I had received an apology more number of times than I could count for something that wasn’t even her mistake. She was one person I knew had I to talk to no matter how late she was to the meeting.
We rescheduled the call for the evening and I geared up for a walk around the campus. The campus surrounding our office space is really pretty in the evenings when the sun decides to have some mercy.
I was to get on a call with Aradhana Iyer Vohra, an entrepreneur, a mother, a daughter and, most importantly a determined woman. Her story is interesting mainly because of her globe trotting and daring jumps from one field to the other and a fearless approach to the grand scheme of life and all this while caring for two of the most understanding kids you can find.
Her education happened in London after which she worked as a banker and later moved to India with her husband who was starting up a business here. With a parallel and brief stint in Singapore, Aradhana had her fair share of new places and cultures.
In terms of work, she moved from being a front office banker, to a finance manager, to an operations head all the way to now having her own start-up in bio-tech and preventive medicine which makes up for a really bizarre jumps. This got me more interested in how she managed to make the move and what really drew her there.
I move on to ask Aradhana what her company I SHIELD is all about, to get a perspective about the current state of things in her life.
“Very simply put, I SHIELD develops products with a proprietary technology that kills germs* and blocks allergies. Soft surfaces, as in clothes and bed-sheets are some of the most common mediums for infection these days and it’s our goal to provide people with a safer solution.”
Working on some of the most path breaking research on enhanced fabrics and managing a team of such diverse people that come together to make a product like this isn’t the easiest thing to do. And the journey that brought her so far wasn’t a flat road either.
My conversation with Aradhana was circular. There was a fixed time loop that we kept talking about and the more we talked, the more were the number of layers that were revealed. Two, to be precise. The first layer was that of a learning curve. A layer where I realised the effort she put behind getting where she is now.
Her early days as a an advisor were fulfilling as was the city of London and the life of a front end banker but then there was the rest of her life, one that was filled with a healthy dose does of business and hustling.
Layer 1: The Chronology
Aradhana comes from a family of businessmen and stronger businesswomen. Her father and mother collectively handle a sizeable construction and real estate business in Pune. This meant that she had always seen the people closest to her be in control of the things that happened to them. The sweet taste of a devil fruit that entrepreneurship really is, it gives you the enticing sensation of control while ripping you off of every second of sound sleep for at least some time to come. And she had seen it all.
Which is why she happily quit this well placed job when her husband Kaiesh was setting up a business back in homeland. Infact, if you’re a regular reader of Chaaipani, you’d remember the story of Zal Dastur, the founder and operations head for Lucep, a company founded over a drunk phone call. Kaiesh was the co-founder of Lucep and also the reason Aradhana moved back to India.
The move to India and later to Singapore led her to working with a small company that exposed her more to operations core to the functioning of a company and along with it came the first wave of challenges. Settling in wasn’t easy, especially when she had her first child by then. Having a supporting family always helped but more importantly it was the zeal to never settle into a complacent and parasitic lifestyle.
I am puzzled by now. Really puzzled. However passionate she did sound about the things she does now with managing the general direction of the company, I am pushed to ask how someone in hard core accounts and number play ventured into biotech and that too with such a niche on preventing infections.
Layer 2: The Family
This is when the story enters the next layer, family. Let’s understand how. Aradhana and her husband were contemplating moving back to India two years ago and as she was searching for fresh opportunities, she was contacted by the founding team of I SHIELD, to join them as a co-founder and help build teams that could execute the planning and production.
With two kids and a home on her plate, this came as quite a challenge. So what exactly was her motivation to take it up?
“I might sound cliched when I say this but it genuinely was just an attempt at providing our kids with a better world to live in. I always believed that we haven’t inherited this planet from our ancestors, we have borrowed it from our children. And I SHIELD just gave me a shot at contributing to that cause.”
But then of course, there was the question of family, and that of raising a healthy one.
“However far I go, however comfortable and cared for and well provided my children might be, I will always feel guilty. I think every working mother has this mommy guilt, all the time. A guilt that we don’t care for our children as much as we should.”
But Aradhana did not really face a crisis in terms for handling multiple responsibilities. Immense support from her in-laws and her parents meant that she had more time at her hands to focus on developing her business.
Her family stood as a wall while she battled another front of building a brand. Of course there were sacrifices, rich people have sacrifices too. The volume of sadness is often measured not by how bad a situation is but how far you are from it. I could hear her son walk into the room once or twice, and then quietly leave, which is when she would tell me,
“My children have a special way of adding joy to my day by randomly disturbing me whenever they feel like.”
I could feel that there was a void, not the hollow kind, not even the “filled with all the wrong things” kind, but the kind that just wishes things were a little different, just a little better. The kind of void you have after being first in class but not having all the marks that were out there, the kind of void you get when you only narrowly defeat an opponent.
There is no sadness, never, but it just somehow lessens your sorrow with a very different shade of skeptical contemplation.
In the process of gathering stories, we meet so many women, day in and day out who have been rejected by the society for choosing their own path and being a circumstantial rebel. We have seen so many dreams shattered because of family responsibilities.
But when we take Aradhana’s story in the backdrop, we realize how even small contributions from the family in terms of moral and functional support go such a long way in helping a woman, or for that matter anyone, follow their dreams.
I say small contributions because both the parents and the in-laws of Aradhana are business owners leading an equally hectic and stressed lifestyle. This just tells us that the society changes one brick at a time. It’s the small but strong decisions that matter the most.
This is when I say, “it would be a blasphemy if I don’t feature your family in your story now”
And here we are. Aradhana’s story is a perfect example of how the right attitude, the right support and the right aspirations can help people around us achieve what they dream of.