Vimoha Bagla Shah was exhausted.

It had been a long day at work. She had just finished wrapping an Instagram shoot for TrulyMadly, the dating app for which she is the head of content. Slumped on a sofa at her Chittaranjan Park residence, she looked back on the twists and unexpected turns her life  had taken.

Vimoha Bagla, as she was then, grew up in South Delhi with her parents and an elder sister. Her father was a garment exporter, her mother ran her own small-scale clothing unit.

“Issues cropped up in their marriage, and she had to close it down,” Bagla Shah said. “They got a divorce, but my father could not pay the entire alimony because he suffered huge losses in his garment business.” The downslide in business meant that her father could also not pay for her college education, a promise he had made to his younger daughter.

Bagla Shah charted her own course. An interest in advertising led to her applying to New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology for an undergraduate programme. She took an education loan and settled in to her course, confident that she had her future sorted.

And then in 2001, the year of her graduation, the Twin Towers came down.

The terrorist attack of 9/11 crushed the dreams of newly-minted graduates as the job market dried up. In order to survive, she took up a sales job in a Henri Bendel luxury accessory store on Fifth Avenue.

A mentor at the FIT had told her of Miami Ad School, the Mecca for advertising aspirants. She applied and again, got through. With her US-based uncle co-signing, she applied for a second student loan that was almost three times the amount she was already struggling to pay off. “By the time I was 24, I had racked up massive education loans,” she said.

Within a week of completing her course, she landed a good job that took her back to New York, the ultimate destination for advertising professionals.

Romance in a grocery store

She met Niraj Shah through a dating site.

She cancelled the first scheduled date because she was unsure, showed up for the second, and stalled when he asked her out again, telling him she had urgent grocery shopping to do.

“We went grocery shopping on our third date,” she said with a laugh. Within six months, they were engaged and, a year later, married. The risks she had taken seemed to have paid off – she had a good job and a husband she loved, and she was in the process of getting a green card that would establish her firmly in the US.

Then, in 2010, her world collapsed. The economic downturn in the US resulted in the couple losing their jobs. Despondent, they flew back to Delhi and sheltered in Bagla Shah’s mother’s home while they tried to piece their lives back together.

Failures and fears

Bagla Shah found a job almost immediately on her return to Delhi. Niraj Shah decided to start up in the education sector. His business plan was to accelerate degrees in foreign educational institutions by allowing students to write the minor courses in India and transfer the credits when they went abroad.

The business model failed to take off, and Bagla Shah found herself the sole provider for the family. A stressed economy, inflationary bills, the rent on the home the couple had moved into, all added to the strain – and she was still paying off her student loans.

“Every time the dollar value fluctuated, I’d stress out further,” she said. “A huge chunk of my salary was going into repaying my education loans – in dollars - and I was beginning to feel cornered.”

Did she ever think of giving up? Bagla Shah, thus far voluble about her life, nodded quietly.

“Our society emasculates men if they do not work, but it is not the same when women do not, which is an unfair burden to place on both genders,” she said after a pause.

“It strained our relationship," she said. "I used to fight with my husband for not working, but I was really furious with the circumstances, not with him. He wanted to do something he felt passionate about, but it was just not working out.”

Sunset, and a new dawn

Bagla Shah spoke of feeling cheated by life, and of how that anger spilled over into the marriage. Both sets of parents were concerned when Niraj Shah’s startup failed to take off and he seemed unable to find something else to do. Life became a struggle to meet daily responsibilities. Her mother, Bagla Shah says, was her greatest source of support, keeping her grounded, advising patience, soothing her fears with a timely hug.

At one point the couple decided on a sunset clause beyond which the focus would shift to Niraj Shah finding a job. That date is now past and he is back to what he loves, teaching, at the Shiv Nadar School in Noida.

Life is gradually turning around, she says. She is now in a happy space, doing work that challenges her in a sector that is booming. Dating apps have exploded in India, with adoption rates showing 100% month on month growth and venture capitalists lining up to invest. TrulyMadly, for which she heads content, captured the collective imagination with its "Boy Browsing" ads.

“Our goal is to erase the taboo from the online dating space in India,” Bagla Shah said. “How do young people get to know each other better if they do not interact? Breaking a social proscription is a challenge, and it will take time – but the vision is promising.”

Bagla Shah has been on the go, without pause, since her twenties – maybe because she cannot afford to, maybe because life has not allowed her to, or maybe because she just does not know how to. But on the rare occasion when she will have the leisure to look back, she will feel a fleeting pride in what she has achieved, against all odds.

Read the rest of the series here.