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

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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: www.kiddywiki.com)

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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!

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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!

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2 responses »

  1. A very well written story. Its quite inspiring to see you continue your voluntary work for children. keep it up, and keep these blogs coming as well. Never knew you had a knack to write.

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