One of the most fascinating aspects of being a parent is to see your children shape up. How a baby starts to develop a character of her own as she grows up. As she starts interacting with the world, different facets of her personality start emerging. There is a very interesting interplay of her innate disposition, her upbringing at home and finally the social influences that ultimately shape her into the individual she becomes.
I grew up the same way. One of the stronger influences all through my life has been the women around me. Luckily for me, I was surrounded by strong women, by women of character. As a young girl, I looked up to them and knowingly or unknowingly absorbed their qualities. And the process of learning is still on – I continue to observe and emulate. Today as I navigate a tough world, trying to maintain a healthy work life balance between bringing up three boys, being a wife, running a household and managing a demanding job, these learnings stand me in good stead.
I believe that our foundation stones are laid at least two generations before – how our grandparents or maybe even their parents lived their lives trickles down to the kind of persons we become. I had grandmothers who were ahead of their times. My nani, a woman of grit, published her own magazine called Arsi back in the 50s and 60s. Unfazed by her husband’s untimely death, she took a strong decision to bring up her children on her own, not depending on anyone. My dadi, married to a renowned professor of political science, had a PhD to her credit as well as a number of collections of short stories and novellas. She was also the person who sowed the seeds of a lot of principles I stand by today. Her elder sister was the first girl in her district to give the matric exam. She was also the first woman in her family to take up a job – as a journalist with the weekly “Saptahic Hindustan”. My nani’s sisters – all highly educated, professors, doctors, etc. One of them was the first lady doctor in Rewari, which in the 50s was no better than a village in terms of facilities and worse than a slum with people waiting in long lines for water, garbage piled high. In those conditions, she delivered babies in their homes with lanterns as the only source of light, took women in labour to her clinic on thelas or whatever else was available– the list of stories is endless. Along with her husband, she went on to establish a full fledged hospital in Rewari. Her journey is nothing short of inspirational. These women, my grandmothers teach me to not be afraid, to blaze my own trail, and that once I decide to take a path, I will also know how to navigate the roadblocks.
We all know what a big influence a mother is. Not surprisingly, so was mine. I saw her, I listened to her, I observed her and kept imbibing from her. She emphasized the importance of prioritizing and taking the right decisions. She believes that everything has a time – and acting belatedly is like not acting at all. She constantly reminded me about the importance of relations and taking everyone along with oneself. I also learnt from her how to survive under pressure and stress.
But more than learning from her lectures (as she likes to call them – and still hasn’t stopped giving them!), I learnt from seeing her in action. She is a textile designer and an entrepreneur. When I was 5 years old, she established The Institute of Design in Jaipur, out of our home. The institute grew and so did her reputation. (our neighbours once got a letter which just said – opposite Institute of Design!! – when I told a friend where I lived, he said excitedly – oh you live in Purnima Varma ki galli – and I dryly responded, yes, since I am her daughter!!). The Institute shaped my personality like nothing else. I learnt all my management lessons there, I learnt relationship management skills, I learnt about handling conflicts, I learnt about event management and much more. I can write a full blog on this, and maybe I will, but let me limit myself here.
It is hard to believe, but even irritating little sisters, can have an influence on you. Mine did. As my husband says, she provides me the foundation on which I stand. Despite being a good three years younger, she sensed my innate weakness – the need to be liked or loved. While that might have left me with a pleasant, open personality, it also left me vulnerable to hurt. I don’t think I realized that till much later, but she did. As I got ready to go to college, she showered me with advice on learning how to say no and how to put myself first. She kind of grew in my shadow – the quiet younger sister and the more bubbly elder sister. However, she has a resilient personality that I envy. Things, people or situations that can tear me apart have only made her stronger. As she likes to say, “things that don’t kill you, only make you stronger.”
Talking of sisters, an older sister is often a role model for little girls. I had one too. Unknown to her, my older cousin was someone I really admired and subconsciously tried to follow. A vibrant personality, winner of extempore debates (that was a huge deal for me), a confident, outgoing person, a lovely smile. When I started shortlisting colleges for graduation, I found that I had kept with me a copy of the LSR prospectus she must have got for herself – and while she didn’t join LSR, I did. I ended up going to the same postgrad college as her. And finally when she married a good friend – I wished fervently for such a friendship based relationship. Ended up following in her footsteps even there!
The lesson on overcoming obstacles through sheer will and grit is best taught by my mother in law. A teacher by profession, she almost single handedly brought up her two sons, since her husband worked away from home. I mean literally single handedly. Her right hand is deformed from birth. But that has not stopped her from doing anything – and unless you see her hand, you will never guess that she does everything with her left hand – and mind you, faster than most people. Drive a car? Make a roti? Peel vegetables? Tie a saree? Carry a baby? Maybe two? She can do all that and more. Her persona exudes I can and no one will ever doubt that. And today, when I sometimes fear for Anvay’s future, I am reminded that all I need to do is keep my will and grit and teach him the same – and good results will surely follow.
Professionally, I have also learnt a lot from two of my past bosses. Both represent a very strong work ethic, amazing attention to detail and exacting expectation of excellence from their team. Multitasking and always being on call, and carrying the team together, are some of the other things I have learnt from them. Both are non – Indians (one British and the other American) but took to India like their own country. My first boss is married to an Indian and they have together established one of the best firms in my sector. And, just a tip here, when next to her, please do not try speaking in Hindi, assuming she won’t understand – I have seen many make that mistake and the shock on their faces after realizing she is as fluent in hindi as they are!!
The list does not end here. My chachi from Chandigarh, a gold medallist in bio technology, seems to have struck the perfect balance between her work and home life. A mausi, an ex IAS officer has continued to write and publish many books after her retirement – it tells me to make sure to keep at least one passion other than work alive. My bua, an excellent dancer in her younger years, teaches me to continue to spread love – her handwritten cards always reached us before time and her regular phone calls remind me to never forget loved ones. And while continuing as a homemaker, she took up study of dyslexia and published her work on it. Another bua, a cool dude, well into her sixties continues to direct and present her plays with a never say die attitude. My mami, a homemaker, an excellent example of keeping the family together. Thanks to her I know even her side of the family as well as mine. Also, almost a second mother to me in Delhi, she has cooked my favourite dishes, taken care of me while sick. My other mami, an entrepreneur, an outspoken person, never afraid to air her views, encourages me to do the same. And finally my taiji, who maintains an impeccable house, with extreme attention to detail, a teacher who brought history classes alive. Along with my tauji she has supported my family through thick and thin, making sure I remember the importance of relations and value them.
So while today people talk about social influencers, I prefer swearing by my personal influencers – the women who have shaped me.