Friday 26 October 2018

Celebrating Dussehra 2018

Dussehra 2018 with Women of Prajwala and Sunitha Krishnan:

To celebrate Dussehra, I would like to introduce you to a group of women who were most instrumental (literally) in celebrating this festival.  

One of the key celebrations of Dussehra is the dandiya dance and the aesthetics of the dandiya sticks has evolved over the years. This episode of my writing is to pay homage to the women of Prajwala and Sunitha Krishnan, who brought this festival alive with their version of hand made dandiya sticks that they sold for Rs 75/ pair.  Encased in its own colourful case, a few pairs of dandiya sticks were delivered to me on my recent visit to their campus so that I can take them as gifts for my colleagues at INK.

When I met Sunitha a decade ago in her tiny walk up office in the narrow gullies of Hyderabad old city in 2008 or so, she spoke about the women and children she rescues from prostitution.  She took me to a work shop a few miles away where they teach women furniture making, welding, book making etc., She said that they choose vocations that require physical strength because it is most important area of confidence building for these women who have been abused physically.  The furniture and the notebooks that they make in these workshops are supplied to schools and other institutions. When I visited her in early October of 2018, the story of the women and the need to rescue has still not changed.  She spoke of the 80 women they rescued a few days earlier, with the youngest being 2.5 years old.  What has changed is that her tiny walk up office morphed into a 3-acre office complex where uniformed security personnel guard the premises while a high iron gate further guards the recently rescued.  The campus houses the office staff as well the workshop with printing and furniture making equipment.  There is a small, elegant home standing next to the office where Sunitha stays through the week and goes to her apartment to see her husband on Sundays.  There are 4 to 5 guest rooms for the well wishers or visiting volunteers to stay.  A few kilometres away a 10-acre campus has been created as a permanent home for the rescued women with crèche facilities for the children of working mothers.  An organic garden exists in each campus to feed its inhabitants. After my first visit in 2008, I worked with Sunitha to raise the money they needed to build all these facilities by bringing in not only well-meaning individuals but also organisations like and other large Foundations.  I have seen Sunitha leverage every paisa that is raised by making the most of it.  Sunitha and her husband built the two campuses with a fraction of the cost of what most builders might have spent with sustainability and elegance.

Following my article, you will find links to her talks that we curated, which narrate her own journey.  What’s impressive is not only the number of women they rescued but the eco system that they built to counter human trafficking.  Be it passing laws that make men equally responsible when they are caught (instead of parading the women to prisons while letting the men go) to training police academies across India to teach them how to conduct the raids, follow the leads, develop a sensitive way of handling, or going on a road trip to districts across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to educate about trafficking – each activity is done with limited resources and large impact.  I have also seen her train the next generation of rescuers, rehabilitators, accountants and anyone else who might touch the eco system. 

Sunitha is on a journey to replace herself in the day-to-day operations so that she has more time to write and give herself the best gift possible – time to be with herself.  Let’s all wish her luck in her journey. 

What I learnt from Women of Prajwala:

Personally, they put a perspective on what I call “problems”.  I have no right to complain about my bank balance or personal comforts when I see the women who are so graceful despite us letting them down as a society.  Professionally, our ability to convert inspiration to impact for Prajwala gave us the courage to start INK in India and continue that journey.   Sunitha’s talk was so powerful that we decided to take action and help her build a permanent home for Prajwala.  Our audience, our INK tribe played a part in building these campuses and each time I visit the campus that Sunitha built, I feel that INK hit the jackpot. On those lonely nights when I question my decision as an entrepreneur, I think of the campus and feel as though I closed a fresh round of funding.

Beaten into submission
bounced from man to man
bodies may have hardened
but the spirit stays strong.
In the hands of the
Women of Prajwala
who survived the onslaught
of the ugliness of humanity,
even a piece of hard wood
takes shape of
decorative dancing aid.
And the covering
Sachets so soft
showing the world
the strength of soft smiles
a determined mind
that not just survives
but Sustains and

Saturday 20 October 2018

Lakshmi's 50 Over 50

In today’s world, we are enamoured by the young and the rich.  We have lists for 25 under 25, 30 under 30, 40 under 40.  So, I thought that I would lay claim to 50 over 50. 

I decided to write each week about a person who not only had an idea but had the chutzpah to carry it through and had the tenacity to do it for decades.  Here are the three rules I plan to adopt:

1.     I will not write about my immediate family in India because they would definitely fill the first 50. 
2.     I will not write about people I read about or heard about
3.     I will not write about those who have deceased

I will only write about people I met who are alive.  These are the people who spent some personal time with me that gives me an insight into what makes them unique
Hope you enjoy the stories of 50 Over 50 each Friday.

 Why now?

Here are the two main reasons for coming up with this list:

Firstly - Today, more than ever, there is a need for adult supervision, coaching, nurturing for the young ideas that are springing everywhere.  The experienced have to learn from the young and become coaches who gently guide but not dictate and the young have to learn to bring in experience.  A lot of the problems with starts ups, unicorns and young media moguls is that there is no adult supervision.  There is NO ONE who is watching them to warn when they are on a slippery slope, to make the slight course correction that can be the fine line between success and sudden death.

Secondly - There is a selfish reason for doing this as well.
As I got older, my mind has not aged and even level of energy has kept up but what has changed drastically is the way the society looks at me. When my young colleagues go out to a pub, they assume that I would not want to go out with them;  If I have a little grey in my hair, I am immediately written off the list of cutting edge thinkers and in the start up world, Venture Capitalists want to see a young face at the helm.  And I feel only the youth of my mind and not the age of my body.  I see my friends in my age group who could be great coaches not be utilised to their fullest.  So, I decided that it is about time I created my own list of the COOL 50 over 50.

Why me?

I became an entrepreneur in my 40s.  In some ways, I lived my professional life in reverse.  In my 20s and 30s, I worked for a large company, traveled around the world in style, stayed at the best hotels, hung out celebrities and worked on trends and technologies that define who we are today.  From making a purchase on line to playing a game on the computers to listening to streaming music or watching video online to purchasing online – my career at Intel had a small yet strategic part to play in it.  Subsequent turns as a Venture Capitalist and Social entrepreneur had me hang out with the well to do and the well meaning.  It’s in my 40’s that I got the entrepreneurial bug because I realised that I have always been one.  Even in a large company, I ran small, strategic programs and grew them, always walking away at the verge of having to manage operations and large teams; as a VC, I tried to make investments in India way before it was time; as a social entrepreneur, I set up internet labs in under privileged schools when the conventional wisdom was arguing for taking care of basic needs like uniforms and building toilets.  I always shot way ahead of the curve, sometimes missing the mark and many more times making a difference in my own way. 

And this turn as an entrepreneur has been the most exhilarating yet exhausting journey.  From my fancy life in 20s and 30s, I moved to the financially unstable life of an entrepreneur in my 40s.  And there are three essential ingredients that helped me move myself up the learning ladder that keeps the factor of exhilaration tip slightly over the factor of exhaustion.

1.     To surround myself with the truly wealthy that are idea rich and go through life with humility
2.     To measure success in 10 year intervals and having the stomach to hit the bottom.  And be willing to give up something along the way
3.     Having someone with experience guide me, challenge me and often change my path

Over the years, I realised that there is no substitute for spending more time on this earth and experiencing the ups and downs.  There are many young people who might be more knowledgeable and even wise but there is an undeniable grace and beauty that comes when one stands the test of time.

The technologies may change, content may evolve but the basic pursuit of personal excellence, professional integrity, decency, courtesy, grit and a general respect of all things in the universe and the need to sustain life beyond our lifetime remains the same.

So, I wanted to write about 50 people over 50 who I had the privilege to meet and get to know who embody some of the traits I treasure the most.  Hope you enjoy getting to know them. 

Monday 8 October 2018

Perfume Diaries (Part 4 of 4)

In the previous three episodes, I shared about my stroll into the streets of scents and how my husband Rajat gave me my soul mate of a perfume, “Poeme”. You also know that I was crushed by the news of Poeme being discontinued. Let’s pause about perfumes and let me share with you something magical.

In 2003, My life changed with the arrival of my son, Arnav. I was always terrified of pregnancy. I thought that it would slow me down, wondered whether I would be a good mother, was worried that the vagabond in me would be curtailed. And much to my surprise, my pregnancy was a breeze. I worked till a week before my delivery and stayed home for a month after bringing Arnav home and I did not want to put him down for a second. For the first time in my life, I really understood what my father must have felt when he held me in that operating room when I first arrived and why he loved me despite all my experiments with life. I fell in love truly and madly with my child.

I would lay down next to him each night and read him stories. When he was five or six, he asked me to tell him stories from my life, especially funny ones. Over the years, I told him stories of my parents’ childhood, my summer vacations, each person I was friends with, my school days, college days in India as well in US, work life, projects I worked on, people I met and told him of his paternal grand parents and all their family. As he grew up, I told him of my dreams, my crazy escapades, work details. I don’t think that there is anything that my son does not know about me.  

He is a teenager now and slowly separating. A major event was when he went to Paris this April to play in a football tournament. It was the first time that he was going out of the country without us, with his school and his friends. He wanted money for expenses. I told him that he did not need much because he would be busy playing tournaments and his hotel and food are covered anyway. I spoke to other parents and we decided that we should give them around $300 and that should be enough for a week. I gave him strict instructions that just because he had money, he need not spend it and that he should not buy anything too expensive and so on and so forth. I could just hear his unsaid “Mom! Stop it” and I finally curbed my helicoptering. He had a great time. They won a couple of games, lost many and carried home wonderful memories of everything from Mona Lisa to Eiffel tower to staying up late talking till they lost their voices. A week later, all the parents gathered at the airport in the early hours – this time to receive tired, quiet kids, quite different from the excitedly babbling boys a week earlier. We got home at about 9am and he fell asleep.

When he woke up, he handed me $50 or so and I scolded him for spending so much money and told him that hopefully he did not buy junk. First he showed me the 5 or 6 t-shirts he bought for himself which totalled $50 or $60, then he spoke about some of the food they ate, then he showed me the sweatshirt he got for my husband and then he handed over a small package to me and asked me to open it. When I did, I saw a beautiful white package of Chanel perfume.  This was the gift that cost him the most – over $100. He said “Ma! I remember the story that you told me about Chanel No. 5 and how you never bought it for yourself. I went to the shop and asked and they said that this was the latest Chanel perfume. I got it for you so that you can now complete that wish.” I felt like such a heel for giving him a hard time for spending all that money. Most of his pocket money was spent on me remembering a story I told him years ago. And just like that, “Poeme” my favorite perfume was replaced by Chanel. He remembered such a random detail from a story of my past and brought me a gift so thoughtful. 

I still have a bottle left of “Poeme” that was given by my husband, who after 23 years, still manages to stay with me; a bottle of “Versace Bright Crystal” that my son helped me buy to replenish the dwindling supply of Poeme and also “Chanel” that he chose for me. They are each my lucky charms for different purposes and I am thankful for the treasure of these three bottles. 

They say that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. In my nostalgia for things gone by, I have not seen the new possibilities that were right in front of me. We get so attached to things, think that those things define us and then magically, we move into a place where none of those things matter. And all that you are left with is a huge gratitude of the love that surrounds you, of occupying a place in someone’s heart so deep that it touches your soul. May be, whatever our problems are - if we keep telling our stories, our children may provide solutions in ways unimaginable. The trick is not to have that expectation and be surprised by the rewards…every single time. Next time you see me, you sure might wonder if I smell like Poeme, Versace or Chanel and all I can tell you is that it’s that sweet smell of something beautiful. 

Friday 5 October 2018

Perfume Diaries (Part 3 of 4)

Part 3 of 4 – Perfume Diaries (Oct 4, 2018)

In the previous two parts of these diaries, you got to know how “Poeme” became the perfume of my choice for over two decades. In 2016 or so, I was told that the perfume was discontinued and that it would not be available for sale. I got into a panic. You take some things so much for granted that you don’t think twice about it. At each point of my life, I experimented with only one thing at a time and everything else remains the same. 

When I was single and finding out who my ideal partner would be, I stayed with the same company, Intel. After I got married, we moved into a home and we own that home even now. As I started experimenting with my career – from Intel to being a VC to Social entrepreneur to an entrepreneur from US to India, the rest of the habits remained same – Vamp lipstick from Chanel, Himalayan kajal stick, Poeme perfume, saree for the stage, standard pant, top and stole for the rest of the days, same dishes in handful of restaurants – be it baingan bhartha at the Amber in Mountain View or egg biryani at Lucky’s in Mumbai or spaghetti aglio olio at Toscano in Bangalore etc. So, when lipstick color Vamp was discontinued, I could get over it but when Poeme was discontinued, I was really upset. I wrote to the company, I even wrote a poem about Poeme. 

MARCH 29, 2019

Liquid Gold
Slightly sprayed on my skin
Lingering all day long
Seeping through layers of my skin
A love affair of over two decades
Becomes such a part of me
That it makes me smell like “me”.
I have always been a scent woman
As a newly wed
When my husband presented a
multiple choice of perfumes
I chose you.
Since then I bought you
In every possible size 
Without looking at the price
With no thought, no other explanation
I kept you with me always
When I sprayed a little on my wrist
The thought of my grand father
Spraying a drop of attar on his handkerchief
And tucking it into his pocket
Would flash by
The summer evenings in Eluru
When my aunts would sit 
With a mound of Jasmine flowers
Weaving into my hair
A five-hour art work
Layering my long hair
Filling the room with a fragrance
Intoxicating evenings
Inexplicable pride as I was
paraded through the neighbour homes
And the final prize would be
Presenting the work to my grand father
Who would ask me to turn around
Putting his hands on my shoulder
Pull me slightly closer to him
And inhale deeply the fragrance of fresh flower
And then turn me around 
And hand me some small change
For my patience to sit for so long
Making me feel like a rich queen
Who can splurge her earnings on
Treating oneself to an ice cream soda
------ All those memories flood by

Summer nights in our Hyderabad home 
When the terrace would be washed
With buckets of water
With heat rising by the touch of cold liquid
Floor cleaned
Mats laid
Covered by hand sown mattresses
Fresh white sheets spread and tucked 
Soft pillows completing the picture
A long line of mattresses pillows 
Welcoming us all to
Sleep under the stars
My Dad, grand parents
Siblings and visiting cousins
A long time of tired bodies
Falling asleep to the 
Breeze carrying the 
Fragrance of Jasmine and Mallepuvvu
From our back yard
Fun nights of stories and laughter
Slowly melting into a mixture
Snoring and silent breathing

I always imagined
A white handkerchief
Sprayed with Poeme
Adorning my body
As I am carried onto the funeral pyre
I somehow thought
That this was a death do us part deal

I had no idea that
Business decisions 
Would “retire” you
I was heart broken
When I heard that 
you were being 

Sending an SOS to my Friends
to buy every last bottle they could find
I went to the Duty free Shops
Whenever I travelled around the world
To buy the few that were left behind
My panic rises when
I see that storage is dwindling

When my nephew commented the other day
“Do you still use Poeme?
I realised that you have become a part of me
 A signature for my entry into any room

How I wish I could create you
And keep you with me forever
For now
I am slowly getting used
To the idea to bid adieu
To my lovely Poeme
I felt so silly to be so sentimental about a scent. May be it happened at a time when everything else seem to be falling apart. Being an entrepreneur is a very tough journey. Especially when you start the journey in your 40s and feel as though time is passing by with progress in profits not as fast paced as you had projected. I made America my home for 25 years and the move to India was the most exhilarating yet exhausting transition I ever made. So, even a silly thing like my favourite perfume discontinued, felt like a personal attack.  

Like all things that seem insurmountable, something totally unexpected happened that gave me a whole new perspective and whole new hope. (I realized that week is too long of a break for my final edition. So, look out for the final part on MondayJ)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...