Purnima Menon – Committed to Celebrating Life to the Hilt

Purnima Menon – Committed to Celebrating Life to the Hilt

Before I begin on anything about Purnima Menon – I have to explain ‘Kathakali’ as an art form. It is important that you know because, within my limited knowledge, it is one of the toughest art forms ever. Its rigorous training involves the mastery of all the body’s muscles. One performance alone takes hours of preparation – just for the ‘costume and make-up’. The performer applies natural irritant to the eyes to change the eye colour. The footsteps for the act involve hard thumping on the floor with the sides of either feet. There are 144 pieces of jewellery that go into the performer’s attire! (and this is a very shallow/small glimpse of the complexity of the artform)

“How do you manage it all” – is one question that repeats itself to most women who get on the dais after any success. ‘Work-life Balance’, ‘Work-life Integration’ – there are many terms coined for the same. When I saw Purnima’s name in LinkedIn’s List of ‘Must Know Writers (India)’ and her profile as ‘CMO of MicroLand and Kathakali Dancer’ – there were a thousand questions that I had.

She is an active performer of an art form of such complexity, she’s the CMO of a ‘Billion Dollar Company’, She’s in LinkedIn’s list of ‘Must Know Writers in India’, she’s passionate about CrossFit (an intense strength and conditioning form), she loves music and had just finished recording a ‘Karaoke’ song when we spoke!

 AND…the chat I had with her was at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning- she filled with love and laughter. This lady here has coined a new term for managing it all! – ‘Work-life Celebration’!

Considering the fact that Kathakali is Kerala’s very own art form, I was in for a surprise to learn that Purnima was initiated into it in New Delhi when she was 9! She, along with her sister (aged 5 then), learnt the basics from Sadhanam Balakrishnan Asian (ex-principal of ICK, also associated with Kalakshetra). Her father was passionate about Kathakali and insisted that the girls continue their training. It was her interest in music and percussion that kept Purnima connected to Kathakali till her mid-twenties with long gaps in between. Then, inspired by her own sister being connected to Kathakali with much greater fervour, she decided to take it up again. She dedicates her current interest in Kathakali to Guru Evoor Rajendran Pillai and his storytelling techniques.

Speaking of her career, she said she started as a management trainee with a leading retail chain in Mumbai when she had to move to Delhi due to her father’s health. She joined a company called BATES where she handled reputed clients from electronic goods to airlines. From there it was the aspiring curve of being a marketing leader, marketing manager, and CMO. She was the head of Marketing for great brands like Tata Telecom and Infosys BPO in her Thirties.

 She considers her corporate journey as one that couldn’t have been otherwise. Storytelling and connections are what she was all about, and she was blessed to have great mentors who took her under their wings all along the way.

 As long as you bring the requisite values to the table, find the balance of letting go of the small fights and standing up for the right ones, and maintain the right attitude – you are bound to reach your destination.

Her biggest learnings have come from significant failures and risks. Her failure in an interview with Infosys propelled her to turn the tables for the next. A risk of taking a coder under her wings and entrusting him with a marketing position rewarded one of the best digital marketers in the industry.

 “If you are passionate about something, you will not find it as a chore. You will not exhaust or have your hands full”.

“Understanding our innate talent and passion helps us evolve better in our respective roles. Since I’m passionate about Kathakali, there is a lot that the artform demands which I do with ease. I constantly update myself watching YouTube videos, I got into CrossFit training to maintain the fitness levels and set aside an hour every day for it. We are reviving the ICK (International Centre for Kathakali) in Bangalore and plan to form a chapter formally and popularise it. This passion has also helped me in my career in terms of learning, laughing and loving every moment.”

“In India, we have women with priorities handed over to them in terms of ‘getting a job, get married and have children’. Instead, I encourage women to explore their innate talent and form a connection with themselves. This commitment to themselves will help them evolve into celebrating their work and life”. Her infectious smile and cheerful tone throughout the conversation was proof enough of the power of positivity.

I’m always awe inspired in the divinity of ‘art forms’ where people use their own being as a tool to tell stories of great impact. We chatted more than an hour and half and it was Purnima’s innate ability to connect that awed me. She made me feel like she was my long-lost childhood friend and I guess as an artist, as a blogger and as a CMO that’s her beautiful talent.

Fiona Brady – The Driving Force in The Driver’s Seat

Fiona Brady – The Driving Force in The Driver’s Seat

In 1980, Joan Doran created a record as she became Dublin’s first female bus driver. She told the reporter at RTE Archives that she had to renovate her Dublin Bus Uniform as they had originally been designed for men only.

Fiona Brady has her small list of firsts and ‘renovations’ too!

Fiona joined Dublin Bus in their HR department, taking care of admin/payroll/recruitment and training & development. Within a few years in the company, she proposed, designed and drove a ‘graduate program’ for Dublin Bus. In her words “I proposed the graduate program, designed it, applied for it and then got on it’! – This while she was 25 😊

“When I designed the graduate program, I gave every aspect of the business its share in the program. For example the graduates spent time with the engineering department, worked night shifts but also gained experience with other departments like marketing and finance.”

She was the youngest female manager in any of the Bus Depots in Dublin (and probably still holds the record), managing around 270 drivers, predominantly men, who were in different roles (drivers, inspectors and a clerical team). She was posted in one of the biggest bus depots working on operations, industrial relations and had weekly meetings regarding the disciplinary matters concerning the drivers.

As a young female manager, clearly outnumbered by men in such interviews, she decided she would have to gain as much knowledge in the field as possible to be considered serious. “I was probably the age of some of their daughters, and I was trying to handout rules to them – that was tough.”

She learned to drive a double-decker bus so that she knew what she was talking about. This is a best management practice that was exemplified by her. To have ‘hands-on’ knowledge of your employees’ work makes you an efficient manager. And in fairness, I believe that is another record Fiona has created where she, as a woman under 30, learned to drive a bus so that she can manage bus drivers better.

After Dublin Bus, she wanted a change, and the way she went about it was unique as well. She listed her priorities in life and work and researched the companies that promoted values she valued the most. She came across CarTrawler and how they promoted positive work culture. She reached out to the Chief People Officer and wrote her a letter, expressing her interests. They met and from that discussed two roles– one in HR and one in Operations! She decided to push herself out of her comfort zone which was HR and which she had done for over 12 years now – and chose to give the interview for operations.

I can’t stress enough on how this is a great example to follow – because I know a lot of women who mention that their greatest difficulty is in trying things they haven’t tried before. Fiona’s journey seems like a series of taking on challenges just to challenge herself.

As was her practice to set trends through her work, in the new role she helped the team grow from 16 to 290 in 18 months. There were eight different language teams, and Fiona was involved in their performance, development alongside the operational tasks of process improvements. She also drove the project ‘A Roadmap to Excellence’ for the company which involved People, Training, Systems & Processes, Product and Environment.

For that’s somehow her brain works, and it was beautiful to hear her talk about it! Give her something, and she goes into the requirements and efficiencies from start to finish. And she’d immerse in it to improve it.

She’s now in mytaxi. After a video interview from Hawaii in T-shirt, Blazer and pajama shorts – she became the Head of Operations in mytaxi. (I wish I had a picture of that and I hope her interviewers are not reading about it for the first time from here). I heard about her from one of her interviewers – Niall Carson and though I was instantly inspired and eager to meet her, I was quite distracted during the length of our conversation! At first, I was wondering how such a young person can be coming with such an amazing experience portfolio, every time she mentioned a date, I was mentally calculating her age. Long story short – I saw the velvet gloves on iron fists. She’s pretty and petite alright, but she has steered success for her and her teams sitting in the driver’s seat – literally and metaphorically.

Shero Tales. Cassie Delaney – Autodidact. Media Maker. Game Changer.

Shero Tales. Cassie Delaney – Autodidact. Media Maker. Game Changer.

At 23, she was a college dropout working in a care home. At 28, she is featured in the ’30 under 30’ article in the Business Post! Every moment of the conversation with Cassie Delaney was inspiring to no ends.

She dropped out of college because she felt that she was not really learning what she was passionate about. Along with the care home work, she self-learned with the help of YouTube videos whenever she could. This meant that she would be at the care home from 7am. to 11pm and she would study during the break and get back to work from 4pm to 11pm! Most of her learning was on photography/videography editing and illustration. This was her routine since she was 18. (translates to 16 hours of work and study everyday!)

Between the travels and one’s own daily chores, there was hardly any time left during such a routine. But she knew what she was passionate about, and she found a way to accomplish her goals one at a time. Social issues and women empowerment were areas that interested her the most.

She was passionate about the potential of media to impact social change and has led various other projects on feminism, mental health, international aid and youth unemployment. She did a documentary on young girls in East Africa who did not go to school and stayed at home to take care of their younger siblings. She was also the One Young World Coordinating Ambassador for Ireland.

Cassie is a self-proclaimed nerd who is in love with all things digital, and that did help her in her journey into the media world. She got her break in Her.ie with the help of her impressive portfolio. She got in as a multimedia producer and got promoted two levels within three years. She was a Deputy Editor by the third year in her job. Her.ie that had over a million readers a month, was focused on celebrity, news and fashion. Cassie realised that those were not the real or comprehensive representation of ‘HER’ in Ireland! She brought in initiatives like Her say and Her talks for a more accurate representation of the women in Ireland. She also directed and produced the multi-award-winning ALONE campaign the power of a simple Thank You. In 2017 the campaign received the Grand Prix at the Media Awards.

In 2015, Cassie along with Anna Cosgrave decided to give the ‘repeal the 8th’ campaign its first ‘visual’ identity. They together designed the t-shirt with the ‘REPEAL’ word which was an instant success. Cassie had also helped Her.ie. build their ‘Repeal hub’. The job gave her ample opportunities to explore her passion with the camera where she created awesome videos and home-made GIFS.

Her chosen routine since she was hardly 18 was to creatively and continuously work for things close to her heart, and that has reflected in her career timeline. She did not rely on a college degree or pause on the lack of technical know-how at any point in time.

She joined Jobbio as the Director of Content and helped steer the company in a unique content direction which places workplace issues like the gender pay gap, diversity and paternity at the centre of their campaigns. She helmed the campaign ‘Shatter the Glass’ which conducted original research on the salaries of senior tech professionals in the UK and US and revealed the disparity in pay. Through the campaign, Jobbio encouraged customers to pledge to alleviate the gender pay gap.

She is also the co-host of Lovin’ Dublin’s Before Brunch podcast which has amassed over 100,000 listeners over the past few months.

It is not just a career growth that I see in these years. Nothing deterred her from her chosen path, and she invested every minute she got in the canvas she got to paint her dreams. Not having enough time, knowledge or opportunities were never an excuse for her to stop working her way towards her dreams. Well has she stopped now? Not quite so..as we speak she is planning on opening a compact studio in Dublin dedicated to delivering brilliant podcasts. – And this, while she is packed with a full-time job as the Director!

“Don’t make excuses. Make things happen. Make changes. Then make history.” Doug Hall. Cassie surely is on her way through making things happen, making changes and making herstory!

Rukmini Vijayakumar – Waltzing in each step of her Way

Rukmini Vijayakumar - waltzing every step of her way

Music and dance never cease to inspire me, and I truly believe that an element of some ‘divine force’ resides in an artist while they perform their art. The art, of course, applies to any art but having spent my ‘dreamy teen years in a place next to “Kalamandalam’’ music and dance hits home first. Though it was the dance that made me ‘follow’ (stalk is a better word in my case) Rukmini, I went to her to write about her ‘creation’ – the Rukmini she is.

If I’m to enumerate the reasons I’m in awe of Rukmini Vijayakumar, the list is endless. I tire easily by just thinking of the various activities she packs into every 24 hours she gets.

To me, to be able to dance, to stay fit and healthy, to be creative, to contribute to the community – is a bunch of dreams. Sometimes, some of these happen. There are many around me who are gifted, – who do many of these in bouts and some who take a couple of them as their core. What sets Rukmini apart is that she is a sculpture..sculpted by her dedication in every hour of the day and brought to life by the creativity and grace she’s innately blessed with.

She practices regularly, has 60 odd students in her dance school called Raadha Kalpa, engages the community around her in performance arts under the banner Lshva, does programs across the world, choreographs and creates new dance numbers for performances, is an actress, practices Yoga, Pilates, inspires vegetarians with her ‘salads’ from Madhavi Farms (her Father’s farm) – and there may be things I have missed out..just because I’m out of breath!

There is a routine she follows from the age of 17!

4:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. – Core strength training

6 a.m. – 8 a.m. – Adavu practice

8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. – Yoga or Pilates

10 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Rehearsals (partly discussions and creations and partly practice)

And this is on days she doesn’t travel – and she is someone who has danced in various stages across the globe. US (most of the cities in the US); UK; Netherlands; Malaysia; Dubai; Qatar; Germany; Switzerland; Brazil; France; Czech Republic; Bali; Canada and a couple more!

Dance is a meditation of the body and soul like any other art form. But to devote oneself to such a regular routine of creation is like participating in the divine act of creation itself. She started dance at the age of 5, and her character was that of the mythological figure Dhruva. Dhruva had demonstrated such steadfast commitment (Tapasya) to Lord Vishnu that he was blessed to take the position of the steadfast pole star. Somehow her career so far seemed metaphorically aligned with Dhruva’s story. I’ve often seen her hourly commitment in the creation of the artist she is – as her ‘Tapasya’.

It is coincidental that Rukmini’s mother who used to perform as well, danced for the last time in the same stage where Rukmini staged Dhruva. Both her parents encouraged her to continue her passion..even if it meant skipping college. Considering that she got a scholarship in Carnegie Mellon..it was quite a bold and unconventional take by the parents.

Rukmini was 17 when she finished grade 12, and she decided to explore dance until she reached 18 and travelled for studies. The exploration shifted to a passionate vocation and a lifetime choice when the years of learning and performing dance extended from 1-3. After 3 years, she decided to formally learn dance and give her talent and passion some form of formal degree. She did BFA in the Boston Conservatory (Berkeley College) (She studied Anatomy & Physiology at BU, and started MFA at Sastra University, she did physical training at UCLA)

It becomes drab prose if I’m to list her accomplishments and the crowns she juggles – it is available in Wikipedia. (What you must correct there though is that she’s initially from Bangalore and not Hyderabad as Wikipedia says).

I was keener to discuss the zeal with which she pursued and continues to pursue her passion. Someone who took an interest in ‘shows over exams’, she did her Arangetram when she was 15 and still managed to get selected in a university like Carnegie Mellon for Science. She was trained by Sundari Santhanam the senior student of the famous Padma Subramanian) and learnt ‘Karanas’ the oldest form of Natyashastra defined by Padma Subramanian – she would go to the US and study dance forms like Ballet and Jazz during summer holidays. When she did her BFA in the US, she did the reverse by spending her 4-5 months of time away from college – literally living in her teachers’ houses. (Sundari Santhanam and Narmada).

To sum it up – she danced – all the time, all forms, all the places and all the opportunities she ever got. She mastered the oldest form of Bharatanatyam and applied her learnings in the pedagogy of western movement forms and created new avenues.

She was just 19 when she did her solo production -she smiles as she said that it was named ‘Rukmini’. After college, she spent time in productions and dance choreography where she created a bunch of Bharatanatyam vocabularies – Varnams. Ashtapadis etc. Andaal and Kodligowtham remain her favourite.

Her space in Koramangala – decked with children’s paintings on the wall and book collections on all things from Bharatanatyam, yoga and non-fiction, extolling the virtues of performance arts and the need to stay agile reflects yet another side of her personality as a teacher. She started teaching only recently as she wanted to ensure that she mastered the maturity required for passing on the art. Chiselling things to perfection is her way as we know by now!

As I went there seeking to tell the story of a poetry in motion, I realised that she was the one who painted stories in the most beautiful ways one can imagine. From her own style of dance, her inspiring healthy living stories in social media, encouragement of societal involvement in performance arts, fashion shows and the big media (movies) – she fills the canvas with her vibrancy and colour.

I was speechless the moment I met her – overwhelmed at meeting a star..and was exhausted listing down her simple steps in her crafted journey. As I was busy taking notes and listening to her – the one question that kept ringing in my head was ‘How’! How is possible to do all of these – in the same 24 hours that all of us get.

Her answer – in her own words –

 “I’m not sure I work at all. Dance envelops my being. Meera wrote that she had to give up, her social body, her town body, and her family body to be with The Dark One. My Dark One is my dance.’”

I love dance, I admire the dancer in her, I’m in awe of the beautiful mind she’s got – but above all – I gasp at the tenacious and tireless creator she is – not just of dance forms – but the art called life.

Shero Tales. Professor Jane Ohlmeyer – The Force for Females

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer - The Force for Females

“Women need to be at the forefront”, “we need more women leaders”, “why are women underrepresented in the top strata”. I can’t stress enough, but there has been a lot of rants especially in the recent few years regarding gender gaps.

Ironically, while there are very few women who manage to climb the ladder, fewer still extend their own hands down for the fellow ladies to follow their footsteps. While we complain against a society that does not provide us with equal opportunities, it may make more sense if we consciously take one step to be accommodating, positive, mentoring and helping the women around us.

Jane Ohlmeyer is the visionary, founder and director of The Long Room Hub, Trinity’s (Trinity College Dublin) research institute for advanced study in the Arts and Humanities and active proponent of the education of Digital Humanities. She is the first Vice President for Global Relations, the chair of the Irish Research Council, an agency that funds frontier research across 70 disciplines. Jane is also a non-executive director of the Sunday Business Post, a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission, of the National Archives Advisory Council, and of the Royal Irish Academy, where she chairs the Brexit Taskforce. She is the author/editor of 11 books. She has fellowships in Huntington, Newbury and Folger Library, covering the entire region from west coast to east coast.

She advocated the importance of Internationalization and the need for long-term relations with academics in all countries. She stressed on the importance of the financial benefits of inviting academics from other countries, she was also keen on sending Irish students on programs across the world for them to get the required exposure. In three years of office, she has covered 130 countries and 60 cities. She travels almost every week, be it a day visit to London or a few days in the U.S or in India and is in her office, always, the very next day. She had overseen the ground-breaking project in Irish history – the 1641 depositions and launched a fully searchable digital edition in Trinity College Library. She is now involved in the publishing of the depositions in hard-bound books. She had also studied in detail the depositions of the 500 odd Protestant women who gave their testimonies to understand the lives of colonist/Protestant women in the period.

If I’m to explain the roles and tasks she must undertake for various positions, it is just beyond any calendar or calculable human efforts. I kept asking her throughout the interview as to how she manages it all, and she just smiled saying that when you do what you love, you just keep doing it. It is no wonder that her colleagues call her a ‘human dynamo.’

Most women, when they hear such busy lives of successful women – have these questions. How were you able to take time away from family? How do you have work-life balance? “Well, as they say, it is work-life integration. I have two boys, and when they were young, I either had a good support system back at home to rely on, or I would bring the kids to work. They would sit through the conference with their own games, and I would compensate my time away from home when I’m with them” she says with a smile.

One would be amazed beyond words when you look at the positions she toggles and the publications she has in her name. But, more than that, it is her touch with the reality of female fellow colleagues and her efforts striving for a better world for women at work that inspires you.

As the chair of Irish Research Council, she has mandated the participation of women in projects seeking funding. “Gender is an aspect, and there is an unconscious bias,” she says. “IRC has become an example of best practices in this space.” The ‘Gender Strategy & Action Plan’ of the IRC aims to provide equal outcomes to both men and women and strives to ensure that at least 40% of each gender is represented. IRC, along with Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board, has decided to make it a mandate for Third-level institutions to have gender quotas to be eligible for funding.

“Leadership roles are largely men. Only 19% of senior professors are women. The publishing world is no different either. There is data to demonstrate that women find it difficult to publish” Jane says concerned about the underrepresentation of women.

Why does it matter? Acceptance and success of women and society in the hands of women leaders has a much higher societal role than is apparent. Perceptions towards women need a significant overhaul across the world, and the first, most positive step is women to succeed in what they do and help their female colleagues. Speaking of her own tussle, she said that once, when she was ‘touched very inappropriately’ by a senior Vice-Principal during her early years of career in the University of Aberdeen, she did not think twice to report to the Vice Chancellor and inform that she will go to press if required. Many would think that it would mean the doom of her career to speak up against the atrocity. But, as fate would have it, the culprit was indeed in the press – ‘Top Peer’s Drug Binges with £200 Prostitutes’! years later for all the wrong reasons. “I’m very conscious that there is a Lord Sewel in every place. Women need to come forward and speak up.” She has coordinated and ensured there is a task force in Trinity to ensure that women feel safe to come forward and talk about issues they face at work from male colleagues.

As she says – ‘Awareness is the Key’. I cannot imagine a lady’s calendar being swamped with activities like hers in my small circle. I clicked a pic of her office to show those little shelves marked with the various offices and activities for each. Yet, there she is – imploring women to speak up, insisting more women participation and ensuring a ‘fair’ future for females.

If as a woman, you strove to do whatever is in your capability to help another woman, there will be two who have climbed the ladder – the very act increases the percentage in the gender ratio favourably, and the resultant actions can improve the positivity for women across the world. The support system you are seeking for should start from within, extend to others and those ripples will create yours.

Hema Subhash – An amputee who carves wings for other PWDs to reach their dreams

An amputee who carves wings for other PWDs to reach their dreams

As much cliché’d as it is – let me begin with the age-old adage – “When life gives you lemons, you go make a lemonade out of it” For.. I am and will be, in dearth of words to explain how Hema Subhash, took the accident that made her an ‘above the knee amputee’ as an opportunity to ‘better the world for herself and others who are physically challenged.’

Our conversation was not an hour-long chat, neither was it an interview of any sorts – it didn’t take her more than a minute to form a camaraderie with me – a friend of a friend – whom she had never seen before. While crafting beauty is a god-gifted talent, spreading the art of finding beauty in everything is her self-made goal – and quite an infectious one at that.

On February 02, 2010, as Hema steps out of a bus, the negligent driver takes off causing Hema to fall and the rear wheels run over her left knee. Unfortunately, the excruciating pain did not make her unconscious as one would imagine or even hope for. She could see her bones and muscles dangling amidst the blood that was gushing out of her leg. While the people around were stuck in trance, she wasn’t..she held onto a person’s leg and begged to be taken to the hospital.

At the hospital, since the condition demanded it, the doctors had to ask her parents to sign the agreement that her leg could be amputated above the knee while she was sedated for the surgery. Her initial moments of recovery were far from being remorse or furious though she did go through each of these in different bouts and different periods. She was happy to be alive and she felt she never valued life or her body more. She remembers her conversation with her brother. “Leg is gone..but I’m here,” she said..somewhere in between the joy of getting the life back and the anxiety of dealing with it sans a limb now. Her brother comforted her and urged her to see this as an ‘opportunity to be stronger’.

“I’m not denying the moments of anxiety, self-pity, remorse, or anger. Even with the driver, I just wished he wasn’t that neglectful and that the system valued the life of the citizens better to be letting him go scot-free like that. He or his peers would not worry about the consequences of their actions as they know the way around the system. We are perceived to be the ‘better off’ in society and we are left with a meagre amount of 8 lakhs after filing the case and fighting for it for years. This is in the civil court. The high court case is still pending, and I could be blamed as by now I don’t see the point in pursuing much.”

“Help poured in from unexpected quarters and I’m grateful to each one of them. Linda – I had no idea that a total stranger could take you from the road and act with such compassion like she was your family forever – which she is now. Mindtree – I had worked with them for hardly 1.5 years at a junior level when this happened and both the Managing Directors – Ashok Soota and Subroto Bagchi came to visit me. It showed that they valued the lives beyond the so-called term of service or designations which is a rarity to find. Subroto even visited my home after I got discharged. They reassured me in every possible way – told me that my job would be safe until I recover and feel good to be back in office and my insurance was doubled.”

Such thoughtfulness in times of distress not just earns respect but inspires people who receive it to pay it forward.

Hema spent the next couple of months in recovery. She did undergo systematic training and had a physical trainer focussing on her fitness and diet. She realized that kind of support is not available in hospitals or elsewhere in India, but when she created that for herself, she knew she benefitted well.

“Each step back to normality was painful and with loads of apprehensions. There were moments when I wished one part of mine hadn’t vanished overnight or even that it appeared miraculously just like it vanished. There were crazy things I thought of like ‘cloning’ my leg or cloning me and taking one leg of mine. I even called up people and checked about it” – she laughs at herself as she says it. Apparently, it is doable – but the law is not in favour.

She was back to work, marriage and childbirth sooner than she would have imagined – of course each with its own perks and pain. While getting back to work for almost a year was a relief, travelling 3-4 hours in Bangalore traffic wasn’t. While it was a blessing to be accepted as is by your boyfriend, the sudden realization that an ‘able-bodied’ person is accepting a ‘not-so-able bodied’ for life, came with its own tensions. While childbirth like for any mother out there was a blissful experience, it brought with it the complications. But these were the first wee steps in her answer to the disaster.

The mishap and the situation could perhaps alter her situation, change her looks and disrupt the way she functioned – but never her plans. In fact, she had more to plan when you would think life gave her a little lesser to plan with.

In the brief period she got to take care of her baby, she realized the need to give others the kind of rehabilitation she went through in whichever ways she can. She kept reading up and searching for similar people and started small with a Facebook/Whatsapp group. “We were just five of us who were amputees and would meet up for a coffee” When they realized that the discussions and getting out as a group together boosted their spirits, they searched for other amputees across Bangalore to form a larger group.

They realized that as a group they had more energy to participate in public gatherings, take all the staring, shed inhibitions and jump right into the act. She slowly started getting contacts and friends and by word of mouth, the group expanded, and they started participating in marathons and cycling events across Bangalore. It is at this point that Hema meets Madhumita Venkataraman who heads the Diversity and Inclusion for Coco-Cola in the South Asia region. One of the earliest members, it was Madhumita’s idea to include people with all kinds of difficulties. This inclusion and wider participation gave way to the formation of a non-profit – OSAAT.

OSAAT (One-Step-At-A-Time) was formed with a vision: Provide systematic rehab programs for the disabled to return to life and facilitate social participation, friendship and inclusion. They had three parts to their program:

1.     Awareness & Advocacy – yoga workshops and disability awareness;

2.     Adapted Art – includes dance and theatre classes culminating in a public performance;

3.     Adapted fitness – swimming camps, marathons, cycling meetup, hiking event etc

In October 2015, they participated as a group in the Bangalore Marathon. It was the first time that in Bangalore, PWDs were participating in a public performance as an organized group.

On March 2016, OSAAT organized its first public event – 10-day free swimming camp.

The PWDs who joined OSAAT were from different walks of life and had different disabilities to cope with – but they all had one thing to say – that OSAAT has helped them come out of their cocoons and inspired them to celebrate the life and the ‘abilities’ they have got despite the disability. As I said, in the beginning, Hema’s zest for life is infectious. It is no wonder that from 5 to 60, OSAAT grew to a non-profit of 150 odd members within a couple of years.

As the accident took away one limb not only did she replace it with such ease and grace, but she carved one ‘wing’ for adventure sports as well! While gardening and mosaic designing is her craft which she parted to some in OSAAT, she got the adrenaline rush from trying things that were meant to be pushing her limits.

She does yoga, cardio and strength training everyday at home and follows a strict diet to be able to maintain herself well. “You have to find time regularly for exercise. Any impairment, you must compensate, otherwise, it leads to further complications, esp with conditions like amputation you tend to be prone to Osteoporosis, joint imbalances, spine dislocation if you do not focus on strength training. As I’ve gone through motherhood and ageing I must stress more on being fit.”

“As an exercise I love swimming and I can’t begin to explain the benefits it brings along. For an amputee, any other physical activity would require aids which would give vertical pressure to the hip-joint. While swimming takes your weight, it requires your muscles to move improving your muscle mass, oxygen intake and providing you with the right amount of cardio. I’ve tried swimming out into the Pacific Ocean – where the waves break, it is the hardest place for anybody to swim and even more if you don’t have two legs to stabilize yourself.”

She goes hiking with her family (5-6kms). Did rock climbing though it was difficult as the prosthetics kept slipping off the holes in the wall. Tried snorkelling twice. Went for Paddleboarding at Missions Bay, San Diego. And…did Sky Diving – in 2016, December – the day after the Disability Day when she jumped with another amputee who was the trainer.

The lemons were sour indeed, but her lemonade took the sweetness from her. If it had touched and inspired me to do things I was plain lazy to do just listening to her, it has transformed the lives of so many people with disabilities and changed the attitude towards disability in India. No twist of fate can amputate that wings she has carved for the many out there that have taken them to heights where all limbs and bones couldn’t take people to.