Vaishali Kasture – Proving and Pushing for ‘Female is the Future’

Vaishali Kasture – Proving and Pushing for ‘Female is the Future’

Most of the questions or concerns of women in the corporate circle are on the lines of –

How do you manage to create the work-life balance? Does your kid resent you being away? Is your family supportive enough? How did you overcome the societal pressure and step forward with career requirements as opposed to family needs? How do they look at you in office? Is it like how Katherine Johnson had to say in the movie Hidden Figures “So yes, they let women do some things at NASA, Mr Johnson. And it’s not because we wear skirts”?

And, women would like to ask these to the successful women they see. But unfortunately, apart from the generic interviews and personal views that are opined through them, we don’t have access to answers or assurances as much as we would want to. Though there are these ‘open door’ policies we preach and propose to practice, there is this social stigma that the doors for the ‘not yet there’ people are ‘not yet’ open.

Vaishali Kature has probably pointed it out more accurately- “women need role models whom they can touch, feel.” “It is important to show them your vulnerable side, to tell them that you went through the same issues too.”

That was precisely why these words in one of her post inspired me to no ends: (She had posted about her marathon achievements and the learnings therein)

“So what’s the point? For someone like me – who had no athletic capability …I have come a long way. As I discovered and started enjoying running – it made all other aspects of my life richer and more meaningful. It made me a more honest person – I discovered that when you train for a marathon … time is a precious commodity…I stopped spending time on people and things that I didn’t love. It taught me that I have only one life.. and it’s my moral duty to extract the best out of every aspect – family, work and my passions.”

To me, her words project ‘humility, passion and most importantly – what is hard to find – a situation I could relate to coming from someone who is at a height I never dreamed of reaching! It was reassurance at two different levels. Yes, people who have achieved great heights had faced the very same issues I struggled with while they started. Yes, I may be late to start my journey, but ‘late’ is a relative term in each one.

When I wrote to her asking for some time to talk, I half-expected – ‘let me get back to you when I get time’, ‘Maybe later,’ ‘remind me later, please’? But I was admiring her commitment when I saw those emails on agreeing to it, proposing a schedule and being there for the conversation.

Her Story – having reached the zenith of excellence at academics and career, then taking a sabbatical where after trials and errors finding a 3rd dimension to life and eventually excelling at that as well – all at the age of 34.

Her marathon track records are out there; I would like to focus on the ‘work’ and inspiration part of the story. She credits her family and upbringing for having a head start in the career. Academic excellence was always the focus in the family – gender no bias. In her career, she has seen that her biggest male sceptics became her trusted mentors. Because from childhood, she never had the notion that gender could play any role in you reaching your full potential – that confidence in herself got her the confidence from her colleagues and bosses as well.

However, she realised that this was not the case with other women. She saw that women somehow belittle themselves. Either the fear of hurdles stops them from the first step, or in difficulties they don’t trust a man to help them out, and other women don’t step in either.

“Women with family consider it their sole responsibility – to be equally good at work and family. That is the mistake. Relying on a healthy support system and as Sheryll Sandberg says, making your life partner an actual partner is essential for a woman at work. We often underestimate our kids’ resilience and wisdom. I ask my 10-year-old if he wants me to stop work and be with him and he very clearly states to me that he would rather I worked. Coming out of the pre-conceived notions of your potential, the support systems you can summon when in need, your partner’s partnership in the family which eventually extends to each other’s career and your kid’s tolerance levels is important.”

“Also, Technology and flexible operating modes are rolled out to ensure work-life integration for all. The boundaries are blurring – it is about being available for your kid’s annual day and responding to that mail at the same time. I feel 10% of my job is to be the role model women are seeking. I give the time to the women who come to catch up with me. I love the 10-minute conversations I have with them. And only if women step forward to help other women can we tap into the incredible potential that our women workforce possess.”

A gold medallist from JBIMS, Managing Director and Country Head of Experian and someone who ‘experimented’ running at the age of 34 and a decade later has covered an excess of 20,000 km across four continents and ten countries – practically half-way around the equator. Vaishali Kasture’s story is not a Midas touch – but one of grit, perseverance and confidence.     

Success for her is not just about the winning streaks but passing the baton to the other women around her. To empower female founders, Vaishali, along with her friends have formed ‘Sonder Connect’ – a not for profit organization which aims to identify, nurture, and champion high potential women, equipping them with the tools they need to succeed through in-depth mentoring from international experts. Over the last one year, they have mentored over 50 female founders.

It is inspiring to see women succeed. But the actual inspiration that gives you the chisel in your hands and pushes you to carve out that perfect niche you were born for – are women who want other women to succeed! 

Her Story – First Technical Lady Officer in the Indian Airforce

Herstory and Sherotales

“The first six years of my career was for my country” – those words instantly inspired me. My surprise starts from the fact that they came from someone with whom I worked for almost a year in an IT company. Caught in the same old rigmarole of our day jobs, we had discussed anything under the moon but this! For various personal reasons -she said she’d rather not have her identity revealed – so what do we call her? Amelia? The word means ‘Industrious’ and this is one hard working lady!

Before we could start with her story, she said she had a shero whose story must be retold and that was her grandmother’s. In 1992, the Grandma who was in her late sixties, in a remote area in Karnataka saw this ad – ‘Lady Officers for the Indian Airforce’ and had this vision for her granddaughter. She called her granddaughter home to explore this opportunity. We are talking about a lady from the early nineteenth century grooming her 23-year-old granddaughter to enter a job which is known to be male dominated, which was understood to demand fitness levels, grit and commitment irrespective of the clock – those were solely and societally until then – a man’s capabilities. It is with a smile that I listened to this story of the grandma who envisioned not ladle but arms in her granddaughter’s hand.

It is not just the vision that one needs to appreciate, but her grit and persistence. When Amelia came home in a week’s time, Grandma realized that she misplaced the paper in which the ad appeared. She didn’t give up, she went to the municipal council library and searched for the paper with the dates. She then set her nephew to task by asking him to type out the application and was on her toes till it was posted. When Amelia got another engineering job offer from elsewhere, Grandma insisted that she wait for this ‘unique’ opportunity.

Amelia was called to Mysore (Service Selection Board -SSB) for medicals. The participants were in ten thousand and the selection process was for five days. There were personality and intelligence tests and interviews to determine suitability. Some tests were paper based while others involve group tasks or presenting to a panel of assessors. From the thousands of applicants after all the filtering process – there were 25 who were picked – and like her grandmother’s vision – AMELIA was there

True to her grandmother’s confidence and determination, in two weeks’ time, the telegram came from the Indian Airforce – “You have been selected. Instructions to follow.”

Back home, the old lady was prepared – she knew it! She had sourced a list of things that would be required for her granddaughter for the travel to the training center. She ensured that word-to-word of that list was purchased. There was ‘trunk’ mentioned in the list which was debated on by many in the family – a bag or a suitcase would do was the general vote – not for Grandma – she got the exact military trunk that was in the list. ‘

Now starts the Granddaughter’s story. To be one among the 25 who were hand-picked from among the thousands who had applied is a story in itself. The initial training was at Airforce Technical College (AFTC) in Jalahalli. After the induction period where they were introduced to the Airforce world, AMELIA had a 10-month training with a disciplined, chalked out regime. Their day started at 5 a.m. (which essentially means that you should get ready and be at the ground for practice by 5 a.m.) The daily activities included parade, arms drill, aeronautical classes, type training and sports. Dinner was served at 7, and lights were switched off by 10. You could be seen only in your uniform anywhere outside and any lapses or breaking of the rules were met with serious disciplinary action.

A revolution it was, as women were just being inducted into the Indian Airforce. As an officer, she had to excel in her realm, she had to win the confidence and cooperation of her juniors and she had to define a new space for the new gender in the male dominated air force world. At 23, she was about to redefine the workspace and work culture for the men who were aged anywhere between 22 to 55. True, this feat lasted only 6 years for her, but the changes that she and the fellow women brought about in that first batch of ‘lady officers’ inducted into the air force- was about to last for the generations to come. Exemplifying was her duty alone – at least in her camp – there was no women before to look up to – but there will be other women who would step into the space that she manages to define. 

At Pathankot, at the age of 25, she had 100 airmen directly reporting to her. “The Airforce prepares you for these – just that the methods are truly rooted in the ‘best lessons come from the toughest taskmaster’ philosophy of life.” – she said with a smile when asked how did you manage! 😊

Although men in the armed/air forces are the most chivalrous, they were just beginning to see women join the force, it took time for them to stop celebrating women as just the representatives of family life and domesticity and start seeing them as juniors, peers and seniors. There were men of 55 years of age reporting unto the 23-year-old women and couldn’t come to terms with that, there were men who were used to being chivalrous to women and couldn’t order around as they would a normal officer. Every day at work was a struggle to equate the terms ‘Lady Officer’ and ‘Officer’. They had to keep repeating the line “Treat us like officers first and ladies later” until it got etched in the minds of fellow officers.

She had to teach herself that she was an officer first and a lady later. She had met her fiancée at AFTC and they got married in May,94. Soon after, she was sent to Pathankot and her husband to Delhi. Coming from the Maharashtrian Hindu culture and wedded to a Himachal culture, rituals were important, colors were important. But, here she was, 21 days after marriage in the white uniform, sans sindhur, sans mangalsutra or any other trinkets for that matter. Toiling away at work, irrespective of the work hours, coz again, there was this ‘hidden’ task of proving the world that you were not the ‘privileged’ gender. From riding the bike at 2:30 a.m. for guard duty checks, to disciplining airmen on office etiquettes – she never stepped back as a lady, she would tell herself that “I wore the uniform knowing what I’m entitled to.”

The days before and after childbirth were not different either. She joined back after the standard 60 day leave and from the first flight which was at 4:30 a.m. to the last landing at 1:30 a.m., she had to be on the grounds, in uniform. In an age where breast pumps were yet to be invented or popular, it was a tricky business feeding her kid in between this routine leave alone the question of rest or her own care.

With her husband frequently being away on different assignments, she managed the baby with a baby sitter. There were situations like when her baby cut a finger in an accident and she couldn’t leave office abruptly. According to the protocols, leaves had to go through approval cycles. She had to fight for emergency leaves.

As an officer, ‘No’ was not there in her vocabulary. But the fight to do justice to the role of an officer, a wife and a mother caught on. Her husband was already a commissioned officer and her taking it up as well would mean different cities again. In 1998, when she was offered to extend her office for 15 years, she had to bring in the word ‘No’.

She takes pride to have served as one among the first women who stepped into the armed forces and who carved a space not just for themselves but for the women in the years to come. She still stays ready to serve the country in case of an emergency – ‘on my feet from the very next moment’ in her own words. She still gets a big salute from me to have taken the leap and to have strode with pride and perfection- in those six years of her life – a path which cleared the way for many women to follow.

Her Story – Prameela Nair

Her Story Prameela Nair

It is a very common saying that “an arrow can be shot only by pulling it backward”. Often when I come across some incredible/successful people in life – I get a hunch that their climb must not have been easy. There would be a story behind all this glory. A story of small steps, big falls, bounce backs, depressions, and determinations. And often, my intuition would be right.

Prameela Nair was a famous name for me, during my childhood in a remote village in Kerala. I’m talking about a place where all you can see around is paddy fields and ponds. There were very few houses and fewer people who were seriously occupied. You had business men, land owners, real-estate dealers – and the other section of people who were on the field toiling away.

I remember the wind being soft and slow and the life quite laid back during the couple of years I stayed there. One six-year-old came to a group of us and asked if he can see a “CAAA-www” – the US accent was beyond any comprehension for the village folks we were! I then asked around and came to know that this was the son of Prameela who is ‘working’ in the U.S. She had sent the kid home for a break as she was busy with her work routine. I can’t tell you how ridiculous that would sound in a village household in Kerala during the nineties. Some ridiculed, some sighed, and some others wowed like the 13-year-old girl in me. I had not stepped out of the south of India – and here I was hearing of the feats of a lady who lived across the planet.

Now what baffles me and might not yet baffle you is the fact that she wasn’t even a graduate when she left for the US. For all that I know, she didn’t know to speak English! When she landed in New York, in 1994, all of 23 years, she was a college dropout with a 6-month old baby in her hands. She is one example for the adage that goes “it is surmounting difficulties that make heroes sheroes” All the initial hiccups – of not knowing the language, not having any network or an idea to network, not wanting or able to depend on her husband’s salary (as it would hurt her own family’s ego), pushed her further to find her own ways to help her family in India.

After almost a decade later – in 2010 – what I hear is – this lady, from this remote village in Kerala – where a good shop, a decent school or a hospital is yet to arrive – has taken her entire family of two sisters, one brother, mom and the spouses and kids of all the sisters and brother to the United States! The fact is, she filed for all of them in 2000 – so I should say – she was prepared with all of this within the span of 6 years.

Today, she’s employed at the New York State Health Department for more than 15 years and owns her own property in the US. She has earned enough to fund for 3 families (husband, wife & kids) including green cards and air tickets for most of them and their expenses in the US till they settled down – within the span of 10 years. While everybody who heard that she took the entire family ‘Ponnemkunnath’ to the United States wowed at her commitment, I wonder how many knew what she went through to achieve this.

When she started, in the early nineties, her husband had a day job at the local school in New York and they stayed in a basement flat. Realizing that her husband’s salary would barely meet their rent and grocery needs, she started thinking of ways to earn for her own family in India. Her baby was her primary concern. The workaround she decided was to entrust her baby with her husband after he returns from his day job and then begin her job at a grocery store. Which means that she must take care of the baby and her own household chores and cooking till 5 and then go to work from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

At the store, neither did she know English nor was she great at handling cash and conversations with customers as required. So, she had to work arranging and managing the wares on the aisles and racks.

She very fondly recollects about the first 100 dollars she managed to save up with her salary 😊. She sent it to her dad and he distributed one dollar each to one hundred people around. However, she very soon realized that saving up the grocery store money and sending it home will not solve the crisis there. She had to buckle up, she was not sure how.

One random customer suggested that nursing jobs had better income opportunities and she went in search of courses that would help her in that direction. When she realized that studying and working – and a pregnancy on the way – would not give her first born the required attention, she sent him to stay in Kerala with her parents.

Soon after her 6-month course, which she managed to do with her grocery store earnings, she got into a hospital as a Nursing Assistant. Few months into the pregnancy, she would work 16 hours at the hospital, 4 hours at the store and allow herself a ‘4-hours window’ to get home, rest and refresh before the next 24-hours day began.

Every minute counted and paid and took her an inch closer to tick off the bucket list her dad had. She couldn’t, of course, take ‘him’ to the US. But it was his wish to see his family flying and she ensured that she did everything, invest every minute she got, to complete every dot in his wish list. 20 years after her dad’s demise, she tells me this, not with many words, but with the tone of her voice and the tears in her eyes. While I asked her as to how she managed to part with her 2-year-old son for almost a year, how she overcame the trauma she faced with the many other setbacks she faced – all she had to say was – “I had to bring them here and I had to ensure that they do not face the storm as much as I did.” That was the fire that fueled her.

Even today, she continues her routine of 20 hours of work a day. I ask her if the four hours sufficed to give any attention at all to the three children she raised in these years and she tells me that while she got home after her night shift, she would split the four hours and sleep in breaks, to ensure that leaving the kids to school and preparing their lunch boxes were always her responsibility.

I’m not sure if that amount of exertion is healthy.. But I know her smile lights up her face and she’s forever smiling. I know that today while she runs for work, she has her mom, her sister, her niece, to stuff her with the delicacies and love. She has her sons and nephews and brothers in laws to help her at the drop of a hat. And while talking to her – for almost the first time ever – within an hour, I realized that passion and determination can surely make you draw a map for yourself and create a world that is beyond belief.

As I thought of ending this with a quote – I had to do another strikethrough, to indicate that it is not just men but women too who had stories to tell and heights to reach. I hope with every story we live, create and pass on, my son will get to read more of such ‘original’ pearls of wisdom than strikethroughs – “The heights by great men women reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”

Her Story – Lata Raut

Lata Raut

I’ve often heard that those who laugh the most, are the ones who have the most to cry about – surprisingly true. And those who open their ears and heart for other’s stories are the ones who have the most hidden within.

Lata Raut – Lata Didi for most of us, Lata Ma’am and Lata aunty for some – I met her in 2005 while she was the warden of the hostel I stayed in Pune – Umaanchal. She was one whom I could instantly recognize as someone who had iron fists in velvet gloves. She would be up and about as early as any of you get out of your room. Surprisingly, her 8-year-old son would be tagging along too! She was our go-to person, always cheerful but forever stern with the hostel rules.

Her grace and tenacity awed and inspired many a girl in that hostel. I could see it came from a lot of lessons from life. She had her setbacks and her only reason to live was her son. Today, the boy’s growth and success is no surprise or coincidence but a day by day plan and prayer by the mother in her.

Lata is a graduate of 1990 and she was brought up an independent lady, working as an office assistant till she got married at the age of 24. The marriage took unpredictable turns and she found herself in an unbelievable movie plot where the husband is addicted to alcohol and gives into lying, stealing, blackmailing and finally suiciding. She saw the extremes of poverty and haplessness in the 10 years of married life followed by hibernation and depression that came with a death like this in the family.

I have summed up her plight for around a decade in just a couple of sentences here. It takes a lot more to understand how such a trauma can handicap you and the extent of will you need to come out of it.

Her son’s future pushed her to search for ways to get things going again. Thankfully, she got a lot of moral support from whoever she met those days. She applied and got in as a warden in Umaanchal in 2005. The job meant she could have her kid by her side, but she had to wake up early, manage the hostel affairs, go home, cook for her husband’s parents, come back to work, teach the kid after his school, walk home by 9 p.m. again and cook dinner for them again. It was like clockwork. I was a witness to this routine! I still remember thinking that I can count the number of times she sits down – one to eat and another to verify the hostel bills during which she used to teach the kid as well.

And, as her job target, she had managed to increase the number of inmates from 75 to 135 in a span of 6 months, while taking care of the management of the construction work.

Amidst all this chaos, she would come to me to learn English – better. Though I told her to read books, I wondered if she could ever find time to do that. But she did, I’m proud to claim that I was the one who made her read her first complete English book – Chetan Bhagat’s ‘Five Point Someone’. Likewise, she wanted her son to pick up the language and urged the inmates to communicate with him in English. The zest for life, to keep learning and keep moving forward, the restlessness for all things fine defines her.

As if her own life did not give the required complications, managing a house of approx. 250 working women was not an easy task for her. From booze parties to cat fights with men outside the gate to theft – she had seen it all! It was an age wherein households people used to say women are like porcelain, once fallen, can never be glued together. For her, it was like a whole shop of porcelain 😊

She had had her share of setbacks, but she was not the one to consider a fall a failure. She was not the one to run seeking a new destiny and get tired with the leaps in between. She had daily missions which she knew would add up to her long-term vision. Anytime I ask her about her plans, her son’s future – she never told me – let’s see. She would always say what he would do next and for that, what she needs to prepare. The words ‘by God’s will’ often followed her clearly charted out plans.

As her son grew, she found it difficult to manage him in a working women’s hostel. Most of the inmates had finished studies and time after work was for them to relax and have fun. She thought that will not help him focus on studies and sought work in Pimpri/Chinchwad College of Engineering.

Today, her son who had been raised his entire life in a lady’s hostel is in BE 4th year and has scored 69% with no complaints whatsoever from the inmates or his classmates. This may not sound quite an achievement to most of the people here. But I know, I have witnessed, it is the fruit of a tireless effort that went in every day, every minute of her life. She was a walking map for her son’s dream destination

It is very easy for us to victimize ourselves, fall, count failures and think that life has not been fair. Fact is, everybody has their share, in one way or the other. There are a lot of studies which prove that the successful people, the stars out there, share a common vibe. They have it in their subconscious mind that they can do it and they work toward their goal every single day. The differences in the stardom and heights is where you set your goals. We all have our destinations and we all have our journeys toward it, we all have the roadblocks and rollercoasters in it – some hit the brake pedal while the others hit the accelerator and therein lies all the difference!

Her Story – My Teacher – Mercia Selva Malar

My Teacher - Mercia Selva Malar

“A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination and instill a love of learning.” There are many quotes out there on teachers, let me pick this to talk about one of the people who has inspired me to no end.

Teachers are your second parents they say. For me, often they were the first too. While I reminisce about each one of my teachers from the first to the very last academic year, today let me tell – Her Story – Mercia Selva Malar.

Mercia Ma’am – as we all call her – was my lecturer in CMS college, Coimbatore. We all, from the beginning, knew her as an inexhaustible fount of knowledge. College, as you can imagine comes with a collection of jokes/mimes ironically for people like that. Someone drew a cartoon where Mercia Ma’am is on a scooter ride with her husband and even then, she’s reading a book, and I am running behind her asking for doubts😊. I was happy that I was considered for the part in the caricature of someone important! 😊

I remember observing her walk and thinking that each step of hers had a purpose attached and hence the fastened pace. Her story is probably small because we are talking about..well within two decades here and is perhaps simple to many. ‘Teaching’ as a profession is considered, at least by some that I know, as a ‘settled’ job. No pressures, no lay-offs, just a bunch of brats who can no longer be controlled by their own parents 😃

Mercy Ma’am is my inspiration because I could see that she invested purpose, commitment and hard work in every step of her way all these years that I know her. Her journey was/is/continues to be made of innumerable, very meaningful steps. I’m unable to capture the true essence of that line, you had to be a witness to understand. But let me try anyways.

Right from the beginning of her career which she started in the same college she studied, she had overcome what you would call silly obstacles, seen the larger picture and worked dedicatedly toward the same. What I’ve admired in her is the attitude that – maybe there are people who create issues in the world, but I’m too busy creating my own niche. When she was not accepted as a teacher, she committed her time to understanding the students better, giving extra classes and studying both for knowledge to impart and her career growth. When she was not accepted as a colleague, she worked relentlessly toward the betterment of the college, the course and eventually again the students. 

Her milestones, though small in the beginning, started appearing toward the middle of a tedious run. First year of her career she cleared SLET, couple of years down the lane, she joined Republic of Maldives, at GCE O level where the President’s son learnt – Majeediyya School, Male. For family reasons (I’m not delving into the women having to relocate for family topic here – that’s a different debate) , she returned to India where she joined CMS college and was nominated as the course coordinator. What amused me was that since CMS college was just on the verge of rolling out some courses like MFC and MIB, she would, after college hours, read up from the PSGIM library to understand more. In her decade-long stint with the college, she organized two national conferences, one international conference, regularly ran a Commerce Forum, established and actively ran Junior JCI, OISCA-International, Entrepreneurship Development Cell, etc. I have not mentioned the various social forums like Siruthuli that she encouraged us students to participate in. She, with her leadership, managed a high rating from the NAAC for the college.

She then joined SCMS-Cochin where she was a part of DFID-DelPHE Research team and visited Ghana and Tanzania to present the findings of the research study. It was here that she published her first international journal article. Again, for family reasons, she had to leave Cochin and relocate to Palakkad where she joined LEAD College of Management. There she was awarded NFP Scholarship of the Netherlands government and participated in ICHUD Progam of IHS, Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

After 3 years in LEAD, she joined as the Dean-Academic Affairs, Emirates College for Management and Technology, Dubai, UAE. During her term, there, she also served as an adjunct faculty at Wollongong University for two semesters teaching BBA and MSc (Logistics) students. But then, she had to return to India due to her Dad’s demise in 2015.

She was invited by Dr. Thomas George, Chairman, LEAD College of Management to be Dean-Academics at LEAD which she joined with great zeal. As always and everywhere she went, she had a steep hill of issues like lack of discipline, lack of professionalism and power scramble. What I have observed in her is that, she would work her way anyways. She was always in a hurry to identify and materialize great things for the generations she taught that I don’t think she really cared for the hill or mole hill of issues. In her second stint at LEAD, she introduced News Analysis, Value Added Courses, Faculty Think Tank, etc. for an enhanced teaching-learning experience and was awarded the best woman scholar and educator award by National Foundation for Entrepreneurship Development on Women’s day 2016. She was also awarded the Woman of Distinction, by Venus International Foundation on the same day.

Last year, there was yet another milestone that she crossed. She published a book ‘Aspire to be a great teacher’ with ISBN. She had invested a decade long of struggles and efforts in it. Today, the book has reached countries like Germany, Nigeria, South Africa, Republic of Maldives, Hong Kong and Thailand. It will be soon available in Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Singapore. This year, she was acknowledged by AIMS international for her achievements in management studies.

While I end my note here with that beautiful milestone, she still walks fast 😊 she still is constantly tussl

Her Story – My Mom – T.K. MadhaviKutty

My Mom - T.K. MadhaviKutty

I do not want to deviate much from what this series is all about – A woman’s grit and wit in her own life that often goes unnoticed – leave alone applauded. But this first one is a tribute to the woman I knew during the first 8 years of my life – My mom. Let me be humble where I can, and say “not because of any heroic or incredible feat” – but just because she was my mom.

While I know for a fact that all mothers are the protective, caring, kind, thoughtful and whatever adjectives you can think of – mine was – passionately obsessed. I don’t want to debate she was one of a kind – probably there are millions around. But I can only tell ‘her story’ – so here you go.

She died when she was 37 and I was 8 – and somehow in retrospective, it was as though she knew that her days with me were numbered. Now, I was her third, the others being boys and I’ve hardly seen them getting the attention I got – not sure if they being almost a decade older than me factored in any way.

So the story begins while I was still in the womb – or actually – before that :D!!! 8 years after having 2 boys, she decides that she needs a girl. Apparently, contrary to the social scenario back then in rural areas of Kerala and Tamil Nadu where she spent her days, she asked anybody and everybody around to ‘predict’ that it would be a ‘girl.’ And then, when it was decided to be a caesarean she did not leave the doctor either – “it must be a girl,” she told the doc, “and I will name her after you.”

Thanks to her determination, positive thinking and promise – a girl was born and she named her after the doc – Indira. Realizing that’s too foreign a name for a Malayalee household, dad helped her stich Priyadarshini to it! She called me ‘Priya.’ She was on Mission Priya – for the rest of the eight years of her life. I read couple of her letters to her father – beyond the regular news, it was all about me. The words I said when I was barely two, the qualities she saw in me when I was three and the enthusiastic school goer in me, when I was four.

She hadn’t studied much. So, it was as though her life depended on me learning English and Hindi! And it makes me smile to think of the efforts she took. She would make me watch Doordarshan – especially that ad, and ask me if I could write it down. She made me watch Hindi programs (though she did not understand) and told me that I would understand eventually. When I was seven, she subscribed to ‘The Hindu’ and made me write down all the headings in the newspaper! Neither I nor she knew what those meant back then! I still remember the number of DMK and AIDMK that I had written in those days like an imposition assignment. She would take me to the neighbor, as dad’s time was limited after office, to ensure that I learn to speak English. She called my friends home and saw to it that I spoke to them only in English. Dad wasn’t spared either. He was to make me read a story and record it in the good ole tape recorder – None of us asked her the logic – I was too small and Dad was.. well, her husband – so she ruled! I don’t have a copy – but I remember the story – The pancake who ran down the street 😊

I loved pets, especially birds, until I realized it’s a crime to cage creatures that can fly. So, she maintained a poultry house in the backyard, had a ‘love birds’ cage in the front garden, few turkey birds, and two white rabbits- again exclusively for me! She maintained a flower garden and vegetable garden and won state level awards for each.

Bathing me was quite a feat! I had She maintained long hair for me when I was seven, which, when plaited two-fold would still fall long on my shoulders. She used to have all those homemade treatments to ensure that! Whichever sarees were pretty and expensive, she wrote my name on it! Will you believe that? I don’t have proof! You must take my word for it. “Priya” – she wrote on all those Chinese silk and cotton sarees – the name in her handwriting looked prettier than the sarees themselves. She wrote my name in the steel utensils at home – back then that was a practice – she just overdid it I guess. She had envisioned me as a dancer and carefully drawn and asked a jeweler to make me an earring (traditional jhumka) – which again I lost (I got the nickname ambalamani in college for that)!!!! She did enroll me for dance, but the lazy me was never regular.

She was obsessed – but wasn’t blind. I remember when I was four or five – I slapped her. She hid meat in the rice she was giving me and I pushed the plate and slapped her on her face. I remember the dress I wore and the place still. I probably would not have remembered if she slapped me back or made a fuss of it or scolded me or reacted in any normal way. She looked at me with this sad eyes and told me that I can continue to slap around till I had someone to take it. I don’t think the five-year-old in me understood a word of it, but I remember feeling so damn guilty and shameful about it. When I was seven, a friend of mine got a fancy black purse to school. It was a shiny black purse and had a bunch of shiny one rupee coins in it. I admired it a lot and when the coins fell off the purse, I took one and kept it to myself. You can imagine my mom’s fury when she got to know this! That was the only day I remember being beaten up by her. The Only Day. I got beaten up black and blue with a thin cane from the garden, and was taken to the Pooja room to promise that I would never, ever commit the act of stealing, and then was taken immediately to the friend’s house to tell her and her parents that I did this, I’m shameful that I did it and I’m returning this. That was one lesson well learnt for me.

While her loss is, irreparable and draws tears till this date, her zeal for these few years to bring up or dote on a little girl was awe inspiring. I’m a mom now, had been one while away from work and am now while I’m working, I could never do, or imagine to do, for my child as much. For the sake of readability, and due to the lack of memories, I have only given a short account here. It is her relentless dedication to the mission Priya that I owe this story to.