“They did no wrong. Hence, they didn’t deserve any of it. I was devastated but I had to fight for them. The lady whom I worked for at that point helped me a lot. I filed a divorce against him after few months”
“They did no wrong. Hence, they didn’t deserve any of it. I was devastated but I had to fight for them. The lady whom I worked for at that point helped me a lot. I filed a divorce against him after few months”
I fail to recall a numbness as halting as this. A roster of the tallest icons of this age have risen and lapsed in my lifetime.
Ngurang Meena and Reena are from Arunachal Pradesh. A state of multiple tribes. The state of the famous Ziro Festival. A state with immense beauty of mountain ranges from the Himalayas. The kind of scenes we drew as children in our drawing class, a mountain range with a rising sun with a valley and rivers. There is a bitter reality that the people in the Arunachal face. Polygamy. Child marriage.
Reena is one of the 9 siblings in her family from 2 mothers. Reena’s mother was married to her father at the age of 13 even before she even hit puberty. The tribal customary laws support the ways of child marriage and polygamy, exchanging women in marriage for Mithuns and stones. Her mother was a victim of both these practices. Reena’s mother got married at the age of 13. Her father married another woman when Reena was around 10 years old. The practice of multiple marriages is followed without restrictions as there is no registration of marriages which would, in an ideal scenario, prevent it. Meena the eldest among the siblings in the family understood her mother’s dilemma and repercussions of another woman in the house.
“We don’t have grudges towards our father anymore”, says Reena.
They come from a very rural family. Reena’s father lived his entire schooling in one vest and two underpants. He walked barefoot until he was 16 when he got his first pair of slippers. Her father was interested in politics and worked hard to make a name in the society.
Both Meena and Reena understood that the only way to lift their region out of the abyss of these horrifying practices was to educate themselves. Meena moved to Bangalore to pursue her graduation in Economics, History, and Social Sciences. Whereas Reena moved to Delhi to pursue her graduation with a major in Social Sciences from Delhi University. Even in their colleges, they were both very active in politics and student unions, a trait that Reena says they might have inherited from their father.
“I think the silence of women towards these atrocities is what pushed us to Social sciences and to educate ourselves so that we could be their voice. The way they couldn’t voice their troubles and fight for themselves made us want to do something about the way things were.”
Meanwhile, Meena was all set to move to London to pursue further studies, but family’s financial constraints she had to return to Arunachal in 2011.
“Once you’ve had experienced new cultures, opened up to new possibilities, formed a certain mindset, and then you come back, the society doesn’t allow you to let alone change but even have an opinion different than their own”, says Reena.
This is when Meena started questioning the institution of Arunachal, the way things were. So Meena decided to leave the family and started living on her own. Things had to change. But the habitues looked at a woman living by herself as ‘weak’. She protested for proper roads to women rights, and in the past three years set up the ‘Ngurang Learning Institute’ with the aim of giving opportunities to women like their mother who were never given a chance to read and write.
“Since they were illiterate they aren’t able to enroll their children in schools, fill forms, use banking facilities.”
For a long period of time, Meena ran the institute without any money from the women she taught. She used to pursue part-time jobs and fend off for herself and teach these women. Reena would come to Arunachal for 2 months every semester and help her sister run the institute.
“These women didn’t know how to thank us. They used to bring in royal food, or native rice and meat to show their gratitude.”
In return, they had endured threats from the husbands of women. ‘She is my wife. She is supposed to cook. This is no age for her to learn how to read and write’, they would say. Since their father had a political influence, people didn’t act on the threats they made.
“One of the husbands of the women came to my sister’s place with a sword and threatened to stop teaching his wife or else..”
The women they taught, inspired and enlightened told them that they wanted their stories to be heard. They wanted the world to know what they went through so that no one ever endures what they did.
“One of the women who went through such atrocities was 3 years of age when she was married.”
Both the sisters decided to organize a pageant based on the stories of these women to share the progress they have made and to enlighten others about the prevailing condition of the state. Mrs. Arunachal Pradesh, Mother of Substance. The first proof that things are changing is the fact that, their father wholeheartedly supports the event and is the chief advisor for the same.
With so much news about how we’re progressing, initiatives to employ and empower women, help improve education, advance technology and what not, there is still a part of where such unearthly traditions are followed. Communities here do not appreciate the change. But as Elon Musk said, “Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is a disaster.” And these sisters have certainly put the first dent towards a change.
The finale of Mrs. Arunachal Pradesh is on 26th of November, with Mary Kom as their chief guest. Here is how you can get in touch with them to know more about them and the pageant. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and Facebook page to know more about the event. I would strongly recommend people who are in the vicinity to visit the event and show support for the courage of these women.
They have started a movement to celebrate brave-hearted women who have stood up for themselves and others as well, who for some haven’t been able to. Here’s their page to know more about the same.
Today, I write with the utmost respect for mothers, working or homemakers. You might be able to relate to this. I have a mother who tries that neither me nor my sister has to cook a meal unless necessary. And then I wonder what is it that she has done solely for herself. Not for the lack of space and time, but she didn’t pursue her passion. Not that she ever complained or didn’t have the support from us, believe me, she did. But what was it, age, apprehension, judgment, convention, or the just fact that she wasn’t given a chance to do so? Only a mother would be able to answer these.
So, I had the opportunity to meet a Mrs. India Earth contestant. A mother of two, 39 years old, Kanchan Korani from Rajkot lives in Hong Kong with her spouse. I know better now to say that these pageants aren’t just about tainting and painting.
Kanchan got married right after she completed her B.Com and moved to Hong Kong for her husband’s work. She started her own shop there, importing Indian groceries and food for people living in Hong Kong and other countries.
“Meri khudki pehchaan chahiye thi mujhe (I wanted a name of my own)”, she says with pride in her voice.
She started after her son was born. Kanchan wanted to have some connect with her native place and hence she started off with Indian food, sharing it with others who felt and craved what she did.
The wife of a man who assembles watches, Kanchan was trying to find her feet, nurture her kids, and do justice to her life in Hong Kong. Not that her husband wasn’t supportive, he was, but there are things you want to do, things you love without giving up on either one of them.
The 39 year old Kanchan Korani I met is beautiful, elegant, graceful, and looks way different from socially accepted convention falling under mother-of-two. But she wasn’t the same after she got married. With a shop to run and kids to manage, Kanchan had gained weight. Her daughter persuaded Kanchan to apply for the Mrs. India Earth Pageant.
“I had come to India for my brother’s marriage. All through the marriage I heard comments from relatives, ‘She’s married and has two kids, her youth is done for’. That moment shook me. I realised that I am not what I used to be. It wasn’t about how I looked, but how I felt about myself. In my head, I didn’t prove to anyone but my self. ”
That is when she joined a gym and started working out. Simple, no? No. A fit body undoubtedly requires a lot of hard work, which too doesn’t matter, if not clubbed with patience and determination.
“I used to weigh above ninety kilos in my brother’s marriage. Today I am forty-two.”
With the support of her husband, her kids, her younger brother and his wife, Kanchan participated in the Mrs. Earth India and moved to becoming a finalist.
“With their support, I won the subtitle of ‘Mrs. India Earth Beautiful Skin’.”
Kanchan is known amongst the Indian community in Hong Kong because of her established grocery business.. After her recognition in the pageant, she was approached by a lot of women in the community so that she could give strength to them as she found her strength in her kin. She is even the face of Closet Love a fashion app who styled her during the contest.
With this, I ask her what’s the next mountain she wants to climb? And she was ready with her answer.
“I want to study, I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant. So I’ll pursue that, I’ll help further the cause of education. I didn’t pursue higher education. But I want to and would love to help others who want the same.”
Kanchan believes if she will think that she’s forty and is too old to pursue such endeavor, people will always accept the easier and let her, because we have grown up in an environment where no one wants us to step out of the box but keep steady at our places, maybe because that challenges their way of life.
“On the day the results were out, I was absolutely confident. I didn’t have to check my result.” the girl says with a smile.
The class – students preparing for competitive exams – falls silent, apparently uncomfortable with the touch of bragging in the girl’s voice. I too stare at the girl.
The girl’s smile broadens and erupts into a laugh, “I knew it! I was sure I’d fail!”
The girl’s self-effacing humour immediately touches base with everyone. We all laugh out loudly. She has won our hearts.
“And you know, I have appeared for umpteen exams – 18, to be precise. Two more and I would have crossed the “-teen” threshold of exams, with 20,” she continues to joke about herself as the laughter subsides. More smiles.
It’s been a year now, but this incident is fresh in my mind. I was witness to this girl talk confidently to aspirants about her umpteen failures and subsequent success (comprehensive success; coming up later). Against all odds. Her good humour cleverly conceals what she has gone through.
But then, this brave girl, Hiral Malvi, is no stranger to overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Being blind – she has zero vision – is just one of them.
“As a kid, I was quite naughty. And also quite headstrong,” Hiral says,
“So it was a shock to me when I lost vision before I was four.”
She puts it so matter-of-factly, without the slightly tinge of complaint, you’d think you didn’t hear her right. But Hiral is quite objective about herself.
“One evening, a little before my fourth birthday, I suddenly started having blurred vision. Before long, I completely lost my eyesight,” Hiral recalls, her smile never leaving her lips.
“My father was an auto-driver and my mother is a home-maker. Even with the extremely limited resources my parents did everything possible for my treatment, including taking me to Nethra, Chennai. Everything failed. I was blinded forever. Just like my sister who lost her vision before she turned 3.”
Finance was always tight in this family of 6. It was simply not possible to offer any special facility for the two differently abled sisters. Things couldn’t have been worse for them.
The two girls were enrolled at a local institute for the visually challenged.
“I did all my schooling, right up to class 12, from V D Parekh Blind School. Often, Braille textbooks were not available in some subjects, so I had to rely on my memory and audio recordings.”
Hiral, in spite of all the limiting factors, did well in academics. When she cleared class 10, her interest and achievement strongly indicated she choose science stream. However, strained finances, among other things, dictated she opt for arts.
“I won’t say I was very committed till I finished graduation. I worked sincerely, but not very hard. And suddenly computers happened.”
Her voice betrays her excitement.
“I was absolutely swept off my feet! It was sheer magic!”
She had found her calling. From Braille to bytes, her life was set to change.
“I learnt about PGDCA (Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Applications) during my college days. I was thrilled that I, an arts graduate, too could study computers!” The headstrong Hiral emerged and without paying attention to naysayers, she applied for and was admitted to PGDCA.
“Many people were apprehensive when I, a blind girl, opted for PGDCA. But I was determined to master it.”
And master she did.
Once she cleared her PDGCA, she set her sights even higher: M.Sc. (IT), a course often considered comparable to MCA (Masters in Computer Application).
“The course turned out to be more rigorous than I had first thought. The schedule was hectic and the deadlines were often insane,” her giggles resurface.
“It didn’t involve computers just for fun; it was serious programming…. something so conceptual! But I had already been handling a variety of stress since long, so I somehow managed.”
I thought ‘somehow managed’ would translate to ‘barely passed’ or something similar. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In 2014, Hiral passed her M.Sc.(IT) with 92% – the first visually challenged student (repeat student, not girl) in the state to complete the course.
“By then I was already on the lookout of a good career with the central government or a bank. So I started my preparations during my M.Sc. (IT)”
In the middle of 2013, Hiral and her teacher from the school for visually challenged, Jagruti Ganatra, walked into a coaching institute. They met the coach and asked whether he’d allow Hiral to enroll.
While eager to help, the coach was visibly confused,
“But how will she read what I write, or my printed handouts, let alone solve questions?” the coach wondered aloud.
That was swiftly taken care of. Hiral carried a recording device to the class. She would attentively listen to every word the teacher spoke. Once home she’d play back the day’s lecture. A special software in her computer would read out all the PDF notes to her.
(How the computer had reached the humble household that Hiral was a part of is also one of the many feathers in Hiral’s cap. As one of the earliest visually challenged person to have finished the degree, Hiral won the computer as a part of the state government’s drive to help differently-abled individuals.)
Daily her father would come to drop her at the coaching institute. Two hours later, her brother or father would return to pick her up. Any waiting period was used in playing back the previous day’s lecture. Her co-students, all with regular vision, were impressed with her involvement, but getting decent marks, even in the practice tests remained elusive.
Not surprisingly, things were difficult. On the one hand, she wouldn’t be able to read anything that the faculty wrote during the sessions; on the other, it was impossible for the faculty to speak everything that he wrote.
So no matter how diligently she prepared, gaps remained. And then, she was also studying for her M.Sc.(IT).
The 4-month course ended, but she couldn’t crack any competitive exam.
In case you aren’t aware, the kind of competitive exams that Hiral was preparing for (Staff Selection Commission and IBPS Bank Exams) test quantitative, language and reasoning skills of candidates. Calculators are not allowed. (Such exams attract around 1.5 to 2 million applications, of which no more than 20,000 are finally selected from all over India.)
If you are a fully sighted individual, please take a moment to read the above paragraph once again.
Hiral had zero vision, and yet she’d be doing math and reasoning. Everything in her head. Without calculators. Without diagrams.
So why didn’t she give up since she didn’t clear the early exams, I asked. What kept you going?
“Oh, I think I had started to love the contents of the exams – they needed a great bit of logic and thinking. I found it too exciting to quit!”
And how were the exams going on, I ask.
“I had to seek help of sighted scribes in each exam. The scribes would read out the questions – puzzles, arithmetical computations, long passages, grammar, algebra, general knowledge…. I would understand the question, do things in my head and ask the scribe to record my answer.” (These exams are multiple choice types.)
“Things aren’t always easy for the scribe too,” Hiral laughs, “For exams that were conducted outside Rajkot, getting scribes willing to travel wasn’t all that easy. And often I wouldn’t understand some questions in the first reading, so the scribe would have to read it out again! It’s tiring for them too.”
But you weren’t successful in the early exams, I say. So how was it like handling failure?
I am met with the same disarming laugh.
“I think nobody likes failure, right? But I knew my road was a long one and there was no point giving up early. My parents, who have always been my Rock of Gibraltar, stood by me. And Jagruti madam remained my constant motivator.”
But before she tasted her first major success, a tragedy struck.
Hiral lost her father in 2014.
Hiral’s father Natvarbhai was the sole bread-winner of the family. With him suddenly gone, things went haywire.
“Not only did we struggle financially, but also emotionally. My father was a constant source of inspiration for me. Any time I’d feel low, he would encourage me,” her voice cracks, but she quickly regains her composure.
Her mother worked as a domestic help at nearby homes, thereby keeping the family afloat, but only just so.
“And then look what happened! I cleared not one but two exams after that!” she beams.
Hers was a resounding success, pun intended. She was selected at two different banks Central Bank of India and State Bank of India (SBI) through two different examinations. She chose the latter over the former.
“I have witnessed her struggle, her anguish, her grit, her losses, her resilience…But one thing I have never seen – she has never ever complained about her circumstances, personal or social. She’s always been a doer rather than a cribber.”
Jagruti Ganatra, who was her coach at the V D Parekh institute and who has accompanied Hiral at all exams and interviews outside Rajkot, told me some time back. I can only nod.
* * *
I am at the Gymkhana branch of SBI where Hiral works. Hiral successfully – and popularly – completed her probation at State Bank of India some time back. I stand aside, watching her deal confidently and patiently with customers.
“Since I take care of Customer Care, most of my time is spent explaining various technology tools my bank offers. I’m so happy doing this – staying in tune with technology,” Hiral tells me during her lunch break.
“Marketing and technology are two things I love, and that’s what I get to do here!”
“I aspire to grow to a senior role within this great organization. There’s so much to learn. I almost can’t wait!”
“And my seniors and colleagues are extremely supportive, but never condescending!”
“That makes me doubly proud that I am giving my best to my organization!” she says, finishing her lunch and returning to her desk five minutes ahead of time. “It’s been said so often, but I’ll still repeat. Differently able people don’t need sympathy, they need opportunity.”
Her satisfaction is palpable, her enthusiasm infectious, her potential limitless. Evidently she’s seeing that I am blind to.
I met her in one of her sessions on ‘How consciousness can help?’ I couldn’t help but smile as she spoke, excited and jumpy, a session filled with examples from her own life answering questions that were asked by the audience but invoked by her thoughts. I just knew, I had to speak to Aditi Surana, so I scheduled a call with her for the next morning.
“My father was a South Indian Communist and my mother is a Maharashtrian.”
She tells me as she reminisces about her childhood, where every decision had to have a reason, dinner table conversations were spent debating politics, an outing was attending art exhibitions or seminars. An environment completely different from kids her age.
“I did a lot of theatre workshops and documentary filmmaking as a teenager, something I still remember and smile about. I still remember as a child when I wanted to become a filmmaker, I asked my father, ‘How do I start and what do I do?’ and he told me if you want that, you’ll have to observe people.” That is when she kindled in herself, a fire of curiosity to observe people.
She was a very curious child, about how people think, how they look at life. Aditi’s intrigue towards how people think took her to a level where she picked it up as a part of her vocation. But her father, an art director, who had been encouraging and progressive for so many things, couldn’t absorb the idea that she chose a field of social sciences and human development.
“My father was my idol and I looked up to him, but for the first time then, I didn’t agree with him. So, in his own way, he got so worried that he asked me to leave the house, assuming I wouldn’t leave or I’d come back, but I didn’t.”
So, at the age of 18, she left her house where many of us have absolutely no clue what we should or would do. She started her professional life as by analyzing handwriting at a Cafe Coffee Day, through which she paid off for her education. She didn’t want to study handwriting analysis initially and work with the human mind instead, but her father wanted her to pursue something core or filmmaking as opposed to what was considered tangential.
“After I left home, I met my friends in a coffee shop. In a middle-class family we didn’t spend hundreds on coffee, but I went to meet them. They said, ‘Hey, why don’t talk to CCD, they might want you to analyze handwriting for people’, and I met all 5 western region heads and analyzed their handwriting, explained the idea and surprisingly, they agreed. I used to charge Rs. 50 for each analysis.”
During this phase of her life, she struggled a lot with speaking the dialect fluently because she came from a vernacular medium and the people who came to CCD were from upper-middle class or youngsters who smoked a lot, a complete contrast to the environment she grew up in.
“When you visit any counselor they kind of tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but since I was too young to know anything of that sort to anyone elder to me. So, as I didn’t have answers, I used to ask them questions, because I could see that they had fixations that they were operating from. Merely asking would make them rethink and get them to move them from their fixed ideas of life.”
Slowly she got called at events as a speaker to talk about handwriting analysis and of course people had a lot of questions because the subject was new to them. This is when her theater training helped her become an amazing speaker.
During her childhood she had a lot of trouble reading and which other people mistook for tardiness, because she could answer questions, and that meant she wasn’t a dull kid. So, this came as a surprise to me, when she mentioned during her session at AMA, that she was dyslexic. I suppose, it was a surprise for her as well, because she discovered it at the age of 25.
“When I explained to one of my friends how I had difficulty reading, remembering, and how I avoided bank work, she said, “Hey have you taken, dyslexia for adults test?”. I did my research and I had one of those, Oh-shit-I-wish-I-knew-this-sooner moments.”
Things did turn out for the better for her as struggle paid off when she approached two radio stations at the age of 22, and within 15 days she was live on the radio doing a radio show. She started her own company and worked along with her two friends, like a small team. Now they had to reach out to people and corporates weren’t giving her any response.
“I literally approached 100 companies, but I don’t think the corporate India wasn’t ready for something like this, even though I had my certificate and a radio show, but people were open to handwriting analysis on a personal level.”
In an attempt to reach out to people they went for an HR conference in Delhi.
“I literally bumped into HR head of IBM with his wife, and I was like, ‘Hey, can I talk to you? Can I analyze your handwriting?’ And they said yes. I remembered we talked and how much we laughed and laughed. That evening, he had received the best HR professional award, we had dinner together and spent pretty much the entire evening together. People started approaching me in the conference asking questions like ‘Who are you? Why this person was hanging out with you?’.”
She got an assignment with IBM nationally, to analyze their executives’ handwriting. From then on she got signed up to big names like ISPAT too(now JSW), Torrent Pharma, and celebrities like John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, and Smriti Irani et. al. All along the way, she kept studying and honing herself in different skills.
“My father collected newspapers, so from 1980 we had every single newspaper that came to our house. So for me learning to upgrade yourself or investing in you to add value to you was a very normal thing to do. Between the next birthday gift and a course, it was encouraged that I chose the latter, which I still hold today.”
The one we know as Aditi Surana today once went around by the name Chandraprabha. She felt that without knowledge she was providing feedback to these people, that she wasn’t growing. So she let go of her staff and took a sabbatical for two and a half years.
“I looked at everything that I owned and thought as to what am I creating here? So I went for a transcendental meditation, a thing which people take up after they have retired. At 25, I changed my name to ‘Aditi’. Aditi means unbound. I could do whatever I’d like to do.”
During this period she got married too. It mattered to her if whatever she was doing is making her happy or not. According to her very few people really pay attention to whether they are enjoying their life or not.
She went through a lot of emotional abuse as a child, physical and emotional. For people, it wasn’t okay to be different or dyslexic for that matter.
“As I married my entire name changed. Suddenly, I was a nobody. I wasn’t amongst high end people. The yoga teacher in Rishikesh, where I went, didn’t care for who I was. All of that shed a lot of myth of achievement and success that we have.”
But you never know what the future has in store for you. After her sabbatical, she returned back to work. She started realizing that she wasn’t the wife that he had in mind. For him, it was fun being with a random and unpredictable person, but playing that game, in the long run, is something neither of them was ready for. They looked at each other and said that probably they didn’t want to do this. But as fate had it, things didn’t stop there, along with this came another wave,
“As I had started to work again, my father started falling ill and husband had decided to call off our marriage. Again I was a stage where I had no clue, I had to go to my father to be the caretaker.”
With so much resentment in the past, she went to nurse her father. Where she hadn’t spoken to him in years, now she had to be there for him. She tells me how it was one of the toughest phases of her life. Her husband filed for a divorce and in December her father passed away. Her husband stuck around for a couple of months as he knew she was in a very fragile state.
During this, she jolted herself back to the realizing that she cannot shut down the connect she has with consciousness and the experience with people she gained over the years. Aditi has changed 13 apartments, so far.
“Then, I moved to a different apartment. I realized that I was losing on everything that mattered to me, the connect with body, consciousness, and connecting with the universe. I couldn’t shut down. I met a friend who was a client and she told me about Access Consciousness.”
She couldn’t stop, a course that usually takes 2-3 years to complete to become a facilitator, she completed in 11 months, and I went to Italy, for my certification training.
“After my father’s death, everything that was unresolved between us showed up and I couldn’t go back to him and talk. I used to cry for my father, somebody I didn’t meet for 7-8 years. But Access Consciousness help me get through it and resolve the conflict within me. I realized through Access, that I didn’t have to blame him or rationally understand to choose all that I want. I could reconnect with mind and body, which is what gives me the intellectual kick I need.”
During no point in the conversation did I feel her voice losing confidence. You hear people’s version of their struggle. At no point in her life did she give up whether she was aware of the problem or not, the abuse, her dyslexia, her relationships, she kept believing in herself. She has an aura brimming with confidence which makes you feel there will always be problems but if I have a calm like her, you’ll get through it like a fish in water.
Once upon a time, more than 2 decades ago, in the far North East, there was a 5-year-old little girl. In a small town in a village, she was out shopping with her folks. She was intently waiting for her parents in the car, and that is when she heard the first gunshot. Seconds later, this was followed by the sound of a hail of bullets. A stray bullet flying towards the car got stuck in the rear windshield.
“I still remember my dad came and took me out of the car window. We rushed inside a nearby shop and switched off the lights. We stayed in for an hour and a half, all through which we could hear the continuous firing of bullets.”
Suddenly there were people banging on the shop door, threatening them, ordering them to surrender themselves. Her parents raised her hands, but she couldn’t understand as to why they had to surrender. With the innocence of a befuddled child, she was bobbing her hands halfway, as she saw her parents do the same. As they walked out they saw their surroundings engulfed in a fiery inferno, their car burning, hundreds of shops on fire, gas cylinders in houses exploding. She was made to lie down on the road the whole day, face-forward, it bruised her knees.
“I don’t remember this, but years later when I spoke to my mom about it, she told me that I had slept off for a few hours on the road amidst this.”
That’s childhood rife with Bandhs (curfews) for Limabenla Jamir, who lives in Nagaland. As kids, it was an occasion to rejoice that they were let off school, she now realizes how adversely it affected their education, their upbringing. Every day someone would get assassinated, or taken away, the insurgent groups or the Indian army would come checking disrupting the lives of civilians.
In 1997 though, the GoI and NSCM (IM) signed a ceasefire agreement after a series of peace talks, which has ensured some stability in the region. After numerous rounds of talks, a framework agreement was again signed in 2015 between GoI and NSCN(IM), which basically lays the framework to pave the way for a final settlement on the Naga issue, according to the information given by the Prime Minster’s Office and NSCN (IM) one of the Naga Political groups.
It’s been years since the Indo-Naga conflict has affected the lives and prosperity, but the real question here is why is taking such a long time? History and open dialogues, so much resentment and grudge because we don’t understand the predicament of the other side. “Are you Indian? Are you from Nepal?” Maybe we do not ask the right questions when we meet our brothers from the east.
“I was going to Delhi, to drop my sister who was to start her studies at Hindu college. Indian Army stopped us in Kohima, it was just another day again when the security was intense, and asked, “Kaha jaa rahe hai?” (Where are you going?), which flight are you taking? etc. I responded to all their questions in Hindi and they were shocked. I fail to understand why they enjoying asking such random questions with that laughter behind every statement.”
Now, I don’t mean to generalize for an entire section, but even one such incident is like fuel on fire. All this because you don’t know the predicament of the person on the other side or the environment in which they grew up in.
“I was in 9th grade I opened Seventeen magazine where I saw girls attending different universities in Delhi or Bangalore. It was a big deal for me that they were attending UN events, and that’s how I planned my bachelors in Delhi University.”
“Now, that I was pursuing psychology in Delhi, I began to question the situation in my region and began analyzing the conflict. That is when I decided to pursue my masters in the UK. My research was around how young people are affected by these conflicts, and the results showed that these people did show lower self-esteem and lower life satisfaction and affected their mental health.”
Like many conflicted regions, these results were prevalent in her region amongst her people. During her time in the UK, she got introduced to several United Nations Program and Trainings. She came back to India and with the help of an enthusiastic bunch of young people, founded a platform called NEIMUN (North East India International Model United Nations).
They train young people, conferences, platforms, and events under the UN4MUN program established by UNDPI, WFUNA across different states in North East India. They encourage young people to question, to read the newspaper more often, to think about the world beyond our state our region. It is a platform to which helps them learn about public speaking, negotiation and develop their leadership skills. It’s an opportunity for students from different states to visit the North East, starting with small numbers to attend 3-day event. They have people from Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Punjab who came to attend the conference. The conferences and events revolve around discussing on the sustainable development goals, international politics, etc.
“In one of the conference, during the feedback session this young person mentioned that someone close to him was killed in the India-Pakistan war. Whenever he thought about Pakistan, he was filled with anger and frustration, but attending this conference he had to read about Pakistan, their problems and he said, ‘I see that we have similar sufferings in Pakistan and Nagaland, but the young people there they want the same dreams, a good future. My anger and frustration are no more’.”
I was short on time, but not on the length of the conversation. I know we must not always ask for solutions before the time is right, but sometimes it’s hard not to think, ‘How to resolve this?’.
“I haven’t thought of this before this, but since you ask, I think of interstate collaboration amongst students of states or governments of states on different projects and programs, instead of communication with the centre. Exchange programs for teachers and students, and young people in policy making process so that we don’t just comment on policies after they are made but are a part of their formation.”
History is important. Sometimes its filled with frustration and sorrow but without that piece with us, we’ll repeat the same mistakes. We’re from the millennial generation, that means we have unlimited access to information, not to sulk or lash out for what was wrong in our past, but to improve our future and ensure that not just our generation but the next one as well, has a chance at creating a future without any boulders obstructing their flow of thought. Nagaland is at peace. It’s not a conflict zone anymore.
‘Start a conversation, not to find a solution but to do justice to our childhood pledge, ‘All Indians are my brothers and sisters’. I had a conversation with Limabenla Jamir and Reena Ngurang, if not all of it, I know my country a little better now.
Limabenla Jamir was nominated as a Global Shaper by the World Economic forum. She is also the Founding Curator of Kohima Hub, WEF. She spoke at the TEDxDumas platform and shared her experiences with the audience.
Do you remember your first flight? The anxious feeling of clouds passing beneath you, watching the sunrise from up above, or looking down to earth with houses smaller than ants! It’s a high in itself, the feat of flight, overcoming the non-intrinsic ability to fly. Saumya Gupta, a girl who turned her flight around mid-air and landed to score ten-on-ten, when all else failed.
This bride-to-be was raised to believe that there was nothing she couldn’t do.
“I was raised like a boy; not a girl. I remember my mom telling me time and again- ‘there is nothing you can’t do that a man can!’”
She was fascinated with airplanes since she was a kid, decided to become a commercial pilot and got the license for the same in 2007.
“As a child, I was always fascinated by airplanes. In fact, my nursery interview was with an airplane in my hand!”
Even after achieving her dreams of being a commercial pilot, she did not get to live her dreams. Due to the prevailing recession of 2007, she did not get a job.
“We had already spent Rs. 60 Lacs on my pilot training. I was just 20 then. I remember going for interviews and authorities telling, ‘Everything is okay, but how do we give responsibility of so many people to a 20-year-old?’ Some suggested I train further to fly Boeing and Airbus, but that’d mean additional 20-25 lacs with no guarantee of a job.”
Clueless, Saumya took up a job at a call centre that paid her a meagre Rs. 20,000.
“Though I was a professional pilot, on paper I was just a 12th pass, technically. I couldn’t really have any other decent job. Working at call centre didn’t just feel right. On day 1, I knew I wouldn’t last here for too long.”
Frustrated, Saumya’s next stint was working as a gym instructor at a gym where her mother would train.
“I was put at the reception and had to wear makeup all day. Back then, I couldn’t even apply mascara properly.”
When nothing seemed to work out, Saumya’s parents suggested her to pursue a formal degree in Commerce. Which she did.
“I enrolled in a regular B.Com course in a college in Mumbai. I wasn’t from a Commerce background, so I hardly understood anything! I began taking coaching classes to cover-up the concepts. I remember, I’d always confuse between debit and credit, and everyone in the class would laugh at me. Eventually, the teacher asked my parents to cease my training. It wasn’t going anywhere.”
At this point, Saumya had no idea about her future. One day, when she completely broke down, she went up to her mother and proposed the idea of exporting designer wear and selling them.
“Har jagah hath per toh maar hi rahi thi, socha kapde hi bech ke thoda time-pass karlu (I was any way trying every possible thing, so I thought why not try selling clothes”. I wanted to rotate the money, and I knew more will come in”, she says.
She bought around 30 garments of high-fashion brands like Roberto Cavalli and Gautier from an exporter and invited her friends and family home for buying them.
“We texted all our friends in Mumbai to come for this small exhibition at home. Most came before the day of the exhibition since everyone wanted a first hand on branded items. We were sold out 24 hours before the exhibition day!”
30 became 45 and then 80. This mother-daughter duo would ensure they are sold-out every time they’d exhibit.
“This wasn’t financially profitable, though. So, I continued to take calls in the call centre to pump capital into the garment line I was creating with my extremely supportive mother.”
Her mother, Ritu Gupta, who is also a co-founder and heads the designing for Ten-On-Ten, showed her the Fashion & You Ads on Facebook. This is where they got the idea of going online.
“We wrote an email to Mr. Rahul Narvekar, the famous Indian e-commerce entrepreneur, and then the founder CEO of Indianroots- an NDTV Ethnic Retail Venture. We didn’t have a registered company, TIN or PAN. I made it clear in the email. A day later, I received a positive reply from his side. This marked our first step towards online retailing. It was a hit, we were out-of-stock on the same day and since then, we never looked back!”
Going online though wasn’t as easy as she puts it above. She shares,
“We were stupid! We had no idea about selling things online. I was asked to get pictures of our clothes on models, and post them online with a description. My mom and I sat all night to write 3 page long descriptions and next day this lady at Fashion and You scraped everything off into a 3 liner!”, she says bursting into laughter.
Too broke to afford models and photographers, Saumya did what most early-stage entrepreneurs end up doing – Jugaad.
“We got hold of some budding photographers and good-looking friends of friends who wanted to build their portfolios. The models would do their own makeup because we couldn’t even afford makeup artists. Sometimes in exchange, we’d give them the dress they shot for at no cost.”
Saumya knew that she needed an edge over her competitors and she also knew what a Ten on Ten client would be like. So, she started with her own manufacturing unit.
“We took a while to gather machinery. Bought second-hand machinery; one machinery a month, sometimes one in two months, depending on how much money was available.”
When I asked her what challenges she faced in her entrepreneurial journey, she said,
“We have bootstrapped since the beginning, and that is very challenging when you are surrounded by Series As and Bs. Apart from this, I didn’t have any knowledge of the manufacturing area. It was all new. I even had to learn MS Excel from the team of Fashion & You. But I learned by burning hands time & again in wrong decisions. Things took longer than what they should ideally, but that was a part of my learning phase.”
The success of this hardworking and perseverant entrepreneur can be found in the popularity of the brand name of Ten-On-Ten.
“We moved from a parking garage to an office, from 1 office we moved to 4, we have won many accolades. We knew the path we had chosen was correct. We are growing. Today we are retailing over 13,000 garments pieces per month and are top sellers in major marketplaces. Soon, we were clocking a very good revenue too!”
The best part is that they achieved all this without taking any loans!
“It was all hard work. This company was built from the scratch by saving every bit that we earned in profits.”
She has achieved a lot since Ten-On-Ten started its operations in August 2009.
“I think winning the award from Kunal Bahl for contributing to his Snapdeal’s success & being awarded as India’s top 100 retail professionals was one of the biggest achievements for us.”
As I draw to a close writing about her achievements, about her struggles, I recollect Christopher Walken’s words behind a podium,
“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse.”
It was the time of the day, when the red flash cites the arrival of Sun, just before dawn, when I started towards Surat. On top of that, the weather was rife with a light fog and chill was, just soothing. The feeling soon subsided as Gujarat’s weather knows it better than anyone to taunt us during monsoons. But what a start to the day it was.
I was to meet an amazing group of people, but Saurabh, my guide had a surprise visit in store for me. Kinjal Gajera. Surat is famous for many things, but then, I had Khichu and Dumas beach on top of my mind. In no time, I found myself in front of a lush building with glass windows and I correctly deduced the third thing Suratis are famous for, diamonds.
I knew better by then to judge people by their stature. So removing the rich and posh out of mind, looking at the building, I stepped in to meet her. As we opened the door, she sat on the far end of the room, working on her computer. The room was huge and quiet. Thin, young, and donning an aura which projected strength, is how I would describe her.
Kinjal Gajera is the daughter of Chunnibhai Gajera. She manages branding and marketing of Laxmi Diamonds and Gajera Trust. Gajera brothers (her father and uncles) are owners of the renowned company Laxmi Diamonds founded in 1972. They diligently worked towards setting up the company.
“I grew up with my parents, because my brothers studied in boarding schools. I was a pampered child, with love and not with things. My father had a very big role in my upbringing.”
And she is right. We are a shadow of people we grow up with, our parents, friends, teachers, including people we work with. She tells me how her father helped her keep her eyes in front and ears open to both ends of the world.
“We sat on the floor to dine as a family and also visited the hotels to enjoy the luxury. We weren’t showered with laptops and cars, but given things of necessities at the right times.”
She has a father and uncles who run a company with billions in turnovers, goes without saying each of their meetings were important ones. Kinjal tells me how her father helped her become what she is today.
“My father never thought any of my questions were inane or assumed that I wouldn’t understand because I was young. He ensured I was in the room, even when there was a dignitary coming in to meet him. I was groomed into who I am today, by him.”
Kinjal didn’t have as easily flowing childhood as it looks like. People assumed and perceived what they wanted to. Was it because of her background? Her gender? Or maybe both.
“I didn’t know why others thought that the only way women can live and dream, were, as long these dreams fit into a man’s view. I have traveled by myself, studied abroad because my father gave me freedom to pursue these dreams.”
During this part of the conversation, she tells me how she’s a feminist in terms of equal opportunities for everyone. She was a mischievous kid and not the brightest one the school, but definitely not a dunce. I say this because what she is doing today, will dispel if what little shred of doubt people had about her.
“I wanted to be a lot of things. I love buildings, astronomy, et. al. and with Sunita’s Makerspace, I am vicariously living those dreams.”
Inspired by the love and support she received growing up, Kinjal named an initiative after her mother, Sunita. Amongst running 17 schools under Gajera trust, she started Sunita’s makerspace where kids with extra-ordinary skills can learn how to find their calling and hone themselves under various fields like dance, technology, music, management, etc. right from the school level.
“Each of the teachers in teaching in schools have a passion apart from the subject they teach. They maybe good with music or sports. They pick up a club from makerspace and mentor the students who have an affinity for the same.”
Kinjal has a very focused vision for Gajera Trust and herself. She plans on bringing in existing talent, by collective and collaborative efforts of all who believe in the vision of building sustainable communities to drive students to become innovators. Kinjal is also supporting TEDxDumas, so I asked her as to why she’s invested in the idea.
“I think the thoughts and efforts that we are putting in are somewhere inspired by other people, other experiences. As I was growing up my father inspired me, shared his experiences with me. And then, I started following TED’s platform in my bachelors and found a new inspiration from the stories people shared.”
If you would like to attend TEDxDumas in Surat this 28th August. Please visit their website.
Married off at 12, Sughra became the first woman in her village to get divorced. She was 18 then, and a social outcast. Sughra Solangi overcame significant difficult situations to become an exceptional example of what an oppressed woman can achieve through sheer determination and strength.
Severely beaten by her brother when she tried to attend school, Sughra pursued her studies at home.
Soon, she became her village’s first female high school graduate and the first teacher at the first school for girls. This is when she realised that people were not sending their daughters to school for two reasons – social customs and lack of funds.
In 1992, floods devastated the agriculture-dominated economy of her village – Sonlangi.
Sughra Solangi along with other village women took the initiative of helping out the flood affected communities out of trauma and loss of properties and formed a women’s saving group. They collected Rs. 10 per household from 50 houses and gave to a family to open a small grocery shop in the village. This event marked the beginning of the Marvi Rural Development Organization, an initiative to support literacy, health and well-being, development of community organisations, income generation and ending violence against women.
She has had significant success in developing her village Solangi, Khairpur District, and developing new villages every year in Sindh region of Pakistan. She became an Ashoka Fellow in 1999, and for her achievements she received the International Women of Courage Award in 2011.