Last week – On the occasion of International Women’s Day (8 March 2013), I had the opportunity to address a group of young college graduates (all women) who are soon to join the IT workforce. It was an interesting and interactive session, filled with a lot of energy, enthusiasm, questions, laughs and participation.
In this blog, I am sharing the key messages I highlighted during this interaction:
Key Lessons from my Corporate Journey
(1) The “College World” is DIFFERENT from the “Corporate World” : primarily in terms of the fact that your role changes from a service consumer to a service provider
(2) Be OPEN to roles, responsibilities, opportunities
•In first 3 – 5 years, every thing you do counts and can shape your career
•Diversity of the work you do makes you understand the “complete picture”
•Holistic understanding is key to success and growth
(3) Make continuous LEARNING a priority in your LIFE
(4) Invest in PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS
•Collaboration is the key to growth
•Networks and Relationships do make a difference in the corporate context
(5) Having a Mentor makes a DIFFERENCE
(6) Take RESPONSIBILITY for your CAREER
(7) Speak Up – Communication is KEY!
(8) Ask for what you want. Sometimes just asking for it can bring it to your table!
(9) “Visibility matters in the Corporate World” – Make sure you are visible ; At the very least for the work that you do
Mantras of Life for any WORKING WOMAN
(1) Be COGNIZANT of the many roles you PLAY ; Balance is the key
(2) Be REALISTIC – in your expectations of yourself, your workplace and in relationships
(3) There will be 2 critical personal MILESTONES which could affect your career – Be open, accept and deal with changes
•Marriage : “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry” BY Sheryl Sandburg, FaceBook COO
•Becoming a Mother – A reality check!
(4) Invest in your HEATH – Regular Exercise and Balanced Diet! Focus on long term than short term. And yes, “Health is Wealth”!
(5) Be CLEAR on your PRIORITIES
(6) Plan Plan Plan – Makes an ocean of difference
(7) Value your TIME and others TIME – Time is your most valuable asset
(8) “ME Time” on a regular basis to do things you LOVE – Music, TV / Movies, Reading, etc.
(9) Be POSITIVE – In Thought, Word and Deed!
What really makes a DIFFERENCE in the long run?
(1) Desire to work
(2) Openness to deal with change
(3) Clarity on Priorities
(4) Ability to communicate in a clear and precise fashion
(5) Awareness of yourself
(6) Acceptance of yourself
(7) Supportive Spouse (After marriage & motherhood)
(8) Reliable Support System (After motherhood)
(9) Expectation Management
In 2012, I did a special series on my blog called Nischala’s Blog-o-Rendezvous . When I conceptualized this Series, the idea was primarily to connect, learn and be inspired from the lives of others. So for the past year (2012), I have had the good fortune to connect with some amazing individuals from across the globe, get insights into their worlds, learn a little about their journey of life and of course, gain perspectives on diverse subjects. Not to mention that every one of them taught me several important lessons of life which I will remember for a long time. And then of course, some of them have become good friends today, and we have forged a special bond which hopefully will strengthen with time.
Today (In Dec 2012), I can’t help and look back at this journey, and the key lessons from this journey. Sharing it in a blog post as I think these have helped me grow in my journey as a person, as a writer and of course LIFE!
At the outset, I’d like to say Thank You to all the stars who I featured in this series – A BIG Thank You to Jessie Paul, Abhijit Bhaduri, Meeta Gangrade, Nupur Basu, Lisa Petrilli, Aishwarya Suresh, Danny Iny, Bruce Sallan, Angela Maiers, Preeti Shenoy, Dr Renuka, Prof. D.V.R. Seshadri, Dr Smitha Radhakrishnan, Sriram Srinivasan, Dr Bindu Hari and Ratan Jalan
Next I’d like to Thank all the readers of this blog – Thank you for taking the time to read, share and comment on my writings! You are the reason I publish on this blog!
LESSON 1 : From IDEA to EXECTION – Shorter the BETTER
When I came up with the idea to do this series on my blog, I personally was excited with the concept. But I also had several apprehensions and questions in my mind – Will I be get interesting people to feature on the blog? Will I be able to give it the time it requires? (Trust me! Every single interview takes significant time and effort, and time is premium for a mother with a full time corporate job!). Will I be able to keep the momentum right through the year? Will anyone read these posts? Will people like these?, etc. etc.
Had I pondered too long to get satisfactory answers to all these questions, the series would never have come alive. So here’s what I did – I just decided to plunge into execution! And the first thing was to publish this post of my blog stating that I would do a series called Nischala’s Blog-o-Rendezvous. Then I went about identifying a list of 10 people whom I could feature on this blog (I knew them directly / indirectly). Next, I sent them a formal request asking if they’d be keen on this. Honestly, I did a math of a 30% response ratio (i.e., About 3 people will respond) and a 10% acceptance ration (i.e., 1 person out of 10 will agree to do this interview). I needed to start somewhere and hence publishing the first rendezvous was the key (Special Thanks to Jessie Paul for being my very FIRST STAR). Surprisingly, I got a response ratio of 90% (i.e, 9 people responded) and a 70% acceptance ratio (i.e., 7 people agreed to do the interview). Wow! This was awesome!
So coming back to the lesson : When an idea strikes you , it is good to think before you execute it. And the sooner you start execution the better! Worst case, you will make some mistakes. Its better to learn from the mistakes than to not execute at all. Usually, thinking too much and for too long is a recipe for procrastination or not starting at all!
LESSON 2 : If you want, ASK
Along the year, I wanted to feature several interesting high-profile successful individuals / achievers from across the globe. So I created a list of people whom I’d like to feature in this series. Some of them where people I knew personally, but many of them I really did not know (And I guess they did not know me either). So I wondered if they would even read my mails if I sent them a request; and more importantly if they would be gracious enough to accept my request.
Surpringly, all I had to do was ASK. And most of them were happy to speak with me.
So coming back to the lesson : If you want something, ASK for it! Worst case, people will say NO! Accept it and Move On! (By the law of averages, there will always be some YES and some NO for everything in life). But if they say YES, you never know what exciting stuff will come your way!
LESSON 3 : TRY something NEW every ONCE in a WHILE
Every once in a while it is so important to try and do something new. You learn, discover, comprehend, appreciate and internalize - about the world around you, about people and about yourself! So doing something which you’ve not done before (I’ve never done any interviews in my life before! The closest I’ve got is to reading them :). Something which shows you different flavors and perspectives of life and the world (Speaking with people from other worlds makes you acknowledge appreciate and comprehend similarities and differences in people, cultures, life, society, systems, outlooks, opinions) . Something which connects you to real people (I’m guilty myself of being a “digital / virtual being” for many years of my life). Something which pushes you out of your comfort zone (I’ve never really been comfortable talking to people I don’t really know, let alone talking meaningful things)…
So coming back to the lesson : Trying something new can be a transformational life experience. There is pleasure and pain in it, there is learning and unlearning in it, there is discovery and joy in it, there is surprise and fun in it.. So it is definitely worth a try – every once in a while
LESSON 4 : The WORLD is filled with many GENUINELY NICE PEOPLE
Yes! This series makes me believe that the world is filled with very many GENUINELY NICE PEOPLE. People who care, people who are willing to share, people who love, people who inspire, people who lead by example, people who are trying to make a positive difference in the world – And personally that makes me happy, positive and hopeful about a better tomorrow, a better future, a better world in times to come (In spite of all the not so nice things I read, hear and see everyday)
So coming back to the lesson : The world is full of many GENUINELY NICE PEOPLE, who are doing their BIT and BEST in more than one way.. To make a positive difference and to leave a legacy which will make the world a better place
LESSON 5 : Every Life has many a story worth knowing, listening, telling and sharing
The last and most important lesson is that any one who is living today has a story worth knowing (Only if you’d ask the right questions), worth listening (When someone is sharing), worth telling (Only if someone asked you to speak about things dear to your heart or what you believe in or your personal stories of inspiration), and worth sharing (through blogs, books, words, etc.). And if you pay attention to observe, listen, think and understand the lives of those around you, and reflect quietly about your own life – there is a wealth of lessons you can learn every day of your life!
So coming back to the lesson : Take the time today to tell and share your own life story and to listen and know the stories of those around you! It does make a DIFFERENCE!
So those were my lessons…Did you enjoy the Nischala’s Blog-o-Rendezvous Series?
Leave a comment to let me know what you liked the best.. Would like to hear from you…
About PREETI SHENOY
Preeti Shenoy, named among one of the top five authors in India by CNN-IBN, weaves magic with her words and pictures. An extremely talented and versatile individual, her Twitter bio reads: “Best-selling Author, Artist specializing in pencil portraits, Poet, Yoga-Buff, Ex-basketball player, Blogger, Dobe-owner, Nature lover, Ted speaker and a Mother.”
Her interests are as multifarious and diverse as her several academic degrees which include an internationally recognised qualification from UK in portraiture. DNA has described her as a ‘Keenly observant mind’ and Times of India describes her writing as ‘Excellent story telling skills’. There is simplicity in her writing that appeals to the inherent good in all and her positivity and ‘Live life to the fullest’ philosophy finds a large number of takers, who follow her very popular blog.
Her second book ‘Life is what you make it’ was among the top selling books of 2011 in India and her third book ‘Tea for two and a piece of cake’ which was released in February 2012, continues to be on all the best-seller lists, having sold more than 25,000 copies within two months of its release.
Her pencil-portraits are life like which strike you with a realism that take you aback. She is also an avid card-maker and a poet. She has written for publications like Times of India, Readers Digest and many more. She has worked with under-privileged children teaching them English and Math. She has worked with several schools conducting workshops on thinking skills and creative crafts.
She says “Life is short. Follow your heart and chase your dreams. And yes, they will come true.”
And if you’ve read her earlier books, here’s some good news. Her fourth book titled “The Secret Wishlist” is due to for release shortly. You can pre-order this book by clicking here. Not only do you have a chance to get a personally signed copy of the book from Preeti, but also a 30% discount. You can also follow the FaceBook updates for the book here.
A couple of weeks back, during a random online browsing activity, I accidentally came across Preeti Shenoy’s book titled “Life is what you make it” – Something about the title compelled me to buy the book. I finished reading it in one night. Then I read her other 2 books “34 Bubblegums and Candies” and “Tea for Two and a Piece of Cake” all of which are National Bestsellers in India. After I finished reading all the three, I learnt that she also blogs, so naturally I visited her blogs. I liked her writings (both books and blogs) simply because they were simple, easy to read and written straight from the heart!
So I sent her a request for the Rendezvous and she immediately replied with a “YES”!
In this rendezvous, we discussed about Preeti’s journey into the world of writing and some nuggets about life which she strongly believes in.
Nischala: Hi Preeti. Firstly, Thanks for your time. It’s great to connect with you!
Preeti: Hi Nischala. Thanks for this
Nischala: So Preeti – Firstly, Congrats on the success as a writer. From what I read, all your books are national bestsellers and are doing very well!
Preeti: Yes! Thank You. They are all indeed doing well. Touch wood!
Nischala: So let me start this rendezvous with how your writing journey started?
Preeti: I have always been a writer. From childhood, I have written several short stories and poems – Many of which have won laurels and have been published in journals / magazines, etc.
But looking back, I think the big push for writing came only after I lost my father. In order to deal with this loss I started writing – Writing primarily for myself and more as an outlet for my thoughts and emotions. Writing kept me busy and almost was therapeutic to help me deal with a difficult and vulnerable phase in my life. So I started posting my writings on a blog anonymously and I was happy to see that my posts were very well received. The big boost came when a radio show in the US picked up a post of mine for the “Perfect Post” Award. The traffic and reader base increased significantly after that.
I then started writing more seriously and in more respected publications like Reader’s Digest, Chicken Soup Series, Times of India, etc. One of the main reasons that I took up writing seriously was because it kept me busy and helped me deal with the loss of my father. So I wrote about things which I believed in or which I was passionate about – like life, relationships, animals, bikes, dance, art, etc. I think there are more than 60 articles of mine published in various publications.
And at the same time I received a lot of comments and suggestions urging me to explore writing a book. And that’s how my first book “34 Bubblegums and Candies” was born. It’s really a compilation of little stories from my life and some of these were already published on my blog.
Nischala: That’s an interesting journey. So looking back, what was your happiest and proudest moment as a writer?
Preeti : As a writer, my happiest moment was when my first book came out. Also when my second book was named among the ‘top books of 2011’. And honestly I write because I enjoy it; and so it has been a happy journey all along.
Nischala: Wow! Congrats. I guess there is something special about the “firsts” of anything in life – Especially your first book . I also see that you write regularly on your blog and also have been able to publish 3 books in the past few years. From my understanding, they are two different worlds. So, what is the key difference between a blog and book?
Preeti: That’s correct. I started blogging in 2006 and since then I try to blog regularly.
Blogs and Books are two different worlds simply because in a book you need to have a storyline, characters, a setting, dialogue, etc. And more importantly there has to be a central theme to your book. While in a blog, you can write about anything you want and publish it! And every blog post can be a separate theme.
Nischala: That’s interesting! So moving on, you have also given a TEDx Talk very recently. How did that happen? And what was the key message? How was the experience?
Preeti: I have given two Ted X talks –one at Symbiosis Institute for Technology and management Pune, where I spoke on creativity in daily life and another at Ted X Sona, where I spoke on ‘5 lessons for growth’. Both talks were very well received. The experience was great.
Nischala: Preeti -This is the first time I am talking to you. But in this brief interaction, you sound so positive about everything. So how do you manage to stay so positive?
Preeti: Hmm… Well that’s something which a lot of people say to me. See I think I am generally a happy and contented person in life and it manifests in my interactions with others. I believe that for everything in life you do the best you can in whatever situation you are in. And if things don’t work out the way you wanted, deal with it and move on.
Nischala: That’s a great attitude for life. So what do you think anyone can do on a daily basis to feel positive, happy and alive!
Preeti: Well, there are no universal answers. But here’s what I do and it helps me a great deal.
Do something you love everyday – It can be reading or art or listening to music or meeting friends or watching a TV program – Whatever it is, set some time every day to do what you love. You will be surprised at how much difference it can make in your life.
Laugh – Do something fun that makes you laugh – It can be that you read a joke or watch a cartoon or just fake a laugh. But laughing regularly definitely has a positive effect on your overall well-being
Nischala: Thanks for sharing these practical tips. I am sure that if anyone did the above regularly, it will have a positive impact on their lives. So, as we conclude any message that you’d like to conclude with?
Preeti: “Live life today, Follow your heart and Live everyday”
There is joy in little things that you can do every day. Most of us rush from morning to night in doing a zillion things, and we don’t stop to appreciate the beauty and the magic of the world around us like smell the flowers, enjoy our meals, spend time with people we love and care for, etc. At the end of the day, life should be about what makes you happy and contented. And if you figure this out and know how to get there, then you will end up happy and contented every day of your life.
I truly believe that life is short and so very unpredictable. I am saying this because I have experienced up close of personal what it means to deal with the demise of those who mean the world to you.
And what I learnt from all these experiences is that it is important to focus on living well and being happy today. Finally when you go, you don’t take anything with you – especially not money. And what you leave is memories for others and how you impacted their lives.
I was not like this 5 – 7 years back. But as of today, this is something I believe in and execute every single day this way. So I live life to the fullest today, enjoy every single day and am happy and content at the end of the day. That’s what really matters.
Nischala: Thank you so much for this rendezvous.
Preeti: Pleasure is all mine. Have a great day!
How did you like this rendezvous? Leave a comment to let us know..
Education as a subject has been close to my heart for very many years.
Here’s one of the finest definitions of what education means : Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts. In its narrow, technical sense, education is the formal process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills, customs and values from one generation to another, e.g., instruction in schools.(Src: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education)
As I look back to connect the dots of my life, I can’t help but recognize, acknowledge and appreciate the difference EDUCATION has made in my life… Today, it would be fair to say that I am probably what I am primarily because of all the EDUCATION I received in my life – From my parents, teachers, family, friends, institutions and organizations I have been associated with and of course LIFE!
Hence, I am running a special feature on my blog dedicated to Education.. The schedule for the series is below:
22 June 2012 – The Lessons of LIFE no School really taught me
26 June 2012 – Nischala’s Blog-o-Rendezvous with ANGELA MAIERS
28 June 2012 – The Solo Educator by Anurag Behar
3 July 2012 – The Sandbox Manifesto by Angela Maiers
5 July 2012 – What to Teach by Anurag Behar
10 July 2012 - My Education is a result of my Experiences by Meeta Gangrade
12 July 2012 – Nischala’s Blog-o-Rendezvous with Prof.D.V.R.Seshadri
17 July 2012 – The BEST Education Blogs I’ve come across
19 July 2012 - In Search of Research : My tryst with Academia by Pavan Soni
24 July 2012 – Everything I learned in Kindergarten by Angela Maiers
26 July 2012 - Nischala’s Blog-o-Rendezvous with Dr.BINDU HARI
31 July 2012 – My Favorite Quotes on Education
This Series is dedicated to my FATHER!
Nupur Basu is the featured STAR in my Blog-o-Rendezvous Series.
ABOUT NUPUR BASU
Nupur Basu is an independent journalist, award winning documentary film maker and media educator from India.
For the last three decades Nupur has worked in both print and television journalism and reported and filmed extensively from different regions in the world like India, UK, Uganda, Switzerland, South Africa, Spain, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal ,Bangladesh and Afghanistan . She reported extensively on politics, development, gender, child rights, issues of livelihood, hunger, health and environment in print, television and documentary films. Her longest stints in print was with India’s leading national daily Indian Express (1982 to 1991) and in television, with New Delhi Television (NDTV) (from 1994 to 2006) where she was Senior Editor.
In 2010 Nupur was visiting faculty for the spring term at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley teaching a course on ‘International Reporting: India”. She is an Associate Fellow at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) at Bangalore and also on the executive committee of the Delhi based Media Foundation. She is also on the Board of Panos, London.
Nupur has also made five independent documentary films between 1995 to 2008:
”No Country for Young Girls?” (2008- produced by TVE ,UK and telecast on BBC World)
”Lost Generations” (2000 – produced by TVE,UK and telecast on BBC World)
”Michael Jackson Comes to Manikganj” (2000 - supported by Media South Asia and IDS, Sussex and Ford Foundation.)
”Mothers of Malappuram” ( 1997 – produced by TVE, UK and telecast on BBC World)
”Dry Days in Dobbagunta” (1995 – produced by TVE, UK and telecast on BBC World)- award for Excellence in Television at IAWRT Festival at Harare, Zimbabwe in 1997.)
Nischala: Hi Nupur. Firstly, thank you so much for your time. It’s indeed a pleasure and honour to talk to you.
Nupur: Hello, Nischala. I am impressed with your patience and perseverance. You would have made a very good journalist – it is the hallmark of a good reporter to chase their story, till they get it.
Nischala: Thank you, for your kind words … So let me start this rendezvous with a subject and topic dear to your heart – Empowerment of Women. What does empowerment really mean?
Nupur: Empowerment of women is simply about giving girls equal opportunities in life to learn, grow and evolve. It is about instilling self-confidence and belief in their own strengths and capabilities.
Nischala: That’s an interesting response. So can you please elaborate on these?
Nupur: All of the above really start with making a daughter feel wanted and special from the time she is born. It’s about how you condition her to perceive a role for herself in life. In a fundamental sense, in our country, it’s linked to survival itself. As you are aware in India we have the shameful sex- ratio distortion due to a son- loving society. As per published data, 70 lakh girls (seven million) have been aborted in India in the last ten years alone through sex-selective abortions.
The situation has got worse year upon year. In the 1991 census, there were 945 girls in India to 1000 boys. Ten years later, in the 2001 census it was 928 girls. In the 2011 census, it is down to 914. Only in the state of Kerala the sex ratio is in favour of women. The Prime Minister of our country has described it as a ‘national shame’ but there is no political will to do anything to stop this genocide. The PNDT (Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique) Act which makes sex selective abortions illegal was passed in 1994. After 18 years, the number of convictions for pre-natal sex determination is abysmally low- only 80 cases have so far resulted in conviction.
Aamir Khan’s recent episode of ‘Satyameva Jayate’ brought this into national focus. Let’s hope it helps our society break the silence on this national crime. I have editorially described it as a very positive effort and a missed opportunity for the national media. Here is the link for that article in the media watch website-The Hoot
Nischala: You have also made a film on this for BBC World on this subject- Tell us about it.
Nupur: Yes, I made a documentary on this subject in 2008 titled: No Country for Young Girls? . In the film, the protagonist is 27 year- old Vaijanti , a young married women with two young daughters. Like lakhs of women in India, this young married woman too has been rejected by her husband and in-laws for giving birth only to girls. Ironically, Vaijanti lives in Agra just one kilometre from the Taj Mahal , the monument that symbolises eternal love for the world. When we started filming her story, she had returned to her mother’s house and was in a legal battle with the husband. The film begins with petite Vaijanti sitting alone on that lover’s bench in from of the magnificent Taj Mahal saying: “I grew up in the land of Rani of Jhansi and I wanted to give birth to my daughters… my husband threw me out of the house for that but I will fight for my girls till the very end” . Princess Diana had sat alone on the same bench at the Taj and it had symbolised the end of her marriage with Prince Charles.
Vaijanti then leaves Agra with us and travels across the country meeting women from different economic backgrounds to find out whether she is alone in her suffering. From women ministers, to women construction workers to IT women CEOs- she meets them all and finds that she not alone in her suffering. One woman who particularly inspires her is Jasbir, a nurse in Ganganagar who was rejected by her husband and in-laws because she had triplets- all girls. She had resolved to work and bring up the girls and today they are three lovely 13 year-olds who are studying in school and who adore their mother. No Country for Young Girls? is a story of deep despair and utmost hope.
Nischala: Was the film well received?
Nupur: It was on BBC World as part of series called Living on the Edge and it had a worldwide telecast to good reviews. The very first day it was on the BBC website it had 87,000 hits. There is enormous interest in the subject as people cannot understand why a country like India which is supposed to have a vibrant democracy and wants to project itself as an economic powerhouse, should be eliminating its daughters in the 21st century. It is really mind boggling. In the film an expert on Gandhi pointed out to us that “Gandhi would most definitely have fasted unto death if he had known Indian daughters were being killed in this manner“. Unfortunately there are no Gandhis in our country today who find this practice morally abhorrent. It’s really crazy that as a society we worship women goddesses – but we abuse women in real life.
Nischala: Has it always been this way ?
Nupur: Not really..thanks again to Gandhi, Indian women took part in large numbers in the Indian freedom struggle. By coming out of their homes onto their streets in thousands, to take part in a national political movement, they made a huge statement . If this was the case in 1946-47, you would have imagined a rising graph of emancipation of women in free India in 2012. Sadly, as you and I know it, that’s not been the case. Although India had a woman Prime Minister in Indira Gandhi for double digit years, and although women are in power at the helm of politics in India even as we talk today – the President is a woman, the Speaker of Lok Sabha is a woman, the head of the Congress party is a women, the leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha is a woman, we have three women Chief Ministers- yet, ironically, our elected MPs in the lower House of Lok Sabha refuse to pass the 33 per cent reservation Bill for women in Parliament .In January this year it was once again turned down in the lower house. These are the dichotomies we are grappling with as a society/nation.
The truth is that in 21 st century India, both in rural and urban India, many women are not safe in their homes, on the streets or at their workplace. Everywhere there are instances of abuse of women. Honour killings, dowry deaths, rapes of women and minor girls…the list is long and depressing. This is not restricted to specific communities or any particular economic segment. It is endemic, cutting across class, caste. It is as if the whole eco-system is conspiring to keep women down. And the political class and the judiciary is looking the other way. The nation’s capital, Delhi, has a skewed sex-ratio. When we had filmed in 2008 it was 821 girls to 1000 boys. If elimination of daughters through sex selection can happen in Delhi, where the Parliament and Supreme Court are located, it can surely happen anywhere in the country.
Nischala: So, what in your opinion is the cause of this abuse?
Nupur: We still live in a feudal and patriarchal society in the 21st century. Having shiny metros and IT parks and glitzy cars does not make us modern. In No Country for Young Girls , women IT professionals (who comprise 33 per cent of the workforce- at least you all have breached the figure that Indian Parliament will not allow women Parliamentarians to reach) tell us that they too are still subjected to harassment for dowry and also harassed by their in-laws to part with their own income etc. A woman IT Manager told us on camera how the men in her section openly asked for placements to Dubai and the US, saying it will increase their dowry. The Burns Ward at the Victoria hospital in India’s IT city, Bangalore, used to have an admission rate of 90 women a month. Three a day. As a journalist I have covered this and I can tell you that some of the cases are simply heart-breaking. Several women are burnt in dowry harassment cases. Another woman was set on fire by her husband ostensibly because she could not conceive after marriage – she had been married only for three months. The list of horror stories could just go on…
One huge problem in our system is that daughters are brought up believing that marriage is the be all and end all of their existence. Marriage should be one thing you do among various things in life. Not the only thing you do. It is this age-old- ‘ladki to paraya ghar ki hoti hain’ (the daughter is reared for someone else) which is the genesis of the problem. It is this conditioning that instils the feeling of inferiority and lack of self-confidence in girls. Adding insult to injury, this message is accentuated by the mass media. The gender stereotypes of a patriarchal society that we see in television serials, makes matters worse. And women are the largest consumers of these TV serials which are reinforcing stereotypes about themselves and it has an adverse impact on them.
Nischala: So any specific observations that you’d like to highlight based on your research as a journalist over the past several decades?
Nupur: While urban India has benefitted from liberalisation, it is the poor – both urban and rural poor who have been hit badly. Just look at the canvas that we celebrate as India Shining – 840 million people live on less than 20 Rs a day .Ninety three per cent of India’s workfoce works in the unorganised sector and is not paid minimum wages, a large number of whom are women. Thirty-three per cent (one in three) of children in India are born low birth weight (less than2.5 kgs). In the year 2000 I had made a documentary again for BBC World titled- Lost Generations- in which I showed that the cycle of malnourishment of underweight mothers (some of them actually girls of 15 who had been married off) giving birth to underweight children. Research showed that malnourishment at birth leads to diseases like diabetes in later life among other problems. While looking at these children filming in rural Maharashtra, the title of the film came to us. We felt that these malnourished children, many of them girl children, have no future unless there are policies in place that help them – And these have to be proactive.
Nischala: OK.. These are interesting insights and perspectives.. Thanks for sharing.. Moving ahead, you’ve spoken a little about “financial independence” for a woman. Why do you think this is important?
Nupur: Financial independence is absolutely crucial. Lakhs of women are forced to endure abusive marriages because they have no financial independence. When I talk in colleges in India, I literally plead with women students not to see university education just as a ticket to a acquiring a husband. Instead think and focus only on your career ahead. Marriage should take place when they are ready for it and on their own terms. Marriage needs to climb down the priority list for women in India. A career and financial independence can ensure that to a large extent.
The flip side is that many a times when women do become financially independent, the irony is that many of them do not have control over their money. Their salaries are taken away by their husband or in-laws. This may sound really crazy, but it’s true. A multi-metro research conducted in India recently showed that working women in Delhi had the least control over their finances. Other metros too revealed this shocking trend. Kolkata was the only exception. Women there had control over their earnings.
Nischala: That’s a very interesting response.. And very profound advice.. So What are the three skills that women of today need to build?
Nupur : Well, left to a man a skilled woman is one who brings a huge dowry when she marries, obeys him and his parents, produces his sons, cooks and maintains the house well , entertains, works and hands over her salary to him at the beginning of the month. First of all we need the skill to reject this role for ourselves. Instead we need to build our confidence in ourselves, have the courage to walk down a different path and learn to negotiate life on our own terms.
Nischala: So any specific woman / women who is an inspiration for you personally?
Nupur: Women who have inspired me the most in my 30 -year journalistic career are poor women from rural India. The courage of these women in the face of such gruelling poverty, deprivation and an indifferent government is truly inspiring. Examples that come to mind are women like 60 year old Rosamma who led the struggle against liquor shops in the village of Dobbagunta in Nellore District in Andhra Pradesh . It was one of the most amazing grass-roots women’s struggle in India against the government’s cynical policy on liquor (reflected in a documentary I made in 1995- Dry Days in Dobbagunta). Women like Jasbir from Ganganagar who dared to go ahead and give birth to triplets-all girls- and bring them up as a single mother. The widows of dozens of farmers who had committed suicide as they could not pay back their debts. Even as we speak these women have to struggle for a livelihood so that their children do not go to bed hungry. Their resilience has left a deep impression on me and also left me feeling frustrated with myself, the government and the society I live in, for leaving them out in the cold.
Nischala: That’s really touching Nupur.. So if you had a look into a crystal ball and predict what will make a difference in India 50 years from now with respect to women in modern India… What would be your response?
Nupur: Crystal ball gazing is not my forte. But as a journalist since 1982, I have documented many trends in this country and I think you may not have to wait for another 50 years to feel the impact. To be honest- the dreams in the eyes of girls from towns like Ganganagar, Salem, Kanpur, Aligarh, Pondicherry– will provide the trigger for change in India in the next twenty-five years. Do you know that the rank holders in some of these places are girls from the government schools? They want to study. They have dreams in their eyes and are willing to work hard to make them come true. These girls will source the strength that lies within.
Nischala: Great to hear Nupur.. That’s really promising! Looking back at your own life, what do you think really made the difference to where you’ve come today?
Nupur: First I think it is how my parents raised me and my two sisters. They made us feel loved and wanted and gave us the best education and opportunities. The one thing that my father drilled into us three girls was : “Whether you marry an emperor or a beggar- you must be independent and stand on your own feet”. That shaped us to what we are today. Today, in the twilight of their lives, we three sisters try and do everything we can to nurture our parents. Choices of marriage were also on one’s own terms. I have been married for the last 31 years (it was a love marriage) and also have the most wonderful relations with my in-laws, despite all the feminist lectures I have given them over the years.
In one’s professional career, one always pushed the boundaries, innovated, never-took-short-cuts and believed in the old school of journalism that ‘good journalism can change the world’.
I believe that the personal is the political and have lived my life that way.
Nischala: Nupur, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts through your rendezvous.
Nupur: It was good to talk to you Nischala. All the best with your passion for blogging and your career in IT.
Dr. Smitha Radhakrishnan is a sociologist, and dancer, and a mom. Her professional work in and out of the classroom focuses on questions of gender, globalization, nationalism and development. Her newly published book, Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a New Transnational Class (Duke University Press, 2011) examines the culture of Indian IT professionals in urban India, Silicon Valley, and South Africa. She is currently in India conducting research for a new project on educational programs aimed at microfinance borrowers. In her previous research, Smitha has studied meanings of race, ethnicity, and femininity among South African Indians in Durban (South Africa). Her work has appeared in journals such as Qualitative Sociology, Theory and Society, and Gender and Society, among others. A more detailed bio can be found at http://www.wellesley.edu/Sociology/sradhakrishnan.
Smitha has studied Bharatnatyam for most of her life, and has performed in the United States, Canada, India, and South Africa. Since 2008, she has been dancing with Navarasa Dance Theater, based in Boston and directed by Dr. Aparna Sindhoor. Under Dr. Sindhoor’s direction, she has expanded her movement vocabulary to include yoga, kallari, modern dance, and theater. Previously, in California, Smitha co-founded NATyA with Vallari Shah, which choreographed and produced original classical dance productions from 2003-2007. Over the years, she has studied dance with Asha Gopal in Arizona, Padmini Ravi in Bangalore, Girija Chandran in Thiruvananthapuram, Prakriti Bhaskar in Mumbai, and Katherine Kunhiraman in California. Currently in Bangalore, she is reconnecting to Bharatnatyam under the tutelage of Chitra Dasarathy. In 2009, Smitha became a mom to Medha, who now takes up more of her time than all her other interests put together. Before Medha, she had time to produce Desi Dilemmas, a popular podcast that ran from 2005-2006, and also blogged occasionally for UCLA’s online magazine for Asian-Pacific Arts.
Nischala: Smitha – Thank You so much for your time to do this Rendezvous. I really appreciate it.
Smitha: Thank You. It is indeed a pleasure to talk to you
Nischala: Smitha, you have an incredible Bio. One of the most impressive I’ve read in a while. For many reasons – One I don’t know of too many PhD’s in my peer group – An abysmally small number of people even tread down that path. Two, A PhD along with a passion and active involvement in performing arts is really commendable – Not to mention, a rare and unique combination. Also, the additional credits you have in terms of your book, research work and your articles that I’ve read about are impressive. So looking back at your life, how did it all come together for you?
Smitha: I was raised in a fairly traditional Indian family in the US. I enrolled into dance at the age of 5. So dance and performing arts is a part of my identity. To be honest, I can’t imagine life without dance. For a long time, I had to internally deal with the what seemed to be the unique difficulties associated with “multiple identities” – Being raised in an Indian home, but also participating in everyday life in the U.S. My experience seemed unique at the time. But as I grew and got more educated, I realized that there’s nothing so special about my personal situation. History is filled with examples of people migrating and dealing with multiple cultural affiliations. Cultural change is the norm, not the exception. Embracing this perspective was liberating, and allowed me to do my research and travel with a sense of wonder and humility.
Nischala: That’s an interesting way to put it. And from all your travel, research and writing, I’m sure you’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with so many people across the globe – which is really exciting and can be a great learning experience in itself. So what has been the real lesson that you’ve taken away here?
Smitha: What I’ve realized based on my research, reading, interactions and introspection is that engaging with the personal experiences of others is the key to learning and growth. Shifting the focus away from my own personal issues to a broader world makes you see things differently. I was privileged to be in a position where some of these lessons emerged from my research. What I really learnt is this: Every one of us has a story to share – based on our own personal experiences. So, life is really not so much about me – or my struggles, issues or successes. But it is really about every individual’s journey in life. And when you wear that lens, you world view changes. I find it very humbling to engage and connect at a personal level to people from diverse walks of life – and to have the opportunity to listen one-on-one to their life stories. And each person’s story is rich – When I say rich, I mean it is rich with their life events, memories, joys, sorrows, achievements, trials, etc. What’s important is to step back and listen, to ask the right questions, and to give importance to the insight and wisdom that each person you meet possesses. So it is worthwhile to extend one’s point of engagement beyond yourself, to observe and reflect upon the experiences of others as well, so you can frame and re-model your own views and perceptions. At times, I am astonished about the things I don’t notice! But these realizations keep me humble and keep me looking to find out more about those things in my environment that are not completely obvious.
Nischala: That’s a powerful thought and a very unique way to look at people and life. So, coming back to your PhD. What was the motivation to pursue your doctoral studies?
Smitha: Since high school I had an interest in research, which I pursued through my undergraduate studies. At Berkeley, the exposure to an amazing intellectual and social environment was truly rewarding and satisfying! I learnt so much by being a part of such a great institution, working with some amazing faculty and having wonderful classmates. Coming to the PhD, I think it was just a logical step for me – I was passionate about research and writing, and sociology gave me the opportunity to pursue research and writing on social topics of my choice! So, it’s everything that I love – and if someone was going to pay me for this, then how could I turn down the opportunity? The main attraction for sociology was the possibility of doing fieldwork, which would allow me to interact with people I would never otherwise have the chance to engage with.
Nischala: So, what was the topic of your doctoral research?
Smitha: My research was centered around the cultural impact and role of the IT industry on Indian women, and the role of the IT industry in transforming “Indian culture” as a whole. I conducted extensive research over several years across 3 places – US, India and South Africa. The issues which most working women deal with are probably somewhat similar all across the globe. But what I found to be very unique to the women in India who are part of the IT workforce is that there is an “expectation” that women need to preserve the “Indian” character of the home and yet display a “global Indianness” as a part of their professional IT jobs. So this puts them is a difficult position and brings forth several dilemmas for women to deal with. Women find their own ways to deal with their specific situations. Some quit working, some make compromises in their professional life, some let-go of many things in their personal life. So there all combinations, but each of these compromises has to deal with the dilemma of being a professional woman while at the same time feeling a normative pressure to maintain an essentially “Indian” home. And the reality is that although there’s a lot of data on the increasing numbers of women in the Indian IT industry which are positive and encouraging – If you look a little closer, the numbers are still abysmally small, especially at the top tiers. Although women enter into the IT industry in equal numbers as men, most women still do opt out of their corporate careers once they become mothers. These decisions are always framed as “choice,” but are often not as freely made as we would like to believe.
Nischala: So any specific trends that you have seen in women living in India and part of the Indian IT industry?
Smitha: Throughout the industry, there is a moment of crisis for women when they have a child. This is a point at which many women make difficult decisions in their professional careers in IT. IT companies are still figuring out the ways in which good policy arrangements can allow women to continue their careers and there is a lot of effort in this area. It is still too early to say whether these new policies will prompt women to make different decisions. Men do not face the same dilemma when they have children because even though women have become equal earning members in many cases, men have not had to shoulder an equal burden in the area of childcare.
Nischala: In your personal case, how have you dealt with balancing all your responsibilities and passions?
Smitha: I have a 2.5 year old daughter and I have been able to somehow manage raising her with my work and dance. This is possible because my spouse shares an equal duty with regard to caring for our daughter. Equal responsibility at home has been a fundamental understanding of our relationship. Still, it’s difficult for us to manage both our careers, personal interests, and our daughter. Especially after living in India for the past few months, I’ve realized that we really need to take things one day at a time, it’s impossible to plan everything and budget every moment of every day. You have to be open to deal with changes and challenges. But in all this, I’ve found it most important to be true to myself. In this sense, dance is not a “break” for me, but a part of who I am. I won’t be a good mom, a good scholar, or a good partner to my spouse if I don’t dance! So, for each person, in whatever way it fits, I think it’s important to know who you are, what you need, and be true to yourself.
Nischala: That’s such a profound and valuable advice. Thanks for sharing your personal journey and insights on topics close to your heart. This was an absolute pleasure. Thanks again for your time
Smitha: Thank you for this opportunity. Have a great day!
Photo Credit : Ganesh Ramachandran @ Purple Ganesh Photography
Abhijit Bhaduri is today’s featured STAR in my Blog-o-Rendezvous Series.
How can a discussion with the Chief Learning Officer not be about learning?
Nischala: Good Morning Abhijit! Thanks for your time for this Rendezvous
Abhijit: Pleasure is mine
Nischala: So Abhijit, let’s start with a very basic question – In your view, why is learning important?
Abhijit: In today’s day and age, most knowledge comes with an expiry date. Be it your educational qualifications, professional knowledge and expertise or even soft skills / life skills. In the past, a formal college degree had a longer shelf life. Today, things are changing rapidly, new things are being discovered and hence it becomes important to make continuous learning a focus and priority in both your personal and professional life. With time, there’s obsolescence in what we have learnt in the past. And over a period of time, the level of obsolescence will definitely increase.
Take the scenario of medical science. Even a few years back, the number of diseases known was limited. So if a doctor had knowledge in these ailments and knowledge & experience in how to identify and cure them, the doctor was effective. However, today the nuances associated with diseases has increased manifold and so also the nature and type of solutions for each of these medical ailments. Hence, it becomes important for doctors to learn continuously. And you can extrapolate this analogy to any discipline and you will see that continuous learning is key!
For learning, you need to make space in your mind. It’s important NOT to hold on to the past. It requires un-learning and re-learning. You need to be able to bring in and assimilate new information in your mind.
For e.g: I read that the cause of ulcer is not stress, but a bacterium. Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren did extensive research on this and also won the Nobel prize for their discovery of “the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease” (For further reading, refer http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2005/press.html , http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9576387/ns/health-health_care/t/two-australians-win-nobel-prize-medicine/ ). Even though this research was given the Nobel Prize in 2005, even today in 2012 after about 7 years it’s still not been a part of mainstream adoption in medical science. So current research and findings are making old notions obsolete, but there’s a definite time lag to mass propagation of information and acceptance…
So it’s important to make learning a part and priority in your life
Nischala: How can one make learning a part of your life?
Abhijit: In my view, the most effective ways are:
1) Do the exact opposite of what you usually do – For e.g.: If you’re an engineer who enjoys logic and logical things try doing something you are not naturally drawn towards. Explore fine arts, design, classical music, photography, watch an abstract movie from a creative director you’ve never seen / heard of, watch a movie in a language you don’t know. Or if you are an artist/ writer, try to read or study about finance, economics or math. Even trying to attempt something like this will be met with internal inertia. It is TOUGH to push yourself beyond the known frontiers. So by doing what you don’t usually do, you constantly challenge yourself. In the long run, you learn and build your ability to hold diverse points of view
2) Engage and Interact with a wide and diverse group of people – And by diversity, I mean diversity in age, socio-economic background, professions. For e.g.: Usually younger people deal with older people or vice-versa in social gatherings or when they don’t have a choice. What I am suggesting is to actively seek the company of people / groups who are different from you. Be open to talk, express, communicate and have a meaningful interaction – Observe and learn. Learning is really about getting questioned and questioning your own beliefs and information. And this is usually hard for many of us as we create a static world and are cocooned in it.
3. Pursuit of hobbies – I find this a truly admirable trait in individuals. And active and serious pursuit of a hobby can be a phenomenal learning experience – It can be a new language, cuisine, art, craft, etc. Embracing even a hobby in totality is a metaphor for learning.
We all have unconscious biases. Normally, we don’t like to challenge ourselves, struggle or move out of the comfort zone. So initially the pursuit of a new hobby will compel you to move out of your comfort zone, and over a period of time, you should enjoy doing it. The process itself helps us to learn
Nischala: So, any specific individual / person who stands out in your mind when it comes to learning?
Abhijit: The best example is of my neighbor when I was living in the US. In my assessment, she was probably in her late 60’s. Soon after she became a grandmother, she enrolled in a community college to complete her education. The fact was that after school, she had never really been to any educational institute because of her family commitments, mortgage, other responsibilities, etc. I truly admired her spirit to learn and not only did she complete her graduation, but I heard that now she has enrolled for a Post-Graduation as well.
Nischala: Do you think age has any influence of one’s ability to learn?
Abhijit: Learning has nothing to do with age. It is an individual orientation. The best example I can cite is of Daniel Kahneman who is close to 75+ years old is still doing some cutting edge research. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential living psychologists. You should watch his TED Video
I believe that learning is the key in the journey of life. Like I said before, the whole process of doing something new / something out of your comfort zone is in itself a learning process. You need to re-jig your calendar, space and life for this new activity. Let’s say you want to take up reading and many will say they don’t have time to do this. To me, this is a reflection of attitude towards learning than just shortage of time. And changing your attitude towards learning is also a self-learning process
Nischala: How do you personally ensure that you are learning?
Abhijit: I find Twitter to be a great learning platform. I figured out early in the game that the trick was to follow the RIGHT people. And the fewer the better – I usually keep the number of people I follow to less than 40 and constantly review the list. Among the 40 I follow, they are great curators of information and knowledge that I am personally interested in – From Music, People, Technology, Learning, Innovation, Ideas, Books, etc. There’s enough variety among these people. And then Twitter is just one channel. I read a wide variety of other blogs, papers, articles, etc. I love reading The Economist – It’s an amazing magazine and if I had to read only 1 magazine – It would be this.
Nischala: So how much time do you spend on Twitter. It’s so easy to lose track of time once you’re on Twitter.
Abhijit: I don’t spend more than 30 minutes daily on Twitter. I don’t tweet everything I read. Usually I tweet about 2 – 3 tweets / day on average. It’s either something that I read previous day and mulled over and felt it was worth sharing OR some new idea or phenomenal research that I just came across. You can’t flood someone’s timeline with everything you read. So if someone tweets irrelevant stuff excessively, I just Unfollow them.
A few days back, I came across the Human Library project in Ottawa. It fascinated me a great deal, so I put it on my timeline. The underlying premise is this – Everyone has a story to tell and not everyone needs to write an autobiography, but this is a great opportunity to hear those stories from people who you probably will never come across in your life – bankers, criminals, bus-driver, opera singer, deportee, fire-fighter, taxi driver, journalist, sheep farmer, etc – All from diverse walks of life for a one-o-one discussion. I’ve never read or heard of anything like this before. Its an amazing idea…For more reading, refer this link
Nischala: That’s interesting. So any final words you want to share as a part of this rendezvous?
Abhijit: Learning can be threatening. It can upset your inner world. It can challenge conventional wisdom. Learning is really about a continuously curious mind. It is about constantly asking questions and being questioned.
Does everyone have a learning orientation? Probably NOT. But can one learn to be a better learner? Yes.
Nischala: Thanks Abhijit for this rendezvous. I really enjoyed hearing your views and am sure readers will also enjoy this post.
Abhijit: Thanks. Take Care. Have a GREAT DAY!
How did you like this Rendezvous? Leave a comment to let us know
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