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!



Story # 15: A Heroic Journey: B.V. Lakshmi



This is an amazing journey of a fighter. Regardless of what life throws at her, Lakshmi chooses to face it with great determination and fortitude. This reinvention was thrust upon her; events not in her control forcing her to recalibrate with the new challenges that kept appearing in succession. Yet she shows us the power of the Mind over Body and how one can find resources within oneself to face any adversity.

This story took a long winded route before it took the shape you see it. Skype conversations helped create the first, second and third draft, before it was done to satisfaction!  

You can contact Lakshmi at :


Striking a pose with my long hair!

Birth Story


My mother was milking the cow when she had her pains and I was delivered right there in the cow shed! That’s why people used to say “Thavuttukku vaangeena pullai”, meaning bought from the cows! Near Madurai, just opposite Kodai Road Junction my Mother’s father had a huge mansion house and I was born there on January 6th 1972. My Grandfather saw my long legs and hands and commented that I would become a dancer when I grow up! (Though I never learnt to dance formally, I still have great interest and flair for music and dance!)

Mother had 16 siblings and her last sibling; my Chithi, was born just 6 months before I was! My Maternal Grandfather was a landowner with a hotel business in Kodai Road while my Paternal Grandfather was his business partner and friend. Later on my Paternal Grandfather moved to Shoranur and settled there.

While living in Kodai road my Father used to teach music to my mother’s elder sister as he had grown up learning Sama Veda and Devi Mahatmiyam. So my Maternal Grandfather had great regard for my father and one thing led to another, horoscopes were exchanged and my father’s horoscope matched with my mothers’. In a short span of time my parents and the two families were brought together in marriage.

My father soon applied and got a job with RBI and was posted to Chennai. My elder brother and I were born in Kodai Road but grew up in Gangu Reddy Street, Egmore; Chennai till we moved to RBI staff quarters in 1975 and lived there till 1985.


Life was great in the eyes of this little girl! We were a close knit family and I have fond memories of those times together. Yet very soon my Maternal Grandmother and then Grandfather passed away in quick succession and my Mother who always had a great sense of responsibility towards her family insisted that she would take care of her sisters and so three of my mother’s sister’s joined us at RBI quarters and Mother went out of her way to help and provide for her siblings.

My Father was also taking care of his family and with his meagre salary he now had to provide for 7 people in the house and this started adding a lot of stress on them. Father and Mother were working very hard to keep the family together and this showed on my Mother; she was so invested in the family and taking care of them she neglected herself completely.

Soon we had to move to Bombay as my Father received a promotion and was transferred to Bombay. My aunts had to go back to their brother’s house in Madurai and my brother and I also went to Madurai for some time till my Parents found a house in Bombay, but Mother came back to take me midway through 9th standard as she did not want to leave me alone in Madurai.

I took admission in a school in Bombay, while my brother continued to study in Madurai and finished his 12th from there. While we adjusted to the new environment and culture of Bombay, everything slowly settled down as we started enjoying life there.

My Mother’s Struggle

I was going to appear for my 10th Board Exams in March when my Mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. We were shaken up but even then we were hopeful and quite sure once she underwent surgery things would go back to normal. Her surgery was unfortunately scheduled closer to my Math Exam.

I don’t know how I wrote that exam. I only know I went for it in a daze, as I was thinking about the surgery and how I needed to take care of her afterwards.  Mother’s surgery was successful and she came home from hospital much to our relief, but my results had a different story to tell. Though I was an excellent student and usually topped both in studies and sports, I had done very well in all papers that I appeared for except Maths.  I failed in that one paper. I was devastated. There were lot of negative comments and those who I thought were my friends turned around and ridiculed me. More than failing, this attitude change from friends shocked me.

It was only my Mother’s words that helped me during this time. It was like both of us had written a test and she had passed (by coming out of surgery safely) while I had to keep my chin up and not lose faith. She spoke to me at length about standing up for myself, being assertive and encouraged me to see failures as stepping stone in life. This was the first time my mother opened up and shared her feelings and her thoughts and we became very close in that brief period of time. I wrote the paper again in October and passed with flying colours. My mother was happy and she urged me to excel.

She was in and out of hospital and we were battling with the disease. At this time as I was an active member of NCC, I chose to go for an important camp but when I came back, I had to listen to a lot of angry words from my relatives after which I was not allowed to go for any camp again. These incidents impacted me tremendously and continued to haunt me for a long time afterwards. It made me bitter and angry and that sat very deeply within me, which I did not realise till much, much later.

Mother passed away on Aug 4th 1988 when she was just 39 years.

Inner struggle

I was just 16 years old when Mother passed away and responsibility of the house fell on my shoulders. I was now full time caretaker for the 3 of us, cooking, cleaning and caring for the house. I stopped going out to play the way I used to and slowly withdrew into myself. I stopped being the extroverted person I was. I did not even realise the change that was happening as I rejected opportunities that came my way, choosing to stay back to take care of the family and not push myself to explore options for myself. Though the school teachers and after that my college classmates encouraged and supported me, unconsciously I pushed away all opportunities that would in any way keep me away from the family. I started sacrificing my own happiness, passions in order to satisfy the needs of the other family members. I imposed rules on my own life, opting to do things within the framework of family and not allowing myself to take pleasure in what I actually wanted do.

All this was a result of my thinking which led to a lot of resentment and anger being bottled up within me. I believed I had not been able to live my childhood completely and I was thrust into a role of responsibility without really wanting that. I assumed this responsibility, forgoing everything, without realising that I need not have been this way.

In the midst of all this I went on to do an MA Sociology from Bombay and also completed a PG. Diploma in Special Education from Chennai and worked there for 4 years with my father to take care of me as my guardian. Of course by now, my Father was keen to have me married.

Alliances were sought and in the traditional manner I met and married my husband Ramki. His work required him to leave the country and soon I found myself travelling to the US for an 11 year stay. Things moved pretty much like it does for most NRI; we got a green card and I picked up a job as a Special Educator in a Vocational Unit. After four years there I became mother to 2 beautiful girls in quick succession. I quit my job to become a full time mother and revelled in raising my dear daughters. Things were going pretty smoothly when my husband expressed a desire to go back to India. He felt a need to stay close to his parents and wanted to spend some time with them in their old age. Reluctantly I agreed, after all things appeared fine in the US and I did not want to relocate. We chose Hyderabad and moved there lock stock and barrel in March 2011.

Six months after our arrival back to India it reared its head.

Meet my Challenges

I had severe bleeding in August 2011 and consulted a Gynaecologist. The doctor began by ruling out everything for this to occur and I was told there was a possibility of polyps. I was advised surgery to remove them and soon my surgery was scheduled for March 12th and by now my blood count was way down to 7 with all the heavy bleeding.

My surgery meant to last for 4hours extended up to 12 hours and the doctor did not disclose anything to me except that she had to remove the Uterus and my ovaries. Only latter I came to know that she knew from the beginning that this was something more than mere polyps. When I came out of surgery my entire family was waiting eagerly to see me, glad that I had faced this so bravely.

On the second night at hospital I had a strange dream; I thought someone was knocking on the door and when I opened it, the person announced “You have Cancer”. I woke up with a jolt. I felt disturbed but did not share this with anyone.

I recovered from surgery and was soon back home. Almost a month later, on the way to our first review meeting with the Gynaecologist, my husband gathered his courage to tell me I had tested positive for cancer. We were going to meet the Oncological Surgeon who had operated on me and who also happened to be my Gynaec’s husband. The way the Gynae had managed the surgery and brought in her husband an Onco-Surgeon to take care of me at the operating table was admirable. Inspite of knowing all this at that point I was just shattered; I could not speak to my Gynaec or the Surgeon.

The fear was overpowering; thoughts of my mother and her struggles with the dreaded disease played in my mind constantly, I did the only thing that gave me solace – pray. Even though I am a believer, now faith came to my rescue and I prayed deeply for help and guidance.


I have guidance

Just before my surgery I made friends with a neighbour who introduced me to a library close-by called Kaleidoscope and there met a person who went on to play a very significant role in my life. My children had a wonderful time participating in events there and I was touched and moved by the warm acceptance they showed towards me. When I shared my concerns about my health, they suggested I do a course in NLP. I was still too stressed and confused to focus on understanding how my mind could be related to my health in any way and did not commit to NLP then.

It was only after my surgery when I was again urged to do the NLP course. I went along. I was blank and numb and willing to try anything to help me through this period. When I joined the classes, I felt a positive energy course through me. I attended the entire month, following this I was asked to join the NLP personal growth classes. These classes started having a positive effect on me. I learnt affirmations and was guided through books, reading and sharing with others. My coach brought out the best in me, confronting me if I did not achieve goals that I set and urging me to clear my mind. I started by removing all the excess baggage I had from the past. I cleared myself of self-pity, though this took a long while to clear and certain belief systems which were very strong within me. Learning to stay positive and focussed was drilled into me in these sessions.

There are no coincidences in life and I strongly believe I am connected to all these people who took care of me and they were placed there to guide me through this life. The Gynae who cared for me and carried me through this entire ordeal and her husband was available at the operating theatre to take care right through the recovery period. My radiologist was a neighbour and even my NLP coach, I found later on was my brother’s friend’s sister The most wonderful friends I made at the library and in my apartment were god send as they took care of my children and many of my needs. Elderly people in my apartment started sending food almost every day. Friends took care of the children and so many more wonderful souls who were placed in my life, to take care of me.

The chemotherapy and radiation treatment went off well. Every time I went for chemo, I affirmed I would come back safe and with no untoward side effects. I used to keep books beside me, read and pray throughout these sessions. I had no hair loss and hardly any nausea. In fact at this stage my hair was growing longer and my doctor even commented on this amazing fact! Coming back to see my father taking care of my small children who were just 6 & 5 years old and my husband beside me at every step of this, I learnt to be grateful I had a loving and supportive family and friends.

Another challenge; another fight

We decided to go on a much needed vacation to Coorg soon after the chemo. It was a great holiday! We came back and I went for a check-up as there was slight pain in my abdominal region. A growth was detected in my colon, this was unrelated to the uterus but an obviously a new development. I went through many procedures again. Colonoscopy showed that there was new growth in the colon and that I may need to undergo surgery again, the Lymph nodes were positive and I had to go through another round of chemo as well. So once again I went through a major surgery to remove the growth and this was followed by rounds of chemotherapy.

I was broken down. I cried and again went into a cycle of self-pity. Was there no end to this?

The only people who I could find solace with was my NLP group. So I went back to my coach and asked her why I was going through all this again, not even sure if she could give me answers I was looking for. But she did. She asked me to examine all the anger that I had not still let go. Negativity, fear and resentment of all my past were still within and she coached me on every minute aspect that I could work on.

I renewed my efforts to think positively and practised self-compassion. I started reading Louise Hay and became aware of how the mind has the power to heal. I was also given a book called Zero Limits by my coach and I found it truly transformational. These books had a great impact on me and I understood healing is an outcome of faith and surrender to the Universe. Reading these books made me a different person and I evolved with a new perspective on myself and life.

Once again I was guided by a divine force and recommended to a special Naturopathy treatment in Cochin, through one of our friends. This centre was run by a reputed Oncology Surgeon doctor who had switched to naturopathy after seeing the side effects of chemo-treatments that he himself used to give. This alternative therapy was not a route my Radiologist approved of, yet I went ahead to register for this treatment for which I had to stay in the Centre in Cochin for 10 days.

At Cochin the treatment required me to stay at the centre by myself and my family checked into a hotel nearby. I underwent complete check-up and the treatment plan was specifically designed for me. I underwent chelation treatment to remove toxins and the Doctor also spoke at length about Mind-Body healing to me.

They did a thorough analysis of my nutritional intake and initially all the bodily requirements were given through intravenous methods. From the first day to the tenth day a tremendous change came within me, I saw myself grow stronger. I understood in great detail all the nutritional requirements that my body needed. I was asked to go gluten free and diary free. I found a lot of changes happening in my body and a general feeling of wellness within me. I left the centre feeling rejuvenated.

Soon after this I went with my family to visit Guruvayoor, once again that made me feel I was under divine guidance and I must trust the process of life.

Challenges come in threes

At this time my husband who had completed his assignment in Hyderabad, proposed we relocate back to Atlanta. My father supported his decision and felt that the move would be good for all of us as a family. As my brother and his family were also at Atlanta, we decided this would be best for us. Though I was reluctant to leave India, I soon found I had to pack my bags and follow him. Happy to have my brother’s support at Atlanta as well, I soon settled in to this new routine.

Once again I went for a check-up, routine check was normal but the yearly Colonoscopy showed a new growth in the rectal region. We were in disbelief. What have I done to deserve this? My husband’s anguish added to my pain and distress. Is there no respite for us? Do we have to go through this once again??

Yet, this time I pulled myself together quickly and determined to look at all the positives that I could see in this situation. Keeping constantly in touch with the NLP group and my coach helped me stay focussed, determined and positive. We were lucky to detect this early, we could be third time lucky and I just had to let go and trust where this was taking me. I resolved to play my part in a role that had been chosen for me. I focused on being grateful and thankful every minute. Unlike before, now I could really feel gratitude whole heartedly and just being present in the moment helped things move in a direction I knew would take me to a better place.

I met an Onco-Surgeon who believed in the Mind-Body connect and who encouraged me to continue in this path of self-compassion. I was determined to be positive no matter what. Though my Naturo-therapist in India was against the treatment I decided to go ahead and have a Colostomy, which was removal of the Colon and an ileostomy which was an addition of a pouch for removal of body-waste. The surgeon told it would be a life altering surgery and I would also undergo a lifestyle change, yet the need to get rid of this once and for all was running in my mind. I took the plunge bravely but not fully realising the impact it would have on my life.


Being present to myself

The surgery went on for 10 hours as there were some complications. I came out of surgery with an ileostomy bag and on the second day after surgery they asked me to walk. It was very difficult those initial days. Every moment was a challenge. Managing the bag was a time consuming task and I would spend up to 4 hours every time cleaning and draining it. This was happening 3-4 times a day and half my day was spent in the bathroom.

Finally my doctor advised me to visit an Ostomy nurse, who specialised in care of the bag. I fixed an appointment at the specialist hospital and made weekly visits to manage my bag. The nurse who attended was a kind soul, who patiently taught me how to manage the bag and the skin around the bag. Slowly I learnt to schedule and manage my food intake, exercise and routine. I forced myself to stop feeling repulsed by the whole bag-management and learnt to make the process more pleasant, like listening to music and learning new songs. We all got desensitized as a family and they learnt to be patient with me when I was in the bathroom even keeping me company at times and making poop jokes!

Once I learned the proper management of the bag, my life was much easier and I could start doing things I wanted to. Meditating and walking slowly became a part of my routine. I soon got the courage to go out of the house and when I drove the car for the first time after this life changing surgery, I felt so thankful and liberated. Cooking all my favorite dishes, caring for my house, going out to meet friends or family and becoming independent once more, were goals I made and started achieving rapidly. Accidents were a bother but I slowly started learning how to manage it without allowing it to stop me in any way. I applied for a volunteer job at the local library and got it too! Lot of things changed; my emotional connections, physical relationship and life itself. I was not the only one affected by what I was going through; my husband’s journey with me is another story to tell!

My Learning

At every step of my life I encountered people who helped and supported me and gave me that impetus to keep me moving forward. My family was my first pillar of support and then my NLP group another pillar, with their help I started setting goals for myself and felt great joy when I saw myself reaching it.

I feel I have climbed a mountain and jumped off with full faith that life would protect me. I have learnt that I must live life to the fullest and take care of myself first before I can take care of others. No matter what happens, have full faith and surrender myself to a higher intelligence. Love myself unconditionally; accept myself and my mistakes. Live in the present moment, let go of the past and not worry about the future. Stop doubting or judging myself and not undermine myself. The mind is limitless and must surround itself with positive and when we change ourselves those around will change automatically.

I only focus on the fact that the mind can work miracles over anything else and has the power to even change the effect of the DNA. I say “So, What?” and continue to be present in this moment as an authentic, happy person.


Story # 14: Changing Tracks ;- From scientist to avid blogger-Anuradha Shankar’s journey!


Here is a story of reinvention that is happenstance! Incidents in her life, coincided in a manner that helped carry her on a wave of rethink and discovery. Anuradha Shankar is a versatile woman with an ability to balance the traditional with the modern, an ability to adapt to change quickly and with a sharp eye for detail. Her unique journey from a wannabe scientist with no travel experience to a travel blogger, story writer, book critic and most amazingly a fantastic amateur photographer is a story that is very inspiring. The decisions and choices she has made at every step shows us her unique ability to focus on what is closest to her heart and to pursue it with excellence. I am always fascinated by her wonderful view of the world and her blog “The Wandering Mind” is a great way to see it…

Anuradha has a very widely read travel blog “The Wandering Mind”, is a published writer and book reviewer and can be contacted at:

This is her story, in her own words…We Celebrate  another reinvention on March 8th: International Women’s Day!


The first phase

   I was born in Delhi, on the 5th of Feb, 1975. I guess I must not have wanted to      leave the safe comfort of my mother’s womb, because I arrived way past the  date the doctors had given for me, and being patient people, they decided to wait and see, rather than hurry my way out! Thus, my mom spent weeks in the   hospital, while I probably made the most of the time before I would be forced to   face the real world. The much awaited and cherished granddaughter that I was,   I was pampered beyond imagination by extended family and friends, all of  whom were in abundance in Delhi at the time!

The pampering and indulgence only increased, added with an element of worry and fear, when I was diagnosed  with a   congenital heart defect and thus, my mom’s tryst with hospital continued; eventually leading to my operation at the age of 3. One worry ceased and another began, when my father was diagnosed with Hodgkins disease, a form of cancer. This grapple with hospitals only ended with his eventually passing on in December 1979.

How my mother would have coped with widowhood, no source of income and a sickly child, is something I can only imagine, but her biggest source of support were her brothers and my aunt (my father’s sister). Eventually, we left Delhi and shifted to Mumbai, then Bombay, where my uncle (my Mama – mother’s brother) worked. That is how another phase of my life began.


The next Phase

My memories of Delhi are sketchy. Most of them are scattered ones from the years I went back for holidays.  It is Bombay I have felt most comfortable in and the city I can call mine. This is the city of my childhood and youth, the city which has made me the person I am. I came here as a shy, fatherless girl, too hesitant even to talk to people. I had too few friends in my early days of school, and kept to myself, rarely speaking to anyone, building up a reputation as an introvert. I had few friends, but those I had, were staunch ones, who stuck with me. However, my best friends during this period were books and my mom… yes, in that order!

It was to books that I turned to for every problem, and whether this worked or not, I shared everything else with my mom. I relied on my mom for every issue, but it was my uncle whom I turned to for advice and support. It is he who has influenced my life more than anyone else, giving me room to grow, make my own decisions, helped me stand by them, and above all, stood by me through thick and thin.                                                                                                       

His marriage when I was 14 was probably the biggest event in my life then. It brought two more members to our small family – my aunt and later, my sister. My aunt came into my life at a critical point. I was then in the 9th standard, and by anyone’s reckoning, completely unprepared to take the SSC board exams, a prospect which scared everyone but me. She guided me through the maze of preparation with books, and sample question papers, adding her expertise as a lecturer to inspire me to do better. That I spent the last few weeks leading to the exams happily playing with my new-born sister certainly didn’t help matters. Thankfully, I performed reasonably well, and everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief.


My choices, my decisions

My mother had long harboured dreams of her daughter becoming a doctor. However, I told her quite early that there was no chance of that happening… ever! She made her peace with that, but seeing me do well in science hoped I would at least become an engineer.

By then, I had discovered that I was good at two subjects – English and Physics. By that time I had grown into an avid reader and read anything I came across, my teachers encouraged me to write as well, correcting my mistakes and making helpful suggestions which have stayed with me through all these years. But the one subject I really enjoyed was Physics. It was the only subject where I consistently did well, without any help whatsoever and it was no surprise that I chose to study this when the time came.

Topping my junior college in Physics both the years I was there just made me even surer of my choice. This was my decision alone, one made with the idea that I wanted to follow my heart. Not everyone was happy with it, least of all my mother. But I knew that this was where my future lay, and with my uncle’s support, finally managed to convince her.

And that is how I ended up in Ruia College as a B.Sc student, choosing the unusual combination of Physics, Maths and Statistics.

Ruia opened up a new world for me. I began travelling by local trains, learnt how to navigate the crowds, how to manage during dire situations, like riots and bomb blasts and above all, it gave me the confidence to explore the city by myself.  This was when I began walking around the city, buying cheap paper at wholesale rates near Crawford Market, joining the British Council library, walking along the footpath bookstalls at Fort and sighing over a book I couldn’t afford to buy.

B.Sc gave way to my Masters, again in Physics, this time at the University Campus in Kalina. This was yet another interesting world … the library is where I spent most of my time, but more interesting were the possibilities…of research, encouraged by prominent scientists who came over to talk to us and with easy access to the labs at TIFR and BARC, it made me yearn to work there.

But above all, it is those two years at the University which brought out the social side of my life. This was the time I first began making new friends, talking to complete strangers, laughing with people I had barely met. It was then that I realised that this was what I had been looking for – the confidence which comes from doing what we do best!

It was inevitable by then, that I would continue my studies, leading to a Ph.D. My mother yearned for me to get married, but I had an agreement with her – she could go ahead and look for a match for me and I would look for jobs as well as further studies. We would weigh the options we had, and take whatever seemed best. As it turned out, the way ahead lay at IIT Mumbai with a Ph.D course in the Physics department.


An Unexpected change

My first two years at IIT were sheer bliss. Living in a hostel was a new experience, and I discovered what it meant to make friends and live with them! Besides, it was a world of its own, one I loved, and enjoyed living in. I opened up even more, and discovered an interest in music and drama which I didn’t even know was there within me. However, to mar all this bliss was the fact that scarcely within a year, I was told to change my topic, and my guide – a situation I wasn’t happy with, but had to comply with. Then, even as I found my way around a new topic, a new lab, a new guide, things started to go wrong. I fell down and sprained my ankle, an injury that hurts me to this day, I started having health problems, and above all, my mother fell sick. By then I was 4 years into the Ph.D. programme and while I saw people around me progressing with their work, I realised that I was stuck in a rut, mainly due to lack of proper guidance.

The breaking point came when I was at a conference in Delhi. Some stray comments made me realise that my guide had no intention of helping me complete my research anytime soon. He was all set to drag things along for years, with no progress at all. On the same day, I received a call from home, saying that my mom was to be operated on, and so I had to rush home. It was in the train, sitting all alone in a coach that it struck me; I couldn’t possibly go on. I could understand delays due to practical issues, but dragging things along for no reason was unacceptable. Besides, I wanted to do something meaningful and a Ph.D for the degree alone wasn’t what I really wanted. If things continued as they did, that is exactly what would happen, as I kept seeing with students all around me. “Do I want this for myself?” was the question I kept asking

Even then, I tried not to give up. I asked the department to give me a sabbatical so I could stay at home with my mother and think things over. They refused, and that’s when I decided that I would hold on to my ideas and principles and like always, follow my heart. My heart told me to leave, and that’s how I left IIT, abruptly.

It almost seemed like the end of the world, but my family stood solidly behind me, never once questioning my choice. They after all, knew everything I had gone through. As my mother recuperated, unwilling to stay idle at home, I decided to do something different.

A fresh start was what I needed and I found one at the Alliance Francaise, Mumbai. Learning French was an interesting experience, but more interesting were the people I met. I made friends, explored the city, lost weight, excelled in the language, and had so much fun that a year passed by before I knew it!


Changing Tracks…

Then again, life changed once more, when my mother found a suitable alliance for me and Shankar came into my life. The months before our marriage passed in a blur and before I realised, I was settled in a new house with a new family and soon looking forward to my own child.

Samhith was born on the 6th of May, 2003, and for the first couple of years, kept me really busy. I had never intended to be a working mother, so I left my French classes and decided to be a stay home instead. There was so much to learn and so much to do, that the years flew by!

Meanwhile, my new family loved to travel. Till then, travel for me had meant trips to my grandparents’ or uncles’ houses, and the occasional temple visits. Shankar and his family, on the other hand, travelled often, and everywhere! They visited temples all the time, some of which I hadn’t even heard of; they took short breaks as and when possible. Driving somewhere, suddenly they would recall some interesting place and we would take a detour! This was all new to me, but I enjoyed it to the hilt, even with my new born son in arms!

There were so many places we visited that I started a diary to keep track. Seeing me scribble something one day, my sister in law, Sandhya, asked me why I didn’t write an article. I answered, “Who will publish my articles?” and she replied, “You can start a blog!”

I had learnt some basics of computers at IIT, but still wasn’t comfortable around them. But Sandhya on the other hand, was a computer professional and we had a comp at home with an internet connection. That is how my life changed… yet again!

“A Wandering Mind” was the only thing that struck me as I sat facing the monitor, wondering what to name my blog. Little did I know then, that the blog would take on a mind of its own and wander into the most unexpected places. Over the last seven years, I have diversified from writing only about my travels, to writing book reviews, articles, stories, and even about events and festivals! I have had articles published in newspapers and online magazines, but the best part has been the people I have met (well, not all face to face, but many just on the net) through the blog. It never ceases to surprise me just how many like-minded people I have met, whom I would never have known otherwise!

When I first began the blog in 2007, it was just an online diary – a place where I jotted down things about places I had visited.  All I had then was the old, manual Kodak Camera and photos were clicked rarely, after much thought and printed and saved for posterity. They simply served to brighten up my narrative and nothing more.

Then I bought a Sony Cybershot, and before I knew it, morphed into a photographer. It wasn’t the story of the place alone that I could write about now. I could even show my readers the place, as I wanted them to see it. My relationship with the Cybershot lasted all of 5 years, during which time; I grew increasingly impatient with its limitations.

I was tempted to buy a DSLR, but with a naughty son who constantly demanded attention, I knew it was more than I could handle. Then thankfully, I had met other bloggers and photographers, and on their advice, bought myself a bridge camera – a Nikon P510. Its extended zoom allowed me to capture birds and insects, beautiful landscapes, and allowed me to change settings without the trouble of changing lenses. With my newfound love of bird watching, my son’s interest in anything that moved and my roving eye which wanted to capture everything in sight, this camera seems to work perfectly. For now!

Along the way, ‘A Wandering Mind’ started growing a mind of its own and I felt it was time I diversified. A visit to Kashi with my in laws made me realise just how little people knew of the rituals we perform for our ancestors, though almost all of us perform them. My posts received so many questions that I decided they needed their own space. Thus was born ‘Kashi Yatra’. The posts are almost 6 years old now and yet, I continue to get queries from people eager to go to Kashi and perform rituals.

Storytelling had been an integral part of my childhood, with an extended family of aunts and great aunts who are inveterate story tellers. My mother, to this day, tells the best stories and my son had the benefit of all these years of stories. However, with all these stories in my head already, I wasn’t really happy with the books on Indian stories in the market and thus was born ‘Indian Stories for Children’. The height of my satisfaction was when I was approached to write a series of stories based on mythology for a spiritual group. Though the book isn’t for sale and only for private circulation, it was immensely satisfying to write stories my own way! The stories are available on my blog for anyone who wants to read them. What else could I ask for?

Also along the way, I found recognition as a blogger, invited to blogger trips and meets and have received accolades galore. While my responsibilities as a mother and wife prevent me from taking all of them up and also restrict my travel opportunities, they all simply go on to reinforce my belief that following my heart and changing tracks was the best decision I ever made!

It has been a roller coaster ride of many choices and decisions made at different points in my life, some may have been right and others wrong. But there are no regrets – possibly because each and every one of those decisions has been my own. The credit goes, not to me, but my mother and my uncle, who gave me advice, made suggestions and stood by me, but never, ever made any of my decisions. They gave me the freedom to make my own choices, and today as a mother of a son fast approaching his teens, I only wish I have the same wisdom they showed!

Story No: 13 # Life Changes; Coming to terms with the good and the bad- Tina Praveen


        Her positive spirit shines through the narrative as Tina Praveen, shares with us a life of love and loss…and renewed love. She has a deep connect with people and a great commitment towards her loved ones.  I would say she was forced to re-imagine herself and her life, due to circumstances that were clearly beyond any human control.  She writes with an easy flow of words and makes reading enjoyable as we join her in her childhood travails and subsequent move through work and career.

 She seems to derive strength from all her early experiences and uses that to go beyond the challenges thrown at her and to look within and without for affirmations and gratitude.  I am humbled by the honesty with which she chooses to share herself and her thoughts, as it is not easy to revisit such moments in life.  I see a need to reinvent our beliefs and belief systems when the choices we have are suddenly and unexpectedly taken away from us.

(Tina Praveen can be contacted at

Why am I telling you my story?!

 I have always been described as the proverbial story teller or narrator among my friends, in fact been infamous for the extent of theatrics I add to any incident I’m regaling them about. But when it comes to talking or writing about me…I seem to be facing a wall! I wonder whether I even have anything worth narrating that people might find interesting.  Sowmya approached me to write my story since she considered me as one who has reinvented herself midlife. I was genuinely surprised. I honestly don’t perceive myself in that light. I have never been a woman who has consciously made an effort to do so, or like some others who’ve had the resilience to break free from a life of bondage or suffering, or even someone who aimed to give additional meaning to her life. I was very much a happily married housewife, laid back and contented….with no other aspirations or ambitions to pursue anything other than being a good wife to my husband and mother to my only daughter. But the course of life changes and so do you……..

My early years 

My father was a doctor in the Indian army and as a result I had a typical “fauji” upbringing, where one is always ready to move, change cities, houses, friends and schools at the drop of a hat!! But I loved it all…….These frequent transfers, ability to adjust to all kinds of environment, interact with people from all over the country are factors which I guess makes life in the forces so unique and intriguing. I can only describe my childhood as a very happy one with very poignant memories of Shillong where I started my schooling at Loreto Convent.

I remember while studying in Nursery, my elder sister would invariably forget to pick me up from my classroom, where I would be waiting for her. Together we had to board our bus to return home as her classes ended an hour later than mine.  It was only on reaching home my mother would realize that I had been left behind.  It would be quite some time before Dad (he was a Gynecologist and always on call) could free himself and come to pick me up.  During these moments, I would become a fervent follower of Lord Jesus and would sit in the school church pew waiting for deliverance and cursing my sister for being so irresponsible and insensitive!!

Another memory that’s etched deeply in the recesses of my mind is that of our neighbors who lived downstairs. They were Nagas by origin. During Christmas and other festive occasions they would roast a pig alive by tying its limbs, turning it upside down and burning it over a fire. The pig would squeal in pain and hearing it was enough to make one’s hair stand.  I often wondered how they even relished eating it after making it undergo such third degree torture!!

When we were posted to Pune, I befriended my neighbour’s son who was a paraplegic.  While in NDA, he was ragged by his seniors who had kicked him so hard on his back that his spinal cord was injured and he became a paraplegic for life at the tender age of 16!  I was in my 2nd Std then.  Despite the age difference we became the best of friends.  I would feed him, sponge him, help him brush, scratch him when he would feel itchy, read to him.  I shared all my secrets with him and so did he.  He finally passed away eight years later.  During that time, I would often accompany him for his physiotherapy and walks.  Met many, who like him, were incapacitated or unfortunate to be leading such painful lives.  It made me realize at that young age itself to value, appreciate and feel blessed to lead a healthy, carefree life.

Growing Up

I had  just completed my 10th Boards, when my sister, who was studying for her MBA then, while returning from college was hit by a car and met with a very serious accident.  She had several fractures and was severely injured. Her accident not only affected her life but made a deep impact in mine too.  I got admitted in hospital to take care of her as my father was posted in Lucknow (we were in Pune) and if my mother were to nurse my sister, I would have to stay all alone at home.  Thus, my long journey in hospitals began….

Eight surgeries and 10 months later, walking precariously with crutches, my sister was finally discharged!  So was I!  Boy! Was I  glad to come back home!  I had missed out on school all this while, but I had received a different education altogether while in hospital.  I can only describe the experience as a very eclectic one.  In short, I learnt to respect life and consider myself as very fortunate…and appreciate the fact that I was alive and kicking!

With time, I completed my post graduation and started teaching Public Administration in Lucknow University after qualifying my Lectureship.  I started pursuing my doctoral studies too at the same time.  Teaching in the University was again a remarkable experience. So unlike what I had led so far. Life in the defence forces is bereft of caste, religion and creed. One is just a human being! Not so in Lucknow University. The dynamics of the organisation are defined by the caste you belong to. It was initially extremely difficult and claustrophobic to adjust to such an environment, having been brought up so liberally.  But I learnt the ropes with time and tried my best to remain unaffected.  Fortunately, on the academic front, it was very enriching.  Teaching post graduate students, some even senior to you was also pretty intimidating at times.  I started enjoying it once I learnt to immunize myself against the caste system that prevailed.  The University was also a hotbed for politics where students (these were our future politicians undergoing training) would fire bullets at random!! In fact, I had a close shave one day when someone fired a country made rifle and it whizzed past my ear!!

Falling in love…

 I fell in love with a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force!  I had met Praveen during a friend’s marriage.  He was the groom’s friend and I was the brides.  We met then and after that, only during our engagement!  We fell in love through letters.  In fact if somebody is to ask me today what is the most precious possession of my life… my reply would be Praveen’s letters to me.  We wrote to each other every single day till we got married.  When we were to get engaged, honestly speaking, at the last moment, I started getting cold feet.  Wondered if I was doing the right thing for I knew him only through our letters.  We were culturally apart; he was a Kannadiga Brahmin and me a casteless Bengali!  He was a vegetarian and I, a hard core carnivore!  He believed in rising early, I was nocturnal!  Oh the differences! I suddenly started having fears whether he had pyorrhoea, or had dirty finger nails, or had the habit of shaking his legs!!  Doubts were unending…but by then there was no turning back.  Not that I have any regrets then or today.  Marrying an Air Force officer meant following him all over the country to all far flung places he would get posted to. I never even once considered staying away from Praveen and pursuing my teaching career.  I guess I was too much in love and being with him meant more to me, or else one can only describe me as someone lacking ambition!  Two years into marriage and my daughter, Naina was born.  Ten years of complete bliss, never expected married life to be so idyllic. Praveen and I often wondered why other couples complained and fought with each another.

Adjustments, compromises were never issues with us. At times a certain fear set in….this was all too good to be true… seemed too perfect…would it last??

Life changes…

It didn’t… Praveen, while test flying India’s first indigenous transport aircraft Saras, met with a crash in March 2009.  My world fell apart. Life seemed to come to a standstill as darkness set in.  Imminent death of a loved one is very traumatic, but mourning their loss becomes even more unbearable when it happens all of a sudden without any exit signs.  I was 36 when I became a widow and my daughter 8 when she lost her father.  I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.  It all seemed so surreal.  I hate reliving those moments but if at all I have to, it still seems so unreal even after all these years.  I built up anger against Praveen for he had promised me we would grow old together.  He had no right to leave me this way….? We had so many dreams we’d dreamt together…and now they were to be only empty promises… I remember how heart wrenching it was and still is whenever I tick the “widow” column whenever I am to fill a form.  Find it difficult, believing to this day that he is not in my life.  People spend varying lengths of times to come to terms with loss. There is generally a pattern one follows, denial, anger, desperation, depression and finally acceptance.  I went through it all. But sooner or later one has to come to terms with the loss.  Tears need not be a marker of the depth of your grief, or your strength as a person.  I realized I didn’t have to gulp my tears to be strong, or retreat into a shell.  Here, I would like to thank my friends immensely who reached out to me. Credit goes to them for helping me tide through these difficult times when I found myself obsessed with grief, unable to function. It’s my friends who stood by me and were pillars of strength.

My mother, on the day of Praveen’s accident met with a massive heart attack that very evening on hearing the news.  They were in Lucknow and I was in Bangalore then.  She had to be operated and was in hospital for nearly a month after that.  It was only later that I got to meet her and share my sorrow.  But by then, it was she who was crying on my shoulder while I offered her consolation.  Dad in the meantime had aged dramatically.  The stress I guess was too much for him to handle.  In my greatest need, my friends were with me through thick and thin.

Also laudable is the love, affection and strength that my in-laws provided me.  My mother-in-law I must mention here is an amazing person with qualities that border on divinity.  I haven’t come across anybody as selfless as her.  Her mere presence brought about a calming effect on my turbulent state of mind.  Getting back into the mainstream of life was not easy.  But the guiding force that brought about rationale into my life was my daughter, N.  Her responsibility brought me back on track.  Praveen may not have kept his promises…but I had to keep mine. I had to bring her up the way he would have wanted.  That was enough to keep me going.  I had led a sheltered and cocooned life all these ten years. Coming back wasn’t easy. One loses confidence. You feel you’re from a different generation altogether. You were never a part of the race, but now that you have taken the plunge, you don’t know the rules of the game.

Life moves on…

 Picking up the threads is a tedious job but I have learnt from experience, time is the best healer as well as teacher.  Difficult times also teach you to handle difficult situations.  I had to run from pillar to post, getting things in order.  The humongous amount of paper work that one needs to do is scary.  Making unending trips to organisations, banks, post offices, RTO, municipality, tehsildar, getting certificates made, changing over things to your name, paying taxes….the list is endless!  But one learns…as I have learnt.  I learnt to handle frustration.  I learnt patience which in turn helped me learn how to get work done in any situation.  I learnt not to rely on anyone as work gets done the fastest when you are doing it on your own.  I learnt time management.  I learnt a lot many things, but the greatest thing I learnt is making and trusting my own decisions.  Sometimes it’s a lonely path when the onus and responsibility of every task lies completely on you.  You blame yourself when things go wrong but you never praise yourself when you’re right.  Today, I have come to terms with life and accepted it with all the good and bad things it has to offer.

Life taught me very young to appreciate what one has in life, for there are millions of others who are not that blessed.  A strong education, supportive and loving parents, in-laws, a healthy and intelligent daughter, a decent living, good friends and a married life which may have lasted only ten years but couldn’t have been better!  In conclusion, I can only say that remembering with tears is one way to love and letting go with a smile is another. I work as an H R Manager and get to interact with people. I like what I do as I love to be amongst people. Also my days are busy and full with hardly any free time for despondency to set in. One thing though I am still learning is to be both fathers as well as a mother to N.  Don’t know how much of justice I will be able to do to this dual role, but I’m trying. N on the other hand, is growing up fast and seeing her grow gives me the greatest joy.  Only regret is that I am not able to share her achievements and success, the parental worries that one faces with children and other issues with Praveen. But I dread the day she’ll leave her nest. That’s the day when I will actually need to do some reinventing!!

Story # 12 : Gaining Resilience: A gentle Spirit that refused to Succumb but fought to Survive


This story is particularly amazing as it tells us of a subtle, on-going and persistent reinvention. A constant balancing act that requires a person to reinvent and reorient herself every day, every minute. I cannot say the reinvention was a dramatic turn of events, but it was more of an internal change, a change in her thinking, her attitude and her response to the challenges. It has created a resilient spirit and that is the reinvention here. It tells us of an unlikely warrior, a gentle spirit that refused to succumb, but fought to survive, with battle scars to show, but no retribution or remorse.

(She continues to live with this spirit, as she matter-of-factly narrates her story to me, encouraged by her daughter to capture her past and record it for the future. This is the first time someone has approached me to write their story and I am deeply honored to do this task. She does not want to be named and I value that need. Yet I want to give credit to her wonderful daughters, and Her for sharing this story with us, so that we may be enriched and empowered to value every life and every living person the way it is…the way they are)


Where it Begins…

   Tamilnadu: 1951, September 19th, a girl was born to a traditional Telugu-Brahmin family of modest

     means.  She was the third of four children, with an elder brother and sister, and a younger brother who     followed soon. Life in the conservative agrarian community was confined but filled with little joys.  She       was sent to a good Tamil medium school and passed her SSLC (11th std) and though she had a desire to study English, their financial means would not allow it,

so she passed Typing and Shorthand Intermediate and a Diploma in Tailoring.

Akka (Elder sister) married into a large family in Bangalore and moved there and so the path was clear for her own marriage.  Yet dowry demands were huge by prospective grooms and they were unable to find a suitable match; till an alliance came from a rich and big family in Bangalore, whose son was working as a technician in a Chemical factory in Tiruchendur and was a talented and upcoming state level Cricket player.

The marriage was fixed and all preparations were being carried out in full swing.  Necessary silver and gold was purchased for the wedding, along with all the “dakshina” that is usually given to the bride.  At this time Anna (Elder Brother) went to Tiruchendur to take a look at the groom and to get measurements for the ring that is usually gifted to the bridegroom.  An innocuous act in reality was construed very seriously by the bridegroom, who opposed this “checking out” by his future in-laws.

Things took a dramatic turn, as he informed his parents and immediately a telegram reached the family, which was opened by Father.  It said very simply and bluntly; “Stop all marriage plans, rest in person”.  Stunned, furious and extremely pained by this, Father was ready to file a suit against the family when he came to know that the objection was over the visit made by Anna.

Yet, such a move seemed foolhardy and so everything came to a standstill.  Life moved on, but not for her.  No other alliance was suitable and the pressure was building up. It was a difficult and confusing time for her, not knowing where her destiny lay and at the same time not wanting to be a burden on her parents.

Accidentally Akka met the same family at the Hanumantha Jayanthi function at Ragiguda and realized that both sides were still searching, so they decided to revive discussions and reunite the families.  Soon they were married in September 1976.  The groom had been laid off at that time due to some issues at his factory and was staying with his parents in Bangalore.

How different we are…

Raised in a conservation Brahmin family and coming from a village, she found the ways of the family very starkly different and difficult to adjust to. Her sister-in-laws were well educated and had doctorates in various subjects and the men were also very musically inclined.  They appeared to lead a very sophisticated life, and the strangeness became even more real as she found from her younger brother that her Husband of two days had asked him money to buy cigarettes.  Surely what went through her mind were revulsion and a trill of fear…

Navratri and Deepavalli are very important for a new bride in her Husband’s family.  Yet she was sent both times to her parents place with nothing in hand and with no money. Soon a telegram arrived reinstating her Husband to the job he had and things seemed to be looking up.  Borrowing money from his In-laws for the trip to Tiruchendur where he worked, her Husband left, vaguely promising to call her when ready.

In December unable to wait any longer the family went to Tiruchendur, where they met a friend, who showed them the house where he lived.  Relieved they stayed on for a few days and left afterwards, leaving her to face this life on her own.

Things came to light slowly. He came back home very late one night and his eyes were red.  She was shocked, to realise her Husband had been drinking. When confronted he did not deny it, easily admitting that he was used to drinking and that he would continue to do so.  Her horror at this discovery was insurmountable, (she remembered hiding from the laborer who would sometimes come drunk, to till their small piece of land ), and to imagine leading a life with a similar person was indeed horrific.

It became a way of life.  He would leave work every day, travel to the next village, drink with his friends and come back home…drunk.  

He would take the little money she got from her father and use it for all his many vices, playing and betting with cards included. Every evening was spent with 2 bottles of liquor and every Sunday he would disappear to practice his Cricket.  (He was a talented Ranji Trophy player and had won many awards and cups besides being a skilled technician at work…if or when he went to work).

They were transferred to Karaikudi, and as his salary increased….so did his habits.  He moved from one brand of liquor to another, not satisfied with one, but needing to have many.


How do you raise children under these circumstances?

3 years later, she conceived and started her lone journey back to her parent’s house for her delivery. He did not come to drop her at the station and she saw him next only at the baby’s Punyavatchanam, in June 1980. He borrowed money yet again from her parents to get back to Karaikudi. No money was forthcoming from her In-laws as well.

She had not breathed a word about his drinking to anyone till now.  Only she knew that back at Karaikudi, he had switched to drinking local toddy (saarayam), as he was unable to buy the other foreign brands.  A letter from her neighbour (a North Indian-Seth Amma/Sethani) urged her to come back as quickly as possible, giving her details of her husband’s intolerable behaviour and strange doings.

10 months later she went back and saw that all the trophies her Husband had won had been taken away by strange men who would often come to leave her drunken husband home, as payment or as auto fare.

Things came to a precipice. One day, after Deepavalli and just after her daughter’s first birthday in the year 1981, there was a massive pounding at the door. She saw 5 goondas with sticks standing at her doorstep, shouting and abusing and demanding for the “Chemical Sir” to come out.  The Seth Amma intervened and asked them to leave his wife and child alone.  Her husband came back early morning with torn clothes and eyes swollen.

What should she do? What fate was this which had rejected this man once and then reunited her to the very same, only to experience all this? She contemplated death.

Yet that child who lay next to her and her sense of responsibility towards that innocent soul stopped her from that.  She could not give up now.  She could not admit defeat.  She had to live for the sake of another.

Testing Times      

One evening her parents arrived unexpectedly and stayed on to meet her Husband. The veil lifted. He came back drunk and they saw him. She was not going to hide the truth now.  He was livid and left the same way he had come, angry that she had exposed him. But she did not care.  She had lived the suffering silently for too long.  Yet her Father tried to brush it off by saying that these habits could have been picked up from his cricketing friends, and She must try to talk to him and change him in due course of time.

She was fighting a lone battle, caught between traditional mentalities and her simple nature.  But help arrived in the form of her husband’s cricketing friend, Chandru who approached the WM (Wing Manager) of the Chemical Company.  He told him her plight and explained that she did not even have money to buy milk powder for her child as her husband used all the salary he got for his personal pleasures.  The kind WM agreed to give the salary directly to her, on her signature only; a small but significant help.

Along with the money her Father sent on a monthly basis, she managed to eke a life.  As his frustration about this increased, so also his drinking increased and soon he was working on a loss of pay salary. All the while searching and stealing money from his wife, (money that she would hide, wrapped in 2 or three layers of plastic and kept in the charcoal box).

She conceived her second child then and a baby girl was born in November 1982.  The new baby, born under such stressful conditions was weak and had primary complex.  The baby’s medication and food required more money than she was able to get her hands on.  The house lost its electricity connection and she had to manage with castor oil lamps. No gas/ kerosene stove, she cooked in a charcoal fire stove (Kumuti adupu).

Along with all that was happening, her Husband would sometimes run onto the road shouting at her for money, to buy his drinks, waiting for the exact moment when their daughter came back home, making it impossible for her to refuse, as she did not want the children to become victims of this.  So in order to avoid a scene, she started giving him money and urging him to drink at home and not elsewhere.

Unexpectedly she realised she had conceived again, but she was sure she did not want the child.  How could she want another child? Who would look after another life under such circumstances?

Considering the difficulties she was facing, she decided to terminate the child.  Yet, she had no money and once again she would have to ask her Father to help her out.  She was unwilling to burden them again, emotionally and financially, so she convinced her husband to accompany her to the Government Hospital where she could get it done for free.

After the termination, in pain and drowsy with the medication, she realised her husband had left her.  Alone with both the children on the hospital bed, unable to even reach out and give milk or biscuits to the crying babies; her husband having abandoned her to get his alcohol fix.

She returned home alone, inevitably forced to go about her daily work, cleaning the house, washing clothes, and cooking the food, scarcely thinking of the fact that she had to take bed rest.


Something had to be done

Her In-laws refused to accept that there was a problem. Blaming it on the evil eye and convinced that with appropriate “parihara” he would be fine. Her sister -in-law even went to the WM and argued against giving her brother’s salary to his wife.

The constant request for money from his parents and his increased dependence on them, finally made her In-laws decide to give him treatment at Nimhans Rehab Centre.  With permission from his Company to take leave for rehabilitation, they left for Bangalore.

She could stay with her Husband, a small family room was given and constant monitoring and intervention would ensure successful de-addiction. That was her thought.

3 months later, at the last stage of intervention, when he was given some money and allowed to go out, in order to assess his control levels, he came back drunk. He now insisted they leave and used their little daughter’s education as an excuse.  Her weak spot.

By now with 2 children at her side, all she wanted was to give them a good education and in her mind, subconsciously, she was probably feeling that education would truly give her children freedom; the freedom she did not have.

She worried that her elder child’s education was in jeopardy with all the changes, so she agreed to move back to her In-laws house along with her Husband. Yet this move was disastrous.  For 3 years she went through the same painful cycle and finally in 1987 she could not take it any longer and moved to her Akka’s house, in East Bangalore

                  Breaking Free?

“How long can I be dependent on my Father and my sister? Enough was enough, now I must find a way to earn” she determined.

“What skills do I have? What can I do?”

Questions that took her back to what she was before this roller coaster ride called Marriage happened in her life.  She could stitch and sew well.  So in 1987, at the age of 36 years, she found herself working in a garment factory.

Unable to handle the huge scissors used for the cutting job, she settled into stitching Bibs and Quilts at 20p per piece/ Rs.2 per piece as per output.  How much do you think she earned? With great difficulty at Rs.50 maximum on some days, she managed to earn Rs.500 per month.  Hard, back breaking work, that has left her permanently scarred for life, with scoliosis and varicose veins.

Choosing to walk to her work place every day, in order to save even that 50-75p which was the cost of a ticket at that time, she tried to save every last paise that she could manage.

Meanwhile she had her elder daughter admitted into a good school nearby. The school Principal was kind enough to agree to educate one child free of cost, while she had to pay for one only. She was also able to buy few items for Akka’s household needs.

But, once again there was a turn of fate.

 Duty calls… 

Her Mother-in-Law passed away and she was asked to come back to her In-laws house to take care of the large property.  With reassurance from her Sister-in-laws (who were both pursuing lucrative careers and a prosperous life), that they would help her take care of the children (at least financially)she went back to stay with her Father-In-Law, Brother-In-Law and Husband.

Now she was cooking for the family, doing all the household chores, sending the kids to school and leaving for work, every day, to come back at 6 pm, sometimes even at 8 pm, depending on the work load.  Her Husband had no job, was blaming her for his job loss and continued to drink every day, now joined by his Brother as well.

In a fit of rage her Brother-In-Law encouraged by her husband threatened to beat her for not giving him an extra cup of coffee, when he asked for it.

She walked out of the house at midnight with her children and all her clothes and went back to her Akka’s house. She was called impulsive and impatient for this act of hers.

This back and forth was on-going. In 1990, when her Brother-in-Law died, she was again cajoled to come back by her Sister-in-Law, to take care of the house.

Balancing Act

By this time they had started some Ayurvedic treatment for her Husband, which probably made him psychotic.  His behaviour turned bizarre and they had to keep him locked in a room by himself, to shield the world and the little children growing up there, from things they could scarcely understand or comprehend.

She would leave the house locked from all corners, leaving only one internal door and one bathroom open.  The children would come back from school, open the back door, finish their homework, and wait for their mother to come back. In this state, he suddenly burnt all the bed sheets one day, and even ran out of the house after sawing the lock open with a Tortoise Coil stand.

She was at her wits end now and requested the garment factory to allow her to work only in the evenings.  After stopping the Ayurvedic treatment and with some psychiatric help, he stopped his behaviours.

But on the day Her Father-in-Law died, in 1992, he started drinking again.  She now made an agreement with her Husband, giving him a schedule for his drinking. So he would drink, morning 10 am to 1 pm, with a gap in between and then again drink from 6 pm to 9 pm.

It was now impossible to leave him in the house and go out.  So she started bringing the cuttings home and worked from home for an income of 1600/- per month.  With this and the rent that came from a portion of the house, life carried her on…painfully, laboriously.

He died in 1995, his heart unable to take the pressure, it finally gave up.


The beginning…of another story

The story of course does not end here, she continued her hard work and toil, to raise her children as well as she could. Guiding them, ensuring their basic needs were met and providing a more stable environment that they truly deserved.

The fruits of her labour are that both her children are Engineers now, merit students, who have worked their way to success and now stand on their own feet. The elder girl is married and has a cute son (for whose delivery She had gone to the US recently), and the younger one is a newly married bride!

Gaining Resilience

What I could capture above are the hard facts. But…

Did she have a choice? What kept her moving on this path? (These are the questions that empower us and help us understand that even when there seems to be nothing and there is only despair, something will serve as a light, guiding us to shore.)

The commitment to marriage and traditions that go with it bound her to this path.  When a person has limited resources and is dependent, then their choices become very sparse.  Every day was a conflict; a challenge.

The conflicts in her mind at one point of time were whether to live or to give it all up.  Yet she chose not to exercise that option, choosing to live and find meaning in her children as the purpose for her life.  She found an answer for her questions from that.  Once the decision to live and live for her children was made,  it was only time that led her to other reinventions; to find a job, and pursue it to her best ability and to gain her freedom through that.

I leave you readers to judge for yourselves what her defining moments were, but I come away understanding how resilience and determination carved a permanent place in her, making her who she is.

  Her daughters have this to say:

I want to  share my mother’s story. I only want people to be inspired.  I want a message to be conveyed to people not to take life for granted, even when a family is very educated. I must say, my mother has retained her innocence even now and is always happy and keeps a smiling face, no matter what. I have seen many people, including myself, who get so deeply engrossed when encountered with small or slightly bigger problems.  But, trust me, I change my way of thinking, whenever I speak to her.  A person who does not have any materialistic pleasures, someone who only desired an emerald necklace at one point of time in her life and nothing more!! I wonder how a person can be so selfless whenever I see her.  She has shown good hospitality to everyone in her husband’s family and the daughters of that family, forgetting the injustice and ordeal she was subjected to.  She fought this struggle all alone with no one’s help, neither parents nor brothers.

Yet to my father’s defence I have this to say:

My dad too was a very good person at heart and had a great helping nature,  which is inherited by my sister. He used to help my mother at times. He loved his daughters a lot, my sister in particular. But I am not sure if he failed to express it well or if we failed to understand the same due to our ages.

“All I know is that my mother is a gentle soul, and we love her very much.”


I leave you with thoughts from Victor Frankl (author of Man’s Search for Meaning) here:

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears, toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.  He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”

― Viktor E. Frankl

Story # 11: Packing a punch! A triple reinvention story…and creating space for more~Geetha Jayaram~


Geetha Jayaram’s story is a delight to read. She cuts out all the frills and gets to the heart of her reinventions in one sweeping stroke. Succinct, is the word that came to my mind immediately, followed by a sense of envy and awe at the many roles she has donned with such apparent ease! Moving from academics into the corporate world is quite a difficult task and to do it with such panache is indeed admirable. Her need to seek change has been more of a pursuit of challenges and excellence than a need to forge new paths.

She doesn’t mention it here, but she is as proficient in Tamil as she is in English, and has translated all my Mother’s Tamil short stories to English. The translations are incredibly alive and carry the ethos of the original work completely.

I leave you readers here, to enjoy the full extent of all her reinventions.

You can contact her at


My Hyderabad years.

“I am taking up a job in Madras. “  My husband’s announcement was like a bolt from blue.  Our small family – consisting of my parents-in-law, my ten year old daughter, my husband and me – was living a contented, quiet and simple life.  I had a cool job teaching Physics and carrying out post -doctoral research (at my own pace!).  I got a reasonable amount of time to spend with my daughter and pursue my hobbies as well. Jayaram just dropped this bombshell which meant he had decided to opt for voluntary retirement from his position as Joint Director in the Government of Andhra Pradesh, which I knew he was beginning to be fed up of.  He reckoned a job in Madras would bring him closer to his beloved world of Carnatic Music!

To my question “What about my job?” the reply was a breezy “You can go on lien for three years.  We will figure what we want to do after that.” I guess I also was hankering after a change, but had not given it a serious thought.  I jumped at the opportunity to be away from the drudgery of Physics classes where students sat through like they were at a funeral service.

But it was going to be a wrench – to leave good old Hyderabad, where I had spent over 33 years of my life.  I had seen the charming slow paced, multi-cultural city evolve into a bustling metro in those years. Before my marriage in the army cantonment where we lived, life was almost idyllic. I could relate to the pastoral English poems looking around at our front garden and the backyard filled with greenery. The clean roads and the large stately bungalows with huge trees and lovely flower beds were a veritable feast to behold. The school days were leisurely and there was no pressure to get those marks or be ‘first in class!’

Later I married a Tamilian who was born and brought up in Hyderabad and continued with my education and my first job at the Osmania University, teaching Physics and Electronics.

This move to Chennai meant I was surely to be jolted out of this comfort zone!

In Madras Nalla Madras! Launching my 2nd innings

So the entire family was off to Madras – that was by now Chennai!  My parents-in-law had spent over 50 years, my husband all his life and I over 30 years in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. My parents-in-law were ecstatic enjoying every bit of the cultural and religious experience in Chennai.  My husband got busy with his first corporate job and the responsibilities it brought.  My daughter, who had just turned ten, was perhaps the quickest to adapt.  She found new friends, adjusted to the erratic change of schools I put her through, suffered stoically the carnatic music classes her father imposed on her and became quite a Chennai girl – in some ways at least.

It was I who found myself in a vacuum for a while, rattled about like round peg in a square hole.  It took me a while to get used to Chennai, having been brought up all the time in other states.  I disliked my one year stint of teaching Physics to high school students and the tuition sessions for the IIT JEE aspirants. Teaching a paper as a guest faculty in the Anna University for the post graduate class didn’t excite me either. I decided teaching perhaps was not really my calling!

Then the break came when a good friend facilitated an opportunity in the corporate sector. So I who had so far known only class rooms, blackboards and laboratory desks, entered an IT organization, initially in a division that wanted me to develop content for interactive learning material to be presented in the CD and web medium.  I was excited to be doing what I was doing and exceeded my brief – the work that was turned out by my young creative team under my guidance actually surprised the senior management with its fresh approach.

I learnt I was good dealing with bubbly, creative youngsters- giving them a free rein sometimes and harnessing them at other times. I also learnt I was poor in preparing periodic reports to update the management of our progress – I was foolish to assume our results will speak louder than any words! I was not diplomatic and shot my mouth off at wrong times and for wrong reasons, though I meant well. In fact I thought I was espousing just causes – like protesting against the customary normal distribution of employee ratings during annual appraisal.  I couldn’t see the logic – as a teacher, when more of my students did the examination well and scored distinction, the happier I was! I am talking about an era before the relative grading malady set in even in educational institutions. In short I learnt the hard way when to keep my opinion to myself, when and more importantly how, to give expression to it. All in all it was an exciting world that opened up – using technology and design to create attractive learning material.

The next organization that I moved to, gave me an opportunity to move with senior management and opportunities to sharpen additional skills.  Running a foreign language school and cross-culture sensitization programs for the young IT crowd was an experience that paid rich dividends – both for me and the organization. I also learnt how one builds teams, puts good practices in place, how one can push the envelope.  I did learn that if you really believed in something you had high chances of being heard by a decision maker. You need to speak clearly at the right time and place – ensure you are heard by the right person.

On the flip side I also learnt that I didn’t have the discipline to work hard to rise up in the corporate hierarchy.  Besides not having either Engineering or a Business Administration degree meant I could never aspire for a meaningful leadership role.  One of the most important lessons I learnt here was how not to handle a boss who knew the ropes in a corporate environment and knew how to de-risk fallouts of his limitations! I actually learnt the lesson by not doing it right -I am sure I would do it very differently now! Having fun at work was an important part of this stint.  I sang, I compered, conducted events, created shows for the annual day – and all in all thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Perversely I ended it and moved to a larger organization believing it will let me grow further – the ambition bug had just bitten me! What I found instead was politics of a large organization, by junior colleagues in particular, and I generally was lost in the crowd because I really didn’t know how to push myself into visibility of those who matter in the organization. The learning was slow and painful – but my learning there was that I got exposed to project management and quality processes in a large IT organization.

I developed personal abilities to facilitate sessions on behavioral, interpersonal and leadership skills. I was a lone rider and after having had large teams to work with in the earlier organizations, took a while to get used to this and managed to use whatever opportunities came way to enhance my insights into people ,their behaviour , how corporates function and so on.  I had an opportunity to take on a marketing support role that was entirely new to me.  I jumped into it with my characteristic enthusiasm, struggled a while and managed to stay afloat and finally swim.

This journey that I called my 2nd innings ended in March 2013.  It lasted about 13 years and looking back I guess I enjoyed it even while I had to go through tough times trying to learn, measure up and survive in the hostile environments of the corporate jungle. Being a people’s person and being quick on the uptake stood in good stead during this phase.

Gearing up for retirement – or the 3rd innings?

By the time I was done and you would think I was going to hang my boots – hang on! I was taken up strongly with this idea of becoming an entrepreneur.  I loved to read and write and I told myself I would use my experience of all those years in corporate to offer content consulting services – and create global quality content for enterprises! Having worked in three different organizations I had a strong conviction there was an opportunity here for a person like me to have fun and also make some money to get me by…

I am hanging on to this idea. At this stage in my life, I am more realistic, but I have managed to remain optimistic. I have an opportunity to test the waters – in the form of a small project and – yes I am excited!

I have also gone back to doing something else I love.  I found a set of like-minded people of my age group and we belt out old Hindi film songs for our pleasure as well as to entertain at marriages and other functions. We are as good as professionals J

I am happy to be doing all this. I am on to the 3rd innings!!

About me:

Geetha Jayaram was brought up in the liberal surroundings, as an army officer’s daughter and was married into a traditional household.

She holds a doctorate in Physics loves reading and is deeply interested in Indian Classical Music.  She was trained in Hindustani Classical and enjoys singing the lighter genre of Bhajans and Geets, including old Hindi film songs.

She moved from the comfort of an academic life into the hectic corporate life, playing multiple roles of facilitator, trainer, e-learning specialist and marketing manager.

She currently heads WordSmithy, a content consultancy that helps IT and other industries create global quality content.


Story #10: Mission Possible: with a passion to make a difference – Aparna Athreya


This is the story of Aparna Athreya (founder of Kid and Parent Foundation, Bangalore), entrepreneur, story writer and teller, mother of two lovely children and a woman with a mission. She captures her thoughts quite eloquently here and gives a glimpse of her creative writing abilities while sharing her journey of self-realisation with us!

As I read her story, I realise how every woman has a story of reinvention to tell, it is for us to see how and when these changes happen. With Aparna it has happened quite dramatically, in a moment, a moment when she really listened to her inner self, a moment that altered her life path, careering her onto a road with new twists and turns that she is willing to travel, with an aim to make a difference to the world and to do it with a missionary zeal!

The task of reinventing herself from a Software Professional to an entrepreneur running Child Development services is not easy but every journey starts with a desire, a need and so this story of reinvention is also about creating new needs and desires and pursuing it.

 (I met Aparna in 2011 and joined hands with her dreams in my role as a Professional Storyteller and Educator and finally now, I am able to bring her story to you all; Please check out the website for Kid and Parent Foundation:


Where it all Began

It was the mid-70s and I was born into a noisy household in Villivakam (suburb of Chennai) amidst a host of aunts and uncles including one who had just delivered my cousin.

My grandfather was a goods clerk in the Railways, and so my grandparents lived in railway quarters just off Central station. My mother tells me that my earliest days were marked by rhythmic sounds of wheels chugging and smoke bellowing from the engines. The house was small and overflowing with people, so I am fairly sure I grew up in a warm (oh yes, pun intended there!) environment.

My grandparents were permanent residents of the small vibrating quarters, but having raised 4 girls, there was always a floating population of aunts and cousins who came back home to receive another gift from the stork!

I have always been known as a naughty, tomboyish baby who would not let people sit down a minute before I created some minor panic situation. There are many eye-witness accounts about how I would thrash a cousin or bruise my knee. But the one that I hear often is about a funny and painful incident about me as a 3 year old. My mother would go every morning to work leaving me in the care of my grandma’s sister (my grandma used to work too!) and her husband. My grand-aunt, like her other sisters,was a frequent visitor to my grandma’s house which was the biggest amongst their relatives. So, they had been my caretakers often.

Curiosity is her middle name

One such time, when my mother, father and grandma were away, my grand aunt kept me company. By afternoon, she must have surely been exhausted with me, and so went to rest in the veranda, leaving me in the bedroom where her husband slept. I don’t know if every household in the 70s had old people sleeping with their mouths wide open, but my household certainly did!

The old man was sleeping with a great big set of buck teeth protruding out of an open mouth and snoring sonorously. In those days, we used to play with wooden dolls called marapachi-bommai.  I am not sure why but I am sure I would have found the sound fascinating and concluded that the teeth were coming in the way of something that could become even better. So, I took my marapachi-bommai and went BANG on his teeth!!!!!

My poor grand-aunt’s husband lost his protruding teeth and his sleep (maybe I should have taken dentistry in later years!). I am sure I had the whole household going livid but my mother tells me that the only person who empathized with my curiosity was my grand-aunt who forgave me and also recommended others not to break my bones!

In the later years I remember apologizing to him, but those protruding teeth never came back!

Values learnt at an early age

The way I handle my mistakes and guilt today is largely to do with what happened as a 7 year old.  We moved to Bangalore when I was about 3.5 years old and went onto live in our own flat in an apartment complex. This was my first exposure to so many children under the same roof; until then I played mostly on the street with neighbours. So, the first months in the building went excitedly with all of us visiting each other’s house and getting accustomed to living within arm’s length of each other. Vivek lived on the 5th floor; his father was in the merchant navy and away most times. His mother raised him and his younger brother wonderfully well. One evening all the kids in the building ran up to his house and were busy playing with imported toys.

I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but as we all were getting out of the house in a hurry to get downstairs, I suddenly jammed Vivek’s fingers on the door. It must have hurt him bad because I could hear him all the way downstairs as I fled from their house and into mine. I remember my heart was in my mouth and I was stricken with fear and guilt so much that I went into my bedroom and hid there for a long time. I could hear my doorbell ring and heard a muffled conversation between my mother and Vivek’s mother. Suddenly the bedroom door opened and I half crouched expecting my mother to thrash me but I saw Vivek’s mother standing there and asking me to go to her house and explain to Vivek that it was a mistake.

If early experiences moulds a person thought process; this incident certainly has to top that list.

A love of reading…but a need to study

 The story of my love to read and my yearning to learn comes from my physics teacher, Mrs Rao. She was a dynamic woman who taught more about birds, ballet and bees than she did (well, than I remember actually!) about buoyancy. I spent a lot of time standing outside class except in Mrs Rao’s class; she saw me curiosity-stricken rather than rebellion-stricken! I remember how she encouraged questions with her twinkle-eyed look and a beaming “great question!” It just made us think harder just to ask a few more praise-worthy questions than to score better! I meet Mrs Rao a few times in Bangalore club even now; she looks older, wiser and I hope like hell just as young at heart.

All through my adolescence choices were made without much difficulty; they were what the herd did. The herd I lived with took up science; so did I. My herd went on to do engineering/medicine; I got an engineering seat (I was petrified of blood so I took the liberty of making one independent choice – not to become a doctor!). My herd got campus jobs; I did too.

 Real Choices…difficult lessons

My choices became clearer once I got married to an airforce officer. These were trying times of suddenly getting uprooted from urban life with a high flying profession to a back-of-beyond place where you saw more tractors than cars; that proved to be a leveller. The first real choice I had to make was between staying at home and leading a comfortable life versus going out of your way to stay abreast with technology and find a job not less than 40 kms away in any direction. Choices are difficult but the more you spend time making them, the better you get at taking ownership of the choices you have made. I guess the skills I learnt making choices during these times served as a run-up for much bigger choices I was faced with later in professional life.

I can talk all about how I had 2 children (one very young) and was posted in a small town and my frustrations with corporate life, but the tipping point really is spiritual as far as I am concerned. I went to Pondicherry with a mind full of questions (about what next) and sitting in the Aurobindo ashram with my daughter, I had a flash; a moment of clarity when I felt compelled to do something on my own and something to do with children! In retrospect, I can always rationalize by saying that I had earlier done voluntary work in the children space and I always wanted to be an entrepreneur but the fact remains that this tipping point is what really matters.

The Paradigm shift

The hard choices that I had in front of me is a reflection of many a women from the Software industry – a job that demands all you got and a personal life that comes with its various compulsions including little people pottering around your house and a personal aspiration that is clouding things further.

Inspite of all these challenges, there is something brutally honest which hits me many a time – I enjoyed my time back then and when I moved on; it was not because of accumulated regrets but because of priority shifts.  I met some great people, made deep-rooted friendships and learnt profound lessons from the Software industry.

Now, getting to how the priority shifts happened.  Well, there was one passion I carried all through my professional career and that was in making up stories (and penning some too) for children.  Because of my interest, I blogged stories, told innumerable ones to my children and their friends and did voluntary work when possible but mostly for Dr Nandini Mundkur and the special school she runs in Malleswaram. Little did I know that this work would prove to be the path-breaker much later.

Like I said before, when responsibilities grew especially those that involved my children I spent more and more time on everything revolving them.

There was no denying that I yearned to get back to corporate life but something really fired me up when I thought of possibilities of creating something that I loved and something that I could take ownership of! That rush of passion really got me where I am today.

(Aparna founded a company called Kid and Parent Foundation in 2010, which runs child development services for Parents, Teachers and Children)

Defining Moments 

The defining moment in my life are many but profound in their own way; one of the most important was my father’s (this is an overheard conversation) proud voice when he conveyed my 12th standard marks to his friend.  It made me want to undertake all that hard work many more times just to hear that voice.

Another would be Badhrish (my husband) telling me very offhandedly (in Pondicherry again!) that I have been a good wife and mother! That felt like the point of arrival!

Another moment which stays with me is how Sowmya during our initial conversations very simply adopted my aspiration and apprehension as if they were hers too; that was one of my most “accepted” moments! Neither of us has looked back, we have paused and wondered but kept on!


Shaping a Vision for life

I think based on my upbringing I come with some deep rooted principles which have shaped not only me as a person but the choices I have made and the relationships I have built. I come with an innate and sound trust in people; I am fiercely strong-willed and I am willing to sweat and toil for getting my goals.Well, what I know is that the learning does not stop and every twist and every turn, there is something for you to put into your learning kit. One of the most important things this journey has taught me is to keep at it with immense faith and a keen eye on the goal; the path will draw itself out under your feet.

My deepest passions and curiosities are an offshoot of all the roles I have undertaken thus far; my children, my parents, my colleagues and friends, my organization (the curiosity lies in the everlasting need to understand the how-to-achieve-my-passion).

This is really cliché but that is the way it is for me.  My personal vision is to be able to take forward whatever I have begun (bringing up my children, being a wife and nurturing an organization) with my best and let grace take over thereafter.

I am not sure there are answers I have found, I have taken on a journey and I am looking, listening to and enjoying the road ahead. Maybe there will be some answers found or maybe it will be a journey with an unknown destination!