Story # 17: Wonder Woman: Vidya Rao


 Vidya Rao wears many hats as a mentor, coach and disability rights activist. Currently employed in a leading multi national, she is a woman of indomitable courage and grit. Not only is she an empowered woman, but her very presence empowers those who interact with her.

Vidya’s story is written with images and metaphors that came up while discussing her life story.

 (Vidya can be contacted on



On a beautiful summers day Vidya was born to a loving couple. How they adored her, their eldest! Soon two strapping sons followed and their life was complete. The couple did not know that their beloved daughter was gifted and that she was to use these gifts to make her world incredibly bright.


Childhood was filled with playfulness, laughter and happiness. Brothers who protected her and made her feel no different from any one else. She played with joy, boisterous games, jumping walls and running races. Running was a passion and she ran with abandonment.


Yet slowly a niggling feeling of fear and dismay entered her soul. Why were they bullying me? Why did I not do as well? Why was I struggling? Tears flowed down her face at these moments of despair. She scarcely knew why and what made her feel this way. “I am less than others” a voice yelled within her. “I cannot do as well” another screamed. Her own voice taunted her.


“Read the letters on the peppermint wrapper” urged her brother. “I can’t, I CANNOT see it” she said. “Does not everyone see the world as I do? Do you not see things in a blur, in shades of black and white, light and dark?” The questions she asked her brother awakened her. She was not the same as others.


“I thought everyone saw the same as me?!” but knowing that it was not so was a revelation and discovering that she was partially sighted.A fire started burning within her. The agnikund stoked by her desire to be something and to do more.


She now stepped into the forest which we call life, with trepidation, to fight the wolves, bears and the lions of the system to pass her examinations. Each time a wolf barred her way it was her family that stepped forward to support and to find ways to thwart it. Challenges were thrown at her and the family rallied around supporting her every ambition.


She had to write her board exams with no special concession for her partial sight.They got support from an Uncle who helped get waiver for a third language that was next to impossible for her to write. The fire was in danger of being stamped out by the system and left her frustrated and helpless. Friends and her brothers helped her through High School. Completing the final school leaving exam was a significant turning point.


Soon she enrolled in college, where nothing was static, the forest changed shape and it was too confusing. Too confusing to locate classrooms and navigate her way. Room No 104, was the first room she was asked to report to, but then unlike school, college had many classrooms to go to and this flux was daunting. A helpful little angel in the guise of a girl took her around, helping her find classrooms and made her realise that there were always a force to help, guide and came to her at times of need.


When parents suggested marriage at 20, it seemed the most ideal thing to do. It was arranged that she would meet the prospective groom and have some pictures taken. Things did not work out and the prospective family rejected her. Disheartened, Vidya questioned societal rituals and norms. The rejection was a turning point as the forest now seemed to open out and more possibilities appeared in the path. The rejection was a blessing in disguise that made Vidya look at empowering herself further. The fire agnikund was stoked by a desire to find newer meanings and challenges in life. Her journey of empowerment had begun.


Vidya did not want marriage to be the only goal in life and with her brothers as her guardians, protectors, and mentors; she stepped into her first job as a Project Coordinator at Mitra Jyothi. In a short span of time, she joined another organisation, EnAble India as computer trainer for visually impaired. She worked on shifting her own mindset and soon became adept at using the computer and as a trainer. This was a big break through for Vidya! Time and time again, she reached bigger heights in her life, professionally and personally.


The forest had opened up into a clearing and this space offered her a life partner and the job she had always wanted. Yet the way was not easy. She loved a man not approved by her family nor the man’s family was willing to accept her. Her guardian brothers decreed a time of separation and banished the boy to his hometown and forbid the two to meet. Yet true love finds a way and a modern day magical mirror found its way into her hands to help her keep in touch with Chinnu; they called themselves with their own pet names as Chinnu and Puttu.


A mobile phone was gifted to her by her brother and she felt like she had a talisman in her hands that would keep her connected and safe. The mobile phone triggered many firsts, as now within the safety of being connected to her family through a phone they allowed her to take her first solo train journey and with a feeling of thrill she embarked on that adventure. The phone also stoked the fire within her and she yearned to actually buy a phone for herself with her own earnings. Freedom, independence and ambition came together as she aimed to go after the man she wanted in her life too.


Finally the family agreed! Marriage allowed them to create a home for themselves. Vidya was determined to be independent and goaded her husband to break out of norms and empower himself as they were both going through a similar journey with visual challenges.


The struggle to make the beautiful clearing they now call home liveable and safe guard themselves from all kinds of elements that could thwart their peace was long and arduous.


Vidya worked hard at her job, gave every ounce and every bit of her soul to the organisation and job that she had enrolled herself into. Here too she met angels who goaded her to do more, to explore, to push limits, to do things that were out of the box, to see the world in a broader perspective. She learnt swimming and did trekking and even learnt to hula hoop!


The joyfulness journey of 13 long years drew her completely into a very gratifying world, but at a point  burnt her out and she suddenly realised the fire had smouldered and was in danger of dying. She needed a break and she quit her work to recoup. A difficult period followed as the fire was, as I said, in a danger of dying and she had to fortify her home, take rest, rethink and rebuild herself. Once again she looked at ways to make newer paths. The fire she stoked with new fuel.


Though home was safe haven with her partner and family and friends, who gave her the support she needed, the new path she chose was another step towards new adventures and new challenges. She stepped into the corporate world and donned a new avatar.


This has given her wings and new fuel in her belly waiting to take off at the right moment. Her dream is to reach new heights, explore, travel and seek new adventures that will help her conquer her fear and defeat nay-sayers. She believes one must walk the talk and hopes that many others can take inspiration from her never say die attitude and her resolve to excel.


 A short story that she carries within her :

Once upon a time a learned man was approached by a mother who complained that her son ate too much sugar and had a craving for sweets and was ruining his health, that she needed the learned man to speak to him. The learned man sent the mother away and asked her to return with her son after a week. When she did, the learned man then explained the danger of consuming too much sugar to the son and also confessed he too had a similar craving and could not speak to the boy as long as he had not addressed the issue for himself…

An authentic life is a life well led, is how Vidya sees it…

…and the gift she has been given are her extraordinary abilities to eat desserts!!



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Story # 17: Wonder Woman: Vidya Rao


Story # 16: Living Life with Passion: Sandhya Ruban



Life has been a roller coaster ride for Sandhya! Ready to face challenges in her own inimical, bombastic style, she gave up a professional career twice over, becoming a self-professed story teller who now specialises in biblical stories. This reinvention was bound to happen for the calling was in her blood for a long while!

Bold and brave are the words I can think of when describing her.  She is an inspiration for many of us as she has lived life on her own terms and given her best to whatever she does.  She has plans for a future, for a cause that I am sure she will fulfil. This reinvention is a delight to read for it exudes the same energy that resides in its author!

Sandhya can be contacted at

(This reinvention story and all its words come to you unchanged, directly from Sandhya’s mind’s heart!!) 




Birth Story

I was born in the year where hip huggers, bell bottoms, Rubik Cubes and disco were the rage, yes, undoubtedly 1975.  On what was the hottest and longest day of the year, the summer equinox of June 21, a wiry and slender woman went into labour in the pristine white-coloured walls of the hospital on top of a hillock and the end result; a mercurial me!

 Vijayawada was not really a woman’s choice to deliver, temperatures were hotter than the core of the earth, but to a middle-class bank manager’s family who was often transferred, it left no choice.

  My father, a dashing and handsome medical representative at the start of his career road, was the man for stories from the Wild West.  Most of my childhood afternoons were spent sitting on my father’s tummy as he would pretend to be the sheriff and I would always be his Rosemarie, the faithful girl who fought all battles. (I really wonder why I picked that name!)

 Mackenna’s Gold was my first movie as a child, please pardon the censorship guidelines in my home, but that’s the way it worked.   Thus was lit the spark of imagination, thus was a way to make believe created in my little world.

  My maternal grandmother was a doyen of sorts, commanded rain from heaven at the twirl of finger, told great stories and was basically the typical madhwa mother-in-law to my terrified petite mom.  It was a good life, a small family and one that read, spoke aloud and I really mean loud; loved their masala dosas from Annapoorna and heard Beatles and Abba day in and day out and mixed it mellifluously with strains of panchakalyani when tuned into AIR’s broadcasts.  It was a mix of theatrics, drama, histrionics and of course a lot of love that bonded over stories on a huge terrace, somewhere in Anakapalli where the local psychiatrist befriended us ( I can see you are making the connection) not to mention the numerous pigs living in the lanes. 


Growing Up Stories     

I was never really afraid of speaking to big crowds.  I was regaling audiences either as Madisar Mami with my vaango, vaango or trying to speak broken Hindi in my very Rajasthani outfit.  Either it was a welcome dance or something that stirred my cultural interests, but the stage was a place I loved to be.

 I remember the train journeys to different states with my family.  Avva or grandma would be at the helm of affairs with her ever-silver (saying stainless steel was very unfashionable!) kooja.  The faithful companion on our journeys was the white wicker basket with food cooked by the doyen herself would be served with much aplomb.   Over the delicious chitranna would come out stories of Chunnambu Chetti, the cat who loved to lick himself clean followed by more personal stories by my partially deaf grandfather, who lived in Colombo- Sri Lanka for a very long time.

 He would regale me with escapades in Candy where the women seldom covered their chest with their Kandian saree.  I would sit and listen in rapt attention escaping to the shores of Rameshwaram when my grandfather took away the 13-year-old bride on the boat mail.  My grandma would share stories of sipping tea from a “peengan” teacup and the way people wore sleeveless blouses in Sri Lanka.

 It was almost as if this world was ending.  In this atmosphere of reminiscence was born a love of stories and a gift of telling.  At school it was debating and public speaking and awards.  The world was too small and everything was achievable, really, after all it was the age before Sir Google himself!

 As all young adults, I too nurtured a dream of either being a doctor or a journalist.  I was besotted with images of Geetanjali Iyer, Baritone Baron Tejeshwar Singh, handsome killer looks Prannoy Roy and boy next door Vinod Dua.  I wanted to go and crack mysteries, present it on TV and even imagined myself signing off on many days.  I took this dream to my father, who was usually supportive of all ventures.  This time however, the madhwa mentality and the conservative power of steady salary took over.  He didn’t want me to do it as I would be with a “jondla pai” (Jhola bag) for the rest of my life.  So that being said, I decided to be more practical at pursuing my career in healing the world or at least the worlds’ teeth!!  I forayed into dental school and decided that life was all about literally setting teeth on the edge.  Yet here is where I also discovered the power of the silver tongue.  It was a war of clans at the professional college cultural circuits with MMC (Madras Medical College) always aiming for first.

 When I had them ousted at the JAM and debate competitions for 4 years in a row, I knew that something in me was still waiting to be unleashed.  Then came the envisioning fashion shows.  When I look at the pictures now, it reminds me of a terrible fashion faux pas but then it was blazing hot. “Nothing’s gonna stop us now” was the anthem with my very fashionable debonair dentist friend from Colombo and of course oral surgery was a favourite among many others.   I ended up as a dentist, topping the class in oral surgery with a gold medal to boot and yes, the world was waiting for me.        


Love Story & more                                                                                                         

Nacchachaar, the family purohit, or aachar as we say in Kannada had a knack for prophesying in the Jataka or the reverential horoscope.  I still see that little 40-page notebook sitting in one of Amma’s cupboards where he clearly said that this “shishu” (a.k.a me) would have a mind of her own and would always be knit with the business of blood. 

So there I was studying to be a dentist and it was a really bloody job.  I topped college and tumbled into the real world.  Like all families, mine went through a really lean phase, financially and otherwise.  When my dad’s world was being torn apart, I just couldn’t stand there watching.  It was the early 90s.  I had already met the love of my life and we were seeing each other for almost 6 years then.  It was a time of do or die.  I couldn’t watch the lives of my parents disintegrate before my very eyes; so  I sought, and I found two entities, one of which changed my life from the inside out; God and the other, the magical world of IT-enabled services.

The glitz and glamour and even the term BPO was absent back then in 1997 when a dignified doctor took up a “job” in one of the leading companies in Chennai.  Dad was upset, mum was more pragmatic. I realized that life never came with a signboard called “caution, change ahead!”  From then, it was romancing the unknown, medical records, transcription, training assignments in medical terminology and travel to different parts of India to setup and handhold ITES firms engaged in medical records. 

 I went by the nickname of doc on call at the office.  And even then I would share stories in the lunch room.  I took up assignments in training and this had me travelling extensively.  Every class that I started would begin with a story and I found that trainees would be waiting for my next session, only to hear another story.  Life was a big roller coaster ride, changes a plenty, growing, flourishing but lacking in some space.  I had a very steady income, steep in fact, and it was during this time, that we were married.  Two weddings, albeit the same groom, one a completely vegetarian Madhwa wedding at New Woodlands and other, also a completely vegetarian one, to the chagrin of my extremely Christian and non-vegetarian in-laws, but love is blind they say.  Mine sure was!! The journey continued where many stories were woven during this decade, of love, hope, reassurance, and reconciliation.


Ms. Change meets Mrs Reinvention:

By 2000, the world did not end as predicted by Nostradamus and Y2K didn’t do too much, except to make a few people very rich and I was getting a little worn out with the qwerty world, so I decided to step back into dentistry.  It was a well-informed decision and the practice was established without fanfare.

Then it was that Ms. Change (I like to keep her in the feminine) knocked on my door again.  This time my little baby girl was in my arms and she smiled like an angel.  She came after 9 long years and she is precious.   Between being mummy and doctor, I guess you know who took over.  My practice was a huge one and it would almost take me 11 pm before I got home.  Most often, my husband would be asleep and Samara would be singing him a lullaby while I would have much intended for it to be the other way around!

 I would spend hours trying to tidy up and put her to bed and it would be time for next morning.  Every evening I would go and deposit my bundle of joy into the arms of my sister-in-law or my mom.  She was being raised by mum, and it was an excellent choice, but after 12 years of practice, a whole ton of well-wishers and plenty of appointments, I did not want to play surrogate to my baby.  It was time to wind up.  I shut shop and decided that I was going to be the best mother there ever was and I knew that it meant an investment of time. 

 I was raised on a staple diet of books, my interests ranged from Blyton to Rand, Gibran to Shakespeare.  I had to introduce Samara to books as the big Purple Dinosaur was claiming omniscience in our lives; enough to make “I love you “a preferred form of torture at Guantanamo Bay.  The pictures started speaking to my toddler and soon it was “ma, tell me the TORY!”  There I found my calling, helping my little one see a world that was so beautiful from the pages in front of her.  Dabbling in this new venture brought me much joy, it helped me to experience firsthand the power of the spoken word and as I introduced myself to the nuances of the art, I discovered that Frost was indeed true; miles to go before I sleep.


My other love:

The searching led me to meet Eric Miller, a scholar and anthropologist. A few workshops later, Eric and I became good friends.  Public performances were met with much applause, children would always be enraptured, adults would shed tears and I would just allow the story to speak for itself.

Most often people would be amazed at my mastery of words.  How could I not credit this to the mercurial Gemini in me?!  I would rather be the voice of the story than the person narrating or telling.  Then came a journey to the little Red Dot where I met Kamini Ramachandran, a teller from Singapore and after about 3 shots of cappuccino and a few lattes (2 spilt by darling Samara), we decided that something of this magnitude and quality of Singapore’s telling circle had to be brought to India.  Once home, it was an almost a 3-hour phone call with Eric and thus was born one of the first storytelling festivals in South India: The Chennai Storytelling Festival 2012. 

 People would always ask, you are a professional aren’t you, then why do you walk around telling stories?  “Oh,enna doctora??  Appo edhukku story solrel?!” (Are you a doctor, then why are you telling stories?!”)  My answers would always be in the gentle affirmative, a profession is something that you usually profess isn’t it? It would be bordering on insanity to most of them(the world finds it strange to see light in unseen things), but I have found freedom and safety in my madness, the freedom of discovery and expression, the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave us in something.

 In my journey of reinvention as a fine storyteller, someone who seeks to liberate the spirit of the story, I realized that there is really no competition.  All the world’s a stage said the Bard and I believe that a space is carved out when you break free from traditional and experience the joy of doing things for the love of it.  Many stages, many genres and many interactions later, I stand not having a tangible record of my achievements but if it’s a smile I have brought to a child’s lip, if it’s a string in someone’s heart that I tugged or if it’s a lone tear drop of memory from a cataract-ridden eye, then yes, my book is full of them.

 My deepest passion is in letting people see the unseen, my biggest challenge is making print jump out alive, especially in the genre of Biblical storytelling.   Imagining how one would have imagined, is where my interests are kindled…I always tell my daughters, if only I could get into your mind and see how you see me, my world would be more beautiful.  I have really been fascinated with how the blind see… through their mind’s eye… My desire is to train visually-challenged individuals into storytellers, so the world can see their world, in monochrome and colour.  It’s time we started journeying into a world with our eyes closed….Arrivederci!