With the backdrop of looking for mother’s day stories I was hard pressed to find one which displays the true pursuit of being a mother and does not over saturate you, the reader, with an unnecessary back-patting about how it’s the most difficult job in the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore mothers, as they have taken up the feat of giving humanity one more chance at being right. Not all of them succeed, very few do, but that’s beside the point that I am trying to make.
I wanted someone who did not overrate motherhood and yet dignified it in a way that befits her individuality as a woman. I had been talking to Madhvi Kharade to get to know her story on her after I learnt about her beautiful work with HR solutions and a unique 13 module training program.
After our first phone call, her work impressed me more than she did, which was kind of a downer so I called in for a second phone call. This time, I gave myself strict instructions not to talk about her work, however interesting it might be for the geek inside me. And it did payoff. What happened next, has been summed up in the story below.
“I come from a family of really intelligent and supposedly well-qualified people, and you could guess that being an arts graduate wasn’t the most impressive thing to do.”
This hurts, because most of my life was spent thinking dumb kids like me had no future, because that was what I was told. My worldview was consumed by being educated just enough to know what I am taught and told is right but not enough to question what was asserted. And today as I sit across the table or a Skype call, I wonder how people so dull in school made it so big.
Madhavi is someone who faced constant criticism ever since her childhood.
“Sometimes they would only take my sister and my brother to social events, they did not want to face the question of, “aapki beti kya karti hai?” (What does your girl do?)”
Being an arts student in India is difficult, not only because it is difficult to produce tangible value out of art as a profession, that people would understand, but also because society until recently looked down upon them as outcasts. An attitude that cost so many people so many years of their lifetime and this by the way, includes yours truly.
This was also the reason Madhavi got married really early, even before her elder sister, the argument being, “I was an arts student and they felt that I might not get a good groom if I am too late to the party.”
She got married in the first year of her Master’s in Psychiatric Social Work, to a software engineer in Bangalore and her introvert nature added to the pile of social problems she was already dealing with. Bearing a child in the first year of their marriage,did not come as an easy situation to handle but there was a flame that kept her going.
Madhavi never took all the negativity as a something that would let her down. She turned it into motivation and kept pushing, in part with absolute vengeance, in part with faith that she definitely had something in her that made different, if not better, than everyone that ever put her down.
This also meant that her pregnancy came right when she was working on her project in the second year and she painfully recalls the account of how it would happen.
“In the middle of my pregnancy, I would go for a day-long field work and then come back home and cook. No one was concerned about the troubles that I was going through. My husband, just like my parents, was never thought I was someone he could introduce to his friends. We barely ever talked about my life. It was all about what he was up to.”
The passive shaming of character led to a vicious cycle of stress on Madhavi and she lost a lot of weight during her pregnancy. This also meant that her baby, at the time of birth, was underweight. She was stuck in a constant battle with her personal dreams and the measly and limiting expectations that society had from her.
“I would go to field work with a 2-month-old baby, but I never let that put me down. It was more of an inspiration. I did not want him to grow up in a world that I had seen.”
Pushing so hard when she had a husband who was so well placed, also came with its own challenges.
“People would often ask me why I did what I did when I had a husband who made so much money. They would frequently and unapologetically question my passion with the backdrop of making money. But that was never my goal. I wanted to live in a world where people did not have the problems that I did. Where the society was more concerned about what someone could do, than where they came from and that is what kept me going.”
After the completion of her masters, Madhavi did not waste time in moving on. She started working with NGOs in the social awareness sector with a very strong and focused research on depression in middle-aged individuals. With a zeal to work more on middle age depression, she decided to create jobs for people in that space since that was the only way they could get out of the cycle of social shaming. That’s how she got out of it, so it made sense that others could find hope too.
Starting a business meant a lot of challenges, specifically in a space that was already cluttered with a male dominated mindset. Finding her feet was difficult but so was diminishing her determination.
“Looking back, it’s a miracle how I actually started a company. I had no management experience, had no idea what marketing was all about or what business strategy meant. I just jumped.”
She got her first cheque within the first 3 weeks of starting her company.
“That ₹10,000 cheque meant the world to me. It told me that I was valuable to someone and that people would pay me for what I could do. I could see myself no longer being the girl you wouldn’t want to take to a party or wouldn’t want to introduce to your friends. I saw myself as someone who wasn’t merely a product of society but someone who could bring about a change. It was as much a matter of social change as it was about personal growth.”
This was when Madhavi started making monthly strategies. About how much she could afford to spend, how much she expects to earn, what her goals for each month were.
The journey wasn’t so easy here on. Madhavi also got the mandatory dose of people who would not believe in what she wanted to do or her ability to do it. A dose that every entrepreneur gets on their journey to some place they call home.
But now that I think of it, I feel it’s not a bad thing either, it sometimes acts as a filter. A filter for all the people who aren’t passionate enough for what they have set out to do. A filter to remove all the negativity from someone, to leave them with so little introspection space that they could only survive if they had an unwavering strength to do what they want to despite whatever comes their way. I think it’s a sort of next-big-thing churning process.
One of the main reasons she was put down by a lot of mentors, advisors and, investors was that they felt she was a woman and the corporate recruitment required one to travel so frequently that her social burdens would eventually force her to quit. And as we speak, Madhavi has made it her life’s mission to prove them wrong.
“I have been travelling like crazy recently. A lot of times, alone. All over the state and sometimes even to places where I end up getting back home by 2:30 in the night. I am not scared anymore. Because every time I feel like there is something I can’t do, I start seeing faces of people who told me I couldn’t. I start seeing them being proven right because of my inability and that is something I am just not ready to take.”
This when I sort of start getting bored of all the hardships. Not that I think it was easy for her, not even a bit. But it was so constant that my train of thought started wavering,
“Every entrepreneur always has people who put him/her down or don’t believe in their idea. But I am sure there would be people who supported you and stood up for what you wanted to do. Were there any?”, I asked her.
To which she tells me that the only person she ever found to be indirectly supporting her was the Sandbox head back then, Sandbox is where Madhavi and her company Train-DE are incubated.
Train-de is a start-up by Madhavi that focuses on training and development of fresh graduates and professionals to make them more employable in a traditional setup. What’s unique about her is that she has come up with a 13 module training program which makes people more employable in traditional business and helps get them out of the vicious cycle that the current system puts up for them.
“I have built a rapport with people. I always help them out when they need me in terms of career guidance or helping them through their interviews. And every time I put the phone down, I feel I have helped one more person get out of a condition way worse than mine. And honestly, that’s one reward I am always after.”
Madhavi’s business expanded more when she started assigning small-scale recruitment work to women she knew who could work from home. She would get employee requirements, forward these to her network who would have a more close-knit access to a talent pool of people who weren’t directly available on linkedIn for small companies to hire or afford.
As of date Madhavi employs over 35 women in her area alone who work as freelancers for her. “I have seen a significant change in them over the last two months since I started the program. The dull, bored and out of motivation faces have started finding hope that they can also win their own bread and they aren’t really the good-for-nothings that their families tell them”
“The smile on the faces of people who I have helped is the biggest motivating factor for me to keep going despite all the hurdles that I face. It makes me feel that I am not only helping them but bringing about a social change where people feel that they can actually take up challenges that scare them.”
And she is right. Our modern day society, in the name of meritocracy, has become a huge de-motivating factor at a lot of places. It’s a vicious cycle where a bad education system ruins the employability of a lot of the youth who then sit home and are constantly told that they’re not fit for the world. This guilt then internalises and pushes thousands into depression every year. A cycle that only breaks when they get some genuine and resourceful encouragement.
My conversation with Madhavi made me realise that, however bad the crisis might be and whatever may the cost be, true happiness comes to you only when you seek what you love the most and keep pursuing it relentlessly.
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