The women who shaped me…my personal influencers

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.

photocredits: @photosynthesisbyaditi

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Mumma… What is success?

umm… I am not sure how to answer this one. Of course I want my kids to have a successful life – but what really constitutes a successful life? Money? Position? Fame? Happiness? Contentment? Satisfaction? All of these? Some of these? What is a life well lived? Is that the same as being successful?

I asked my peer group what they thought and got some interesting responses. Most agreed that the definition of success varies from person to person and at different points of life. Some said it is a mental state. Some said being happy and content is success. Some others said being successful means using oneself to their full potential. Yet another view was to not compare with others and live for oneself.

I agree and follow most of the above. But that’s not the full picture. Material achievements also matter to me. As I think back on my own life – I can see that things like money or possessions got added to my list of desires much later in life. As a student, it never mattered what marks others got – I had my own targets and parameters. At one point in my life, it didn’t matter whether or not I made money or owned a big house. So then what happened? Marriage and family commitments? Or a society that counted only material success?

I still remember, very early in my career, at a batch get together, the first question a batch mate asked was whether I had bought a car or not! And hastily, almost defensively I had explained that we had invested in a house first and will buy a car next year 🙂 It was also common to hear batch mates discuss who is doing well and who is not. The discussion would almost always boil down to salary packages and positions.

As a society, Indians seem to value only material achievements. (A total contrast to the image of us as spiritual beings and India being the land of spirituality!!) One is considered successful, if earning more than peers or wielding more power than them. Simple.

When parents measure success – their own, or of other people, or their kids’ through only material attributes, the same is consciously or subconsciously fed into the minds of our children and also feeds into our expectations of them. Moreover, constant comparison teaches the child to measure her success against others.

Things may have changed in the last few generations – but when I read news reports about children committing suicide or even trying to murder younger children to avoid exams or PTMs – I really wonder about the extent of this change.

A few generations ago – academics were the only way to a good job and therefore success – anything else that was remotely risky was discouraged – arts, entrepreneurship, sports. Engineers, doctors, Govt services were the preferred career choices – all safe bets. MBA got added to the list as  high pay packages were heard of. Now some sports such as cricket, tennis, badminton – but only those where some level of success has been demonstrated. A cricket academy will still be more popular than a football academy. Creative careers are also coming up slowly – but not fast enough. And entrepreneurship? Barely raising the bar there – other than perhaps the IT start ups – and that’s because they attract capital. Talent? Only if it helps to make money or gets fame at least. What about strugglers? I don’t think anyone wants to even talk about them. It is telling when Steve Wozniak says success in India is academic excellence and a good job. He compares a small country like New Zealand that has so many singers and athletes to a large country like India that barely makes a dent in the creative space.

In this discussion, I think of my dad. He was a very bright mind -an inventor who must have developed dozens of products, patented some, even developed board games and card games and wrote books and short stories. On top of that a great human being,  a great dad. But unfortunately no marketer. And hence an unsuccessful businessman. If one looks at his whole life I would consider it a life well lived – but a lot of people around him would probably just brand him unsuccessful.

So what is a successful life for me? At the end of my life – I would want to be happy and content and have as few regrets as possible. Happiness and contentment would come to me with a successful career, having enough money to live a comfortable life, see the world, some solid relationships, and strong and secure children. And this is what I would like to tell my children too.

And how do I raise a strong and secure child?

  • Value the person he is – and teach him to value himself (that does not mean going ga ga over every little thing he does :-D)
  • Help him excel in his area of capability – no point trying to fit a square into a round. Otherwise we are creating a recipe for disaster.
  • Teach him the value of hard work and the importance of struggle. Unfortunately there is too much instant gratification nowadays and I am guilty of that too.
  • Appreciate his failures as well and guide him to learn from those. (I regret every time I lose my patience when he fails – I am also learning)
  • Have a strong relationship with him – he will automatically have strong relationships later in life. (I think we are doing pretty well in that area!)
  • Mould him according to the person he is: a laidback child – teach him the importance of hard work; a very hard working child or achievement oriented – teach him to relax sometimes and learn to fail; a perfectionist – teach him not to find fault with others and so on…
  • Tell him that comparison is a tool to be used only selectively
  • Let him arrive at his own definition of success and what he wants to achieve in life. Guide him, but do not tell him what he should do. (I think that was the BEST thing my parents did for us – always let us find our way)

That is quite a long list and I hope I don’t forget these as I bring up our children! Do share your tips as well!