From Living with Hearing Loss to Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur

Living with hearing loss with Pinky Lilani

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From Living with Hearing Loss to Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur

In this first episode of a new series of Our Voices, we focus on Pinky Lilani: an insightful and inspiring female entrepreneur with a passion for food. Pinky describes how she grew up in a culture in which men were supposed to be the breadwinners. 

She also talks about her struggles with dealing with hearing loss in the midst of her newfound career in cookery. Finally, she reflects on how support from a kind friend and an inner determination to succeed saw her overcome her challenges and achieve lasting success.

A man’s world

Pinky grew up in India in the ‘60s when a woman’s role was at home and it was rare for females to participate in economic life. Despite this, she describes growing up in a privileged background and being able to attend university as a result.

Moving to the UK

After completing her undergraduate studies at university, Pinky went on to do a postgraduate diploma. Even after this, there was no expectation that she would take a serious role in the outside world. “What was expected of me was that I would get married quite early. 

There wasn’t any encouragement or aspiration to really have a career.” Pinky got her postgraduate diploma at the age of 23 from the University of Mumbia. She also met her future husband while studying there.

 “It was a semi-arranged marriage. So I married him three weeks after meeting him not knowing much about what life would be like.” 

Shortly after this, the newly-married couple emigrated to the UK. Perhaps surprisingly for someone who would go on to become a celebrated chef, one of the first things she was looking forward to was visiting McDonald’s.

Her first job

Pinky continued her studies in the UK and, due to her outgoing nature and her love for cooking, she quickly made new friends in the process.

 “I used to entertain a lot, I loved having people over and I started putting together recipes and telling people how to make a good pilau rice and chicken tikka.”

From these social gatherings and her passion for food came a job opportunity. Pinky was hired to teach Indian cookery classes. “I remember them telling me they’d pay me 11 pounds an hour, which I was very excited about because nobody had ever paid me for anything.”

Living with hearing loss

This would only be the beginning of Pinky’s forays into economic life. But just as she was getting used to her new job role, a major obstacle unexpectedly arose. She began to lose her hearing. This meant that she was finding it more and more difficult to communicate with her students.

She would ask questions to the class which had already been answered. As her hearing loss continued to get worse, she went to visit a doctor who told her that it was irreversible. “I really was absolutely distraught, because I thought, if I keep losing it and there’s no hearing left, how will I spend the rest of my life in a silent world? 

It was absolutely frightening. It was … worse than frightening.”

Words of kindness

By this point, Pinky had become a member of various boards and committees alongside being a cookery teacher. With her hearing deteriorating, she worried that she would no longer be able to continue with these commitments. However, a kind colleague approached her with words of encouragement. 

“ I remember her telling me that [if you stop teaching,] you won’t be letting yourself down. But you will be letting all of us down because we really liked the way you teach.” 

These words inspired Pinky and gave her the strength to figure out how to cope with deafness. “When I look back, I see how I am where I am because of the kindness of so many. I can think of so many people along the way, who’ve been so kind in helping me in my journey.”

How to cope with deafness

Pinky made adaptations so that she could continue carrying out her various roles while living with hearing loss. She became a part of smaller board meetings so that it was easier to keep up with the conversations.

She also spent more time communicating with her students in a one-to-one capacity at their cooking stations.  For Pinky, the key to her success was being able to change her perspective. All of these adaptations showed her how to cope with deafness.

 “I think you can use everything to a positive advantage; it’s the way you’re actually going to look at it that’s important.”

Connecting with others

One unexpected advantage was that living with hearing loss actually made it easier for people to connect with Pinky. Telling them about her own vulnerabilities made the people around her more patient and compassionate.

In fact, it seemed as if people were coming to her classes as much to hear her tell stories as to learn about cookery. It would seem to naturally follow then that her students would often insist that she write a book.

Becoming a female entrepreneur

Pinky decided to take their advice and wrote the book “Spice Magic: An Indian Culinary Adventure”. But now she needed to find a means of getting the book sold. Initially, she contacted booksellers directly to try to encourage them to stock it. 

But they were unwilling to do so “they’d ask me, Are you a celebrity? Have you been on television? Why should we buy your book?”. She realised that, if she was going to get her book sold, she would have to be creative.

So she called a store and made them a unique proposition: “ If I bring my electric wok and make spicy Bombay potatoes in five minutes in the shop, would you let me sell my book?”

 The owner of the shop agreed and the event became such a success that Pinky began travelling to other shops with her book in tow. 

Continued success

Despite living with hearing loss, Pinky has become a celebrated female entrepreneur. Pinky gave a talk on leadership at the supermarket chain “Asda”.

A week later, a buyer from the company called her and told her that they would like to buy her book. They ended up buying 6,000 copies. Pinky has since gone on to feature on the BBC, GQ magazine and The Times newspaper. 

She has also given TED Talks. On top of this, she has created the Women of the Future programme, an initiative that supports and develops women for leadership roles. And she has become a trustee and ambassador of countless charities. She has also received an OBE for her services to charity and a CBE for her services to business.

Following your heart

When asked how she has been able to become such a successful female entrepreneur, Pinky puts it down to kindness and community. She believes that she has received a lot of support and she now wishes to provide that support for others. “It’s about building communities.

And I think that’s what Women of the Future does well; we bring people together and we let their energy then take everyone to another level…” 

Talking about the idea of success, Pinky says “I think people are successful if they do what they really love and they do it with passion… For me, I’ve always followed my heart.”

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           PROFESSIONAL
 

Laura is the mix engineer for the Our Voices podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Our Voices podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

 

Experience in Industry: 3

                 PERSONAL
 

Favourite Food: Potatoes

Favourite Sport: Wild swimming

Favourite Show: Anything Marvel

Favourite Movie: Anything Marvel

Favourite City: London

Hobby: Music

Favourite Book: Northern Lights

           PROFESSIONAL
 

I’m the community manager at Our Voices. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests from all around the world. What I love most about working for Our Voices is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

 

I was born and raised in Pakistan and I’ve been living in Hungary for over two years now. I have a Master’s degree in Marketing and I live for mastering the art of digital marketing.

 

Industry experience: 2.5 Years

                 PERSONAL
 

Favourite Food: Biryani – introduced by the Mughal rulers in the Indian subcontinent; this dish is an absolute delight. Also, can never say no to a good burger – extra cheese!

Favourite Sport: Cricket – I grew up playing and watching cricket with friends and family.

Favourite Show: Stranger Things – I love how an odd group of friends fight against challenges bigger than themselves.

Favourite Movie: Harry Potter – The only movie I can watch over and over again!

Favourite City: Prague – Absolutely love the Baroque and Gothic vibe of this city.

Hobby: Netflix, Travelling, and Eating- I want to try different cuisines from every country once in my lifetime!

Favourite Book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A fast-paced thriller that keeps you hooked from the first page to the last.

           PROFESSIONAL
 

I run Fascinate Productions, the production company behind the Our Voices podcast. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in media, from underwater videography, to live televised sporting events around the world. But since listening to my first audiobook in 2016, I’ve been all about audio and jumped in with two feet. Podcasts are enabling the world to democratise its most valuable information. They’re about spreading messages, and sharing ideas, and it’s my mission to help those holding the knowledge, to distribute it far and wide.

When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

 Experience in Industry: 5 years

                 PERSONAL
 

Favourite Food: Ice cream. It’s just the greatest culinary invention.

Favourite Sport: Rugby. I played from the age of 5 until 26 when a dislocated shoulder put me out of action. Still like to watch now though.

Favourite Show: The 100 – I love those ‘what if humans nearly got wiped out?’ type shows.

Favourite Movie: Gladiator

Favourite City: London. As a country boy from Yorkshire, I never thought I’d enjoy living here.

Hobby: Listening to podcasts while on long walks with my dog Alfie.

Favourite Book: I love to read anything business/startup related… One of the most recent great ones was Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

          PROFESSIONAL

 

Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

He is an executive producer for ‘Our Voices’ where he assists with production, creative direction of the show, and marketing strategy.  

 

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: 15 YEARS

                 PERSONAL

 

Favourite Food: I love Indian food – My favourite dish is a Dansak. It’s a rich combination of hot, sweet and sour flavours, made from lamb and lentils.

Favourite Sport: I enjoy watching combat sports like MMA – Isreal Adesanya is my favourite fighter at the moment, due to his Tae Kwon Do base and speed. 

Favourite Show: Succession – an American satirical drama. The character development is incredible, and the writing is top notch. 

Favourite Movie: True Lies. I find it amazing that someone who can’t act (Arni) has so many great films.

Favourite City: London, because it is a melting pot of culture and the music scene is amazing. 

Hobby: Making music, going to gym and eating out. 

Favourite Book:  The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I love the world she created, and the incremental path the characters take into darkness. It’s amazing.

           PROFESSIONAL
 

I am responsible for writing blog articles for the Our Voices podcast. I have the privilege of listening to fascinating stories on the topics and issues that are of greatest relevance to our society today. Once I’ve done this, I create articles that provide an overview and description of the conversations in order to help spread them to the widest possible audience. My job is to make these articles as engaging as the conversations themselves.

As an English teacher who has worked with students from all over the world for over 10 years, I have got used to successfully communicating with those from different backgrounds and cultures. This has helped me to appreciate the value of connection across borders and boundaries. It has also helped me to appreciate that we are all able to learn from each other’s experiences.

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: 10 YEARS

                 PERSONAL
 

Favourite Food: Chocolate. It’s an indulgence, I know, but it tastes so good. I particularly enjoy dark chocolate for its richness and smoothness. 

Favourite Sport: Football.Unfortunately, my local team (Nottingham Forest) is not in that top league but I hope that one day it will be.

Favourite Show: The Wire. 

Favourite Movie: The Godfather. 

Favourite City: Reykjavik. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks there a number of years ago and I loved the place for its beauty, culture and calmness. It’s rare that you can be in a capital city and experience genuine space and peace and quiet. There’s also a black sand beach to walk along, although, due to the cold, I wouldn’t recommend bathing in the sea!

Hobby: Watching films. I love films, foreign films, classic films, contemporary films, just all good films.

Favourite Book: “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. 

                 PERSONAL
 

Favourite Food:  In a word, sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.

Favourite Sport: Show jumping. When I was little I wanted to be a professional horse-rider, and I still get a kick out of watching the pros in action.

Favourite Show: Fleabag: the writing and acting create a thrilling kind of intimacy I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Favourite Movie: Victoria is an incredible German thriller that’s all shot in one take – it’s a real trip. Plus it’s beautifully soundtracked by Nils Frahm.

Favourite City: Very hard to choose, but it’s got to be Barcelona. The food, the pace of life, the winding streets – there’s nowhere else like it. 

Hobby: exploring city streets on my bike – preferably while listening (safely!) to a podcast – is when I’m at my happiest. 

Favourite Book: Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a stunning, utterly unique portrait of womanhood, race, ageing and the principles we choose to live by.

           PROFESSIONAL
 
I am the host of Our Voices. I help to find the guests that have a powerful voice to share and then I speak to them and help to tease the stories out of them that will have a positive impact on the listener. 

While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and many of these people had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Our Voices’ because I wanted to give these people a platform to share these stories with the world.

I love the detail that people go into and how people craft stories in different ways. My dream and vision for the future would be countless people messaging to tell us how a particular episode has changed their lives!

                 PERSONAL

Favourite Food: Avocados – an incredibly delicious fruit that can be used in so many dishes. My favourite is guacamole with nachos!

Favourite Sport: Boxing and football (couldn’t choose one!)

Favourite Show: 2 comedy series: Alan Partridge and The Office (UK version). I just love English humour!

Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

Favourite City:  New York – Living there for a year in 2008 changed my life. It made me believe that anything in life was possible if you want something badly enough.

Hobby: Football, boxing, reading, learning Spanish, travelling and watching fascinating conversations on Youtube.

Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.