse go hand in hand when it comes in domestic violence in 14 years of my experience. Even if one is not being beaten, but a boyfriend or your partner throws something at a wall next to you, that is domestic violence as he/she is instilling fear in you. I have seen pretty much every sort of evil when it comes to domestic violence. We had a victim who was trying to flee, and the husband told her, “Okay, you can go, but you can only take one of our kids.” What mother would be able make that choice? It’s monstrous what the abusers do to the victims.

Q. I perceive your personality to be very lively and perky. You look like a happy go lucky kind of a person in contrast to your area of work. Does it create a conflict somewhere?
At this point of running my NGO, I am able to separate my work from my personal life to a significant degree and have a switch off button once I am not working. In the early years it was tough not to get severely emotional, but there are still some cases that are hard not to get attached to more so when I get cases of abused children.

Q. Having to deal with disturbing stories and cases on a regular basis, which can be heartbreaking, how do you maintain your mental and emotional strength?
Exercise and diet are the key ingredients for me. What we eat plays a pivotal role not only on our bodies, but also on our psychological health. Plus, exercise raises one’s serotonin levels and relieves stress which has been scientifically proven. I refrain from alcohol which in my opinion is pretty much poison and a known depressant. With my work and the horrors, I witness daily anything that causes depression I try my hardest to steer away from. An occasional celebratory glass of wine is okay, but I believe anything in extreme is harmful to the mind, body and soul.

 

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Q. Where are all of your NGO offices located?
We do not have an office anymore as I had an abuser show up and he held a gun to my head threatening me to stay away from his woman. It must have been one of the victims we rescued. I got lucky as he took off with a warning. After that incident in 2014, my Board and I decided that we can’t have an office and it’s best to work virtually since I am mostly in the field with cops conducting rescues. Or driving victims to court and other appointments such as seeing a gynecologist or getting an eye exam etc.….

Q. What is it about Bollywood you miss the most? Have you never felt inclined to return or to work in Hollywood movies or on the OTT platform?
I actually miss the food and Mumbai itself the most. I spent 16-24 there and those are one’s formidable years, therefore, I miss the good and try to forget the bad. I am not keen on acting and never was which isn’t a big secret. I went to India to pursue a silly crush and ended up working in ten Hindi films. It’s all rather surreal actually and in hindsight I still can’t believe I had the audacity to take such a bold step. I am happy running my NGO and saving lives and there is nothing more satiating or meaningful for me personally than living to help others live.

Q. What did you do after you left Mumbai following a bitter relationship?
I threw a pity party for a month which no one attended and then my brother told me enough and it’s time to finish my education given I had dropped out in 9th grade. I got my bachelor’s degree in psychology, my master’s in broadcast journalism, I attended the New York Film Academy to study scriptwriting and filmmaking and then the Connecticut School of Broadcasting as well. Soon after in 2007, No More Tears was born and here we are having saved over 35,000 women, children, men, members of the LGBTQ Community and pets. It’s been quite a journey to say the least.

Q. When you broke up from a relationship that lasted for years, how did you cope with this and how would you advise youngsters on dealing with breakups?
I made a decision to not let that bring me down and to find a purpose. Because a life without a purpose can be very lonely. It’s as bad as a life without belief whether in a deity, hope or spirituality. It was important for me to take my sadness and build something to make others happy which is why I gave birth to No More Tears.

Therefore, I always say that it is the most selfish thing I have ever done because it took my sadness away by bringing happiness to others. As for advice to our youth, there are no guarantees in life when it comes to relationships. Never define yourself by your partner’s identity as he/she can decide to leave anytime. Be self-reliant financially and emotionally. I am not saying don’t fall in love, I am saying don’t fall so hard that you are unable to get up. Always know in the back of your mind, that circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. Also, we never truly know someone fully so be wary of that fact and keep yourself guarded so it hurts less in case one does break up with you. This advice is not just for intimate relationships, but for any relationship. The lesser the expectations, the lesser the pain.

Q. Do you have any relationship advice you want to share with teenagers?
Don’t rush into anything. It is important to be best friends before anything else and it is important to know with certainty that the other person has good intentions towards you. Thus, take your time as you literally have your whole life ahead of you and remember who you are today, you will not be ten years from now. I say this with experience.

Q. You openly admitted that you were subject to Casting Couch, but do you occasionally feel like speaking out against this practice and trying to help women who have suffered due to it?
I have been away for 20 years now so I am not aware of how things function in the industry anymore, but I will always speak up against any injustice whether it is against a man or a woman in any field of work. I am an activist, and it would be ludicrous for me to stay quiet if I see someone taking advantage of another.

Q. Do you have an opinion about nepotism in the Bollywood industry?
Yes and no. Of course, it’s easier if you are born in a home where either of your parents are part of the industry, but if you do not have the talent and believe me most importantly luck by your side, nothing can make you successful. Let’s take Kangana for example, I deem her to be one of the most talented actresses in the Hindi cinema and she struggled to a degree that was fatal to her wellbeing. She has talent and tons of it, plus luck. So, she defies nepotism in totality. However, I think luck plays a huge role in any aspect of your life. At the risk of being philosophical it’s the equivalent of why good things happen to bad people and why good human beings suffer tremendously? We do not have an answer and never will.

Q. Who are your contacts in the film industry and do you bond well with them today?
I do not have many since I left over two decades ago. I speak with Zeenat now and then as she was my neighbor when I lived in Mumbai and I spoke with Suniel not too long ago who I have the utmost respect for as a truly genuine human being. Other than that, no one else as too much time has passed and as they say life happens. My world is very different whereas theirs is exactly where I left it. And I say this as a state of fact not condescendingly by any means. I am living a very different chapter in my life for the past 14 years and we speak different languages now.

Q. Name 5 places in Mumbai you would love to visit for eating out that you miss the most about Mumbai?
Shiv Sagar, Juhu beach, Bandra, Mount Mary where I used to live, and Haji Ali for the best milkshakes ever.

Q. How is it that you still look the same, Somy? What is the secret to your beauty & skincare routine?
First of all, thank you. I always wear sunscreen and avoid the sun like the plague. I eat healthily and exercise six days a week. Another key factor is to moisturize day and night. Sugar and the sun are our biggest enemies.

 

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Q. Please tell us what your fitness & diet secrets are as well?
I practice intermittent fasting so I either have lunch or dinner. I drink two cups of coffee in the morning, which is known to be an appetite suppressant thus, not a breakfast person. I workout every evening from 7-8pm no matter what. I am not a morning workout person and with my NGO, my mornings are close to insanity with constant calls from the police for victims in need. I hate cardio, but love weight training. I lift weights which burn fat and help build muscle. In my 40’s my goal is to be toned, not skinny, hence weightlifting is the key and works for my body type.

Q. What do you do in your free time?
Binge-watch Netflix or any show with interesting characters as it’s the characters who I find appealing and make a good TV show or a movie.

Q. How social media savvy are you?
I can manage to do a post. That’s about it. Honestly, the majority of it is rubbish anyways and my biggest pet peeve when people put others down. It’s the saddest thing ever and shows how miserable that individual must be to make someone else feel small and try to hurt their feelings.

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She has been there and done that. After graduating from Delhi University, she completed her diploma in Journalism from Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Delhi. Down the line, she completed her internship with National Herald Newspaper successfully,, and went on to Join Mainline Business daily, Business Standard. She also dabbled in image management and brand consultancy. She is a prolific writer on lifestyle entertainment, branding, lifestyle, travel, and politics.
Contact her at [email protected]