To Indra Nooyi, with Love

Once again, you’re in the news.

But unlike the last time when you embraced a position of power as PepsiCo’s CEO, this time you’re stepping down from the position and title you came to own, over the last decade.

I still remember being in high school back then, when the media first spoke of you. Of how a woman of humble Indian origin, had climbed the ranks to take over the position of PepsiCo’s Chief Executive Officer.

And then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t just me, but the world at large who took notice of you. Of your steady ascent to the much coveted seat in the boardroom, Collectively, we marveled at the grit, resilience and courage your journey demonstrated. At the way in which a middle class girl from Chennai, made it to first to prestigious institutions like IIM Calcutta and Yale, and took on the glass ceiling heads-on, shattering it, successfully.

As for me, over the years, once you were a global public figure and other facets of your life became known, I came to respect your authenticity, personality and your candidness. At how you openly spoke about your constant tussle between being the head-honcho of a multi-million conglomerate, and a wife and mother at the same time. Your openness , with which you narrated how your story of how being a woman with ambition isn’t easy, yet is definitely worthwhile.

I admired your sheer business acumen. At how you gave a fast-food company, otherwise notorious for taking people on the road to unhealthy lives, a heart. In creating the mission statement of Performance with Purpose. Of making Pepsi a greener, more environmentally aware company.  Of showing how business and benevolence can indeed be balanced.

Yet, more than anything, as a girl with ambition and zeal myself, you taught an entire generation of women to dream. To not only dream, but dream beyond the dream itself. Because that’s where it all starts. You taught us all, that talent and ability can surpass the biases of  gender and ethnicity. You demonstrated how you can be the iron lady in the velvet glove, how aggression can be soft too. And you led us to believe that positions of power, always come with great responsibility. For its never about the position you hold, its about the impact you create.

All good things in this world must come to an end, and so do tenures of powerful leaders. Yet, As you step down, and pass on the baton, you’re leaving a footprint. On the hearts of not only the company and its employees, but on millions of dreamers, believers and achievers.

 

My Superwomen

As a child, I would often wonder who my role models were. What did someone have to be, in order to qualify for becoming someone who I could possible aspire to be like? Over the years, I’ve come to draw parallels between the people who I admire.

 

First of, while there are many men to inspire me, I usually myself relating more to succesful women. Second, I find people who have achieved success on their own terms, extremely irresistible. And finally, an element of authenticity is crucial too. Real women. Who, despite their professional achievements, are still women with families and children.  As someone who has herself stumbled many a time the road to her destination, I relate way back to someone who has faced highs and lows, as opposed to someone whose journey has been all uphill.

So, after much thought, I’ve been able to put together a list of all these women, who I regard as my superwomen.

  1. Sheryl Sandberg : A leader with a heart and a passion for breaking glass ceilings, that’s what this tech COO of the world’s largest social networking platform is. While I developed a sense of admiration for her from the day I read Lean In, a book -cum-platform encouraging women to active take up leadership in professional settings, what made me truly fall in love with her was the manner in which she handled the untimely demise of her husband. And she didn’t just stop there, rather she took on a new mission to allow people to publicly mourn. Through her other initiative, Option B, a mission to help people recover from loss and adversity.

 

2. Melinda Gates : A successful engineer, entrepreneur and now philanthropist, Melinda Gates is simply goals. After all, at a life stage where most people who step back and revel in the fortune that they’d build (especially if your fortune happens to e a company called Microsoft!), Melinda and her husband Bill decided to take on a completely new challenge – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The painstaking work they do through the Foundation, across the globe in the field of rural development, is heartwarming.

3.  Michelle Obama : Whoever said first ladies had to be boring, and shadows of their presidential husbands, clearly hadn’t met Michelle Obama. Nothing about Michelle is stuffy, run-of-the-mill or boring – and that’s what I absolutely love about her. A successful lawyer herself, not for a moment did you lose her within the rather magnetic of her famous former President husband Barack Obama. She maintained her own. If there’s one leaf we can all take out of her book, it is that one can do exceptionally serious work, while still having fun.

4. J.K. Rowling : Who better to inspire a writer, than another writer herself? A woman who despite being a single mother, with absolutely no security or support system, took up a dream. Of writing her way to success. Of showing the world the power of a pen and a good story. In creating the magical world of Harry Potter from scratch, one that invited everyone from adults to children, to enter and never leave. A classic rags to riches tale, her story clearly teaches you to dream beyond imagination, and do everything it takes to fulfill it.

5. Sudha Murthy : What never fails to amaze me about this pathbreaking entrepreneur is her enthusiasm, her childlike, and her ever grounded nature. And her love for breaking stereotype. whether it was t becoming the first female student in her college and the first female engineer at TATA, to founding the juggernaut called Infosys with her husband, or to establish the Infosys Foundation, she’s left her mark everywhere.

Who are your role models, friends? Eager to hear them!

Women, go to work, please!

It was this article that got me thinking. And maybe it’ll get you thinking, too.

And if you don’t read the entire article, you can read just the first two lines.

LAKSHMI, the goddess of wealth and fortune, is the closest thing Hinduism has to an economic deity. How poorly her earthly sisters in present-day India are faring. 

Not that I was unaware of the scenario, but this mainly reaffirms what the reality is. This time, with real-life examples and figures to support the claim.

Ironic, very ironic. In the land where the ardently worshipped deities of wealth, education and power are all female, India is losing out a major chunk of its talent only because so many women are at home. A loss that converts into economic deprivation in terms of becoming a significant contributor to the nation’s poverty by a staggering 27%

Whats even more ironic that the only reason isn’t just the lack of education, it’s also the never-ending social pressures that collectively surmount to keep women actively out of the workforce. In-laws demanding the their daughters-in-law stay at home despite their education and desire to earn. Organizations that don’t support working mothers forcing women with children to quit their jobs and take a hiatus, which very often means that they don’t get back to work at all. Women entrepreneurs struggling to keep their ventures afloat, with collectively only around 2% of total venture capital financing going to women.

Of course there have been game changers within the society, in terms of women among the likes of Indra Nooyi, Kiran Majumdar Shaw and Chanda Kocchar, who have risen up the corporate ladder as well as gone to create successful companies of their own. And business models that supported women employment. AMUL and Lijjat Papad. And little proliferations of self-employed women with regard to the good old Tupperware and Amway aunties, the waxing ladies, the tuition teachers and the neigbourhood ladies with their pickle and tiffin businesses. Yet, the number of women who collectively remain unemployed still outnumber them.

Growing up, I was fortunate to be born to parents who viewed education and having a career equally important for both sons and daughters. Which meant that I never thought of myself not having a full-time job, ever. Yet again, that does not mean that I am biased towards stay-at-home moms. The point I’m trying to make, is that not every woman has to have a full-time job. There are women who stay out of active employment out of choice. But that doesn’t mean that the women at the other end of the spectrum, that is women who want to work, should be held back in any form. It is the birthright of every single woman, to have access to education, economic freedom and empowerment. So that when they fo genuinely want to go out and make a living, they are not are obstructed by  financial, physical or social barriers. From more education opportunities,  self-employment and work-from-home options, to child-friendly workplaces, maternity benefits, more microfincnace options and venture capital funding. We need them all.

Maybe this could be a wake-up call, and our mantra for the years to come: Sending more women to work. Hopefully our daughters and granddaughters, shall look at boardrooms and corner office aspirations as normal, instead of glass ceiling achievements, like our generation does. And we will have a fuller, richer economy, that thrives from the collective effort of both men and women.

(The article cited appeared in The Economist : Why India needs its women to work. https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/07/05/why-india-needs-women-to-work)

The World Seems Unsafe Tonight

Ma, my tears go unnoticed
My cries, unheard
My dignity, hurt
I’m sorry you brought me into a world
That doesn’t even pretend to care
Ma, can I climb into
Your womb for a while?
The world seems rather unsafe tonight
I’m tired, Ma. I’m tired
Of fighting,
Of struggling,
Of begging the world
To for once, be kind
Please let me climb into
You womb, just for a little while
The world seems just so unsafe tonight
I feel like I’m being punished
For a mistake I never made
I flee like a wounded animal
Only to find a spot that’s safe
But alas they find and hunt me
However hard I try
Ma, I promise I’ll only
Stay in your womb for a while
But please do let me
The world seems
Very unsafe tonight
(On account of India being declared the most unsafe country in the world for women)

Four shades of Lust.

So far, the done-to-death Bollywood plot has revolved around one four letter world – LOVE. The kind that makes the protagonists run around trees, The one that up until the late 90s, didn’t even acknowledge that emotional attraction resulting in physical intimacy was a perfectly natural, biological process. I, for one, am reminded of days when anything with a slight hint of carnal affection was substituted rather poorly by showing two flowers brushing against each other?

Flash forward to times today. Audiences have evolved. Even though mention of sex does raise eyebrows, we’ve moved past the flowers kissing phase, showing real people. In such a scenario, what happens when LUST, another four letter world, one that has so far been socially booed and shame-shamed, gets thrown at four stalwarts of contemporary Bollywood, and each one of them is given the opportunity to interpret this in their own manner?

Boy, do they come out fantastic results. Each one different, yet very relatable. Perhaps the only thing that’s uncannily common in all four of them is that in all four cases, the protagonist happens to be a woman.

Each tiny tale, takes a life and path of its own, not shaming carnal desire, but rather accepting a normal, human need.

A free-spirited schoolteacher, who openly experiments with her sexual adventures, breaking convention, stereotype and the stigma associated with open marriages.

A household help who gives in to her employers sexual advances, only to be reminded , of her status quo in society. Confronting the harsh truth that her employer will bed her, yet will wed only someone who belongs to his own strata – socially and educationally.

A middle-aged woman, who resorts to infidelity as her only solace, her escape route out of a loveless marriage, a career she ditched in favor of domestic bliss, and a husband who prides himself on the fact that he owns her.

And finally, my personal favorite of the lot, the dilemma of a newly-wed woman, who is coming to terms with the fact that her husband treats sex as an act of one-sided pleasure, not even being able to comprehend her hints about being unsatisfied.

As a millennial, urban Indian woman myself, the takeaway I get when I watch a series like this is that none of the situations seem unfamiliar. The multiple facets of love, sex, relationships presented on screen depict slices of the huge pie that is contemporary Indian society.  One that’s realizing over time that sex and sexuality, are not physical privileges, they’re basic human needs. One that’s only still coming to accept that sexual pleasure is as much as a female prerogative as much as it is of a male. One that’s opening up the idea of sexual pleasure being prevalent in multiple colors, flavours and forms.

The feisty kind. The guilty pleasure kind. The unapologetic kind. The desirable kind.

And to each one of them, a woman has equal right as much as a man. While ironically, a land that produced the world’s encyclopedia to sex, the Kama Sutra, shouldn’t have to be emphasizing the fact that love making is a two way traffic, I’m glad we’re having that conversation. Or at least, beginning to.

Post Veere-di-Wedding thoughts

This could almost be a follow-up to a piece I’d written earlier, on the evolution of the quintessential Bollywood heroine. If you haven’t read it already, find it here.

When a film starring four female actors, hashtagged #NotaChickFlick revolves around a plot of reunion of friends on the occasion of the wedding of one, you know you want to watch it. Irrespective of what reviews and critics say. Out of enthusiasm, and curiosity.

So, for a 27-year-old, single woman, one who has made several bold decisions in life, yet is far from claiming that she’s figured it all out, a movie like this sends several thoughts down her spine.

She relates with many of the tensions that the protagonists in the film experience. The conflict of an emotional heart with a rational mind. The challenges that arise from being in the no-man’s land between following your heart, yet wanting to match up to the social pressures of a society that occasionally wants to take charge of your life narrative. Dealing with plenty of first world issues, especially when you’re a millennial Indian woman balancing on yourself on the tight rope hanging between tradition and modernity.

She realizes that in many ways, she shares a note with all four of them. Kalindi’s free spirit that struggles with emotional baggage she’s trying hard to not bring in way of her life decisions, yet get in the way anyhow. Avni’s go-getter attitude that wants to be successful from every angle –  professional, personal and social . Sakshi’s impulsive, rebellious heart that takes her places, both wrong and right. And finally, Meera’s insecurities about life and love especially when the people unintentionally causing you grief are your own.

But her takeaway, is that like her, the protagonists in the film aren’t perfect either. And that everyone’s concept of a Happily Ever After varies. And that every girl needs her own little wolf pack , one she can count on, to make life a little lesser tougher when chips are down.

The film has its flaws, though. It restricts itself to a wafer-thin crust of Indian society that lives in posh bungalows with manicured lawns, and is able to whimsically take, off to Thailand when it wants to escape life’s harsh realities for a while. Multiple forced product placements that feel anything but natural (especially Air India. I wonder if the in-trouble airline is expecting a revival simply by featuring in the film). Few moments excessively over-the-top, right from the costumes to the dialogue.

However, what VDW essentially does, is bring to light, the multiple shades and undertones of the realistic urban Indian women. One who is confident enough to make her own choices when it comes to career and marriage, yet occasionally question her own sensibilities in making those choices. One who is paradoxical, ferociously guarding her sense of independence and identity, yet craving companionship. One who hides her insecurities and fears that arise as a result of her own life experiences, or others, to make sure her life is Instagram and Snapchat ready.

If you’re seeking a film that highlights women’s issues or brings forward women empowerment as a cause, you’re much better off watching a Chak De India. This film is feminine, not feminist. Watch it with your girlfriends on a casual Sunday, and make sure you play the game of who-is-which-character. And leave the theatre without over-analyzing what you saw. Though in my own sense of optimism, I do hope the film somewhere paves the way for mainstream Bollywood films featuring women. Ones where female protagonists don’t necessarily have to  inspire women to change the world,  scream girl power, or tell stories of women changed the world. Yet canstrike a chord by propagating the message that sometimes before you save the world, you have to save yourself. That’s not called being selfish, its called being sensible.

 

 

 

A Letter to Robin Scherbatsky,

Hi Robin,

The moment I set my eyes on you, I knew it was love at first sight. Without me even realising it, you became my role model. For me. And an entire population of women, who carry stars in their eyes, and live on a diet of dreams, hopes and aspirations. For you symbolised everything what any single, ambitious woman could possibly dream of. A job I’d probably chop my right arm for. A fiery, adventurous spirit that revealed a warm and loyal heart within. A smile that made everyone from Ted to Barney (yes, even him!) go weak in their knees. And of course, five dogs for flatmates.

robin4.jpg

From you, I learned that a life lived with passion is one that’s well lived. One where you let your heart and soul be your guiding star. One where you stumble a few times, only to rise back stronger. You taught me the importance of self-love. Of never ever feeling guilty to do what nourishes your soul, and eradicate what doesn’t. Of making mistakes, and owning up to them. You are living proof, that  behind every confident, independent, strong hearted woman, lies a vulnerable soul. One that’s afraid of being hurt and of being let down. Yet, one that will never compromise on relationships, only because it is scared to be alone. If there’s only one page that we can all take out of your book, it is to learn to revel in the pleasure on our own company. To reminding ourselves again, and again, and again, that we indeed are complete on our own. Men, jobs and apartments come and go. They’re the icing on the cake, in the end, it is your own self that needs to take the cake, every single time.

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Thank you Robin, for breaking stereotypes. Because scotch and guns don’t only have to be man things. And women who live for their careers and sense of identities can also seek home and family. And women can indeed build other women up instead of being sworn enenmies. Thank you, for making a generation of independent, free-spirited women believe in the power of following their passions and dreams. And fairy tales coming true. Even if you have to wait a little, for Prince Charming to show up at your window. Blue horn in tow, of course.Thank you for assuring me, that each time I have to take a leap of faith if life, all I have to do, is look at myself in the mirror, and tell myself, that if Robin can do it, I can, too.

Lots of love,

Loyal Viewer Fan-Girl

p.s.: Lets go to the mall, today. Shall we?

 

 

Evolution of the Bollywood Heroine – From Darling to Daring

A week ago, I had the absolute pleasure of watching a Bollywood film, Raazi, one based on Harinder’s Sikka‘s book Calling Sehmat. I term the experience a pleasure because it had all the elements of what great cinema should comprise of – a crisp storyline put into place with splendid direction, stellar performances by the cast and finally, that feeling that lingers on after you’ve left the movie theatre. One that starts as a lump in your throat, and stays on as that tug in your heart.

For me, that feeling entailed, a sense of unadulterated admiration for Sehmat, the protagonist. At the tigress esque spirit of a patriotic 20 year old woman, who decided without a slight inch of hesitation, to become a spy, cross borders and carry an entire mission on her shoulders. An female character which completly comflicted with my internal image of the quinesstinal Bollywood heroine. Remember, I was the 90s kid growing up in India, who was fed on a staple of Bollywood films which followed a cookie cutter plot. Girl and Boy fall in love. Girl gets kidnapped by villains. Boy recuses her and wins her heart. In a nutshell, it was the always the male version that was doing everything, while the female revelled in blushing, dancing and flaunting her designer wardrobe. No wonder we called him the hero.

Yet, over the last decade or so, the trend has reversed. Films aren’t just being made with women, rather, about them, with an entire list of exemplary films and characters who we’re not forgetting anytime soon. Jab We Met, where Geet a bubble, feisty woman decides to take her destiny in her own hands, and even bear single handedly, the consequences of  her actions. Or Rani from Queen, the jilted bride-to-be, who instead of shedding tears at being left at the altar, decides to fulfill a dream of a European honeymoon, sans her husband. Or Veera from Highway, who confides in her kidnapper about her childhood trauma. Or a daredevil Kaira from Love You Zindagi, who’s not afraid to confront a therapist about her dejection that stems from life’s many setbacks. Or even Shashi from English Vinglish, who takes on a seemingly mammoth of a challenge, one of learning a foreign language, within the realms of a city that’s alien to her, and waking up to a confident, capable version of herself in the process.

And the list can go on. In my opinion, what makes these films winners is that they don’t necessarily focus on feminism, girl power, or even on making a statement of sorts. The protagonists aren’t exactly superwomen, rather refreshingly relatable. Real women living in real times. Ones in whose stories, we often end up finding our own.

The female protagonist has evolved, and how. She no longer is the Damsel-in-distress, who waits for her Prince Charming to rescue her from a bunch of villains. She fights her own battles, her own demons, sometimes even entire social institutions that dictate what she should do, wear and behave. Neither is she Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. She flaunts skin, drinks, goes on solo trips, even loses her virginity without being apologetic for any of it. And finally, she is an individualistic woman of substance. One who is comfortable with creating and living her own sense of identity, claiming her own sexuality,  and pursuing her individual dreams and aspirations. None of whom are dependent on labels, stereotypes, or man. She isn’t just part of the tale anymore, she is the tale. One she’s not afraid to write, rewrite and live. Herself. In her own words. On her own terms.

 

A letter to Hermione Granger

Dear Hermione,

After over two entire decades of knowing, admiring and wanting to emulate you, I finally pen down this letter to you.

I first discovered you when I was all of twelve years old. An age where I was still finding myself. I’d always been an extroverted, curious and over-imaginative child. One for whom being in control of situations came to, very naturally. Yet, some part of me always tried to validate the my inherent confidence, my sense of independence, my longing for adventure. In my world of conformists, I was the one whose heart desired the road not taken. The offbeat path. And for silent rebels like me, we were more likely to find critics rather than cheerleaders.

And then I met you.

You taught me that being a nerd, as opposed to stereotype, is a wonderful thing. That curiosity and a passion for learning can take you places. That a yearning for knowledge is a virtue few are endowed with, and the ones who do make use of their potential, are true game-changers. However, what you also taught me, was that it was equally important to apply the knowledge to good use, at the apt time. Whether it was remembering to use that spell you learned in class in a time of crisis, or making Polyjuice potion from scratch or remembering that phoenix tears were actually healing powers, I wonder how Harry and Ron would’ve ever managed without you. If Harry was the brave heart, and Ron the soul, you were undebatedly the brain in the trio. Like cogs of a wheel that were always made to fit together.

From you I learned, to be a strong woman. One who wasn’t afraid to stand up for her rights, her thoughts and her opinions. You taught me that activism is a good thing. Even when Malfoy derided you by calling you a mud blood, you didn’t flinch. Or explain yourself. Not because it didn’t affect you. But because your self-respect and dignity didn’t allow you to have to justify yourself to someone who clearly was way beneath you as far as thinking was concerned. Not to mention anyone who accused you of not being a true witch didn’t stand a chance against you in class.

However, above everything else, I learned from you. The value of friendship. Of standing up for your friends when they need you. Of being their rock. Of believing in their vision. Supporting them with your abilities, and sometimes, just with your presence. Maybe that’s why even when Ron left Harry momentarily, you didn’t.

I could possibly go on. Yet, I’ll conclude by saying that I’m so grateful I met you, and learnt from you, in my childhood, invaluable lessons I know I will carry way through to womanhood.

Love,

Your childhood fan-girl-reader

 

We Forgot Our Men

As a society, culture, and the world, here’s where we went wrong.

We empowered our girls.

Inspired, motivated, informed them.

Equal opportunity, we called it. 

We sent them to schools. To ballet class. Yes, even karate lessons

We taught them to break stereotype, day, after day, after day.

To rewrite their own fairy tales. To play with guns if they wanted to. To wear blue and not pink if they preferred that instead.

Yet we forgot our boys. 

While we stood up for the girls, we forgot to sit beside our boys.

And tell them, that the presence of a y chromosome, wasn’t their key to success. That it made them biologically different, yes. But not necessarily superior

That it was okay to cry. And shed tears. And weep, and wail. Convince them of a man’s right to a heart, emotion, and feelings.

That laying their hands on a girl’s womanhood, didn’t make them more of a man, it made them less human.

We taught our girls to fight. What we didn’t do, is teach our boys to not attack them in first place.