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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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!!
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.