From detectives to super bike racers: 9 women who chose to be daring and different

first_imgThe current generation of women have it easy on so many fronts. Many careers that were difficult to break into say, even a decade ago, are today not just accessible but flooded with women experts, thanks to baby steps taken by those before them who first chose to challenge the,The current generation of women have it easy on so many fronts. Many careers that were difficult to break into say, even a decade ago, are today not just accessible but flooded with women experts, thanks to baby steps taken by those before them who first chose to challenge the system and opt for careers that were considered unfit for their gender.Today, there are few career choices that are still riddled with genderrelated biases but the road has been a tough one for the initial few who dared to be different. How do you convince your parents that you want to be a private eye or a bouncer at that? Many of these career choices were outside what was considered the norm, so these women not only had to convince their families that they were making the right choice, they also had to work doubly hard to be noticed in these male-domainated spaces.Take Ansuja Madiwal, a young girl brought up in the slum of Dharavi in Mumbai. The desire to dream big meant that today, she has managed to make her mark in the field of technology, that too at a very youn g age. Or Mehrun Nisha from Saharanpur, who works as a bouncer in a male-dominated space that is all about your muscle power. Or the 22-year-old psychology graduate, Vasundhara Choudhury, who was unanimously elected sarpanch of a tiny Rajasthan village called Lilawali last year. Or even the case of Rajani Pandit, the fiercely individualistic private eye, whom Doordarshan called her India’s first female detective about 30 years ago.advertisementFrom the fields of science and technology, to law, super bike racing and sports journalism, our nine achievers stand head and shoulders above the rest as they dare to think big and push the boundary of what was once considered acceptable for women.1) Pallavi Shroff, 52Senior Partner Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co, Delhi Raising the BarAs the daughter of one of the most prolific chief justices of India, PN Bhagwati, one would have expected law to be Pallavi Shroff ‘s career of choice. Instead, Shroff found her calling in the corporate world after arming herself with an undergraduate degree in Economics from Lady Shri Ram College for Women Delhi, and an MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai. Yet her plans changed when she got engaged to Shardul Shroff, a lawyer. She soon realised that the only way to spend time with her fiance was to join his profession.I think women like us in senior positions owe it to the younger lot to create an atmosphere where we respect our younger colleagues, give them breaks and opportunities and guide and mentor them, says Shroff. Photo: Shekhar GhoshA year-and-a half at the Government Law College in Mumbai got her a degree in law and there was no looking back. “While I did realise that there were very few women in the legal profession at that time, I did not give it much thought. I set out to carry the task (of setting up Amarchand Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co. in Delhi in 1980) along with my husband to the best of my ability,” says the zealous lawyer who has been practising litigation, dispute resolution and arbitration for 30 years. Shroff has been a trailblazer for women in law and has successfully led many landmark deals between corporate giants in the country, a noted one being the landmark Satyam-Tech Mahindra deal. She is, however, cautious of her success as well. “A professional is as good as her last mistake,” she believes.By Ursila Ali2) Vasundhara Choudhury, 22 Sarpanch Lilawali village, RajasthanThe AdministratorThe realisation that a young, educated person as head of the village is beneficial in more ways than one, has served the people of this village in Rajasthan surprisingly well. After MBA graduate Chhavi Rajawat, who made waves with her style of functioning, another Rajasthan village, Lilawali, unanimously elected a young psychology graduate, Vasundhara Choudhury as its sarpanch last year. She has proven to be the turning point in their destiny just as they had hoped.Initially I faced a lot of setbacks when I tried out new initiatives with villagers but that just helped me fine tune many of the ideas I wanted to implement. There were always people who tried to undermine my work; after a point I just stopped listening to them. Photo: Rajwant Rawat”Lilawali is my ancestral village and my father still lives there, so I would spend at least a few months here each year. The glaring discrepancies between city and village life strike you each time one travels here. They have nothing in the form of education and employment. Schools don’t have teachers or even enough subjects to teach. It isn’t humanly possible to ignore these issues and when I got an opportunity to change things, I took up the challenge”, says Choudhury. With education as her primary focus, Choudhury has facilitated change on a war footing. She has rebuilt the dilapidated school building and equipped it with washrooms, labs and most importantly teachers.advertisementFlanked by 13 women panches, she is slowly convincing the rather conservative villagers to let their daughters get a higher education, may it be through correspondence at the nearby IGNOU centre or better still at Jaipur which is 450 km away. “Another issue is the meagre salary of the panchayat members. The sarpanch gets paid Rs 3500 a month and this causes so much corruption. An earlier sarpanch would sign on literally anything, if you gave him money. So i’m trying to get that amount increased,” explains Choudhury, who has not only put Lilawali on the map but also set in motion changes that will hopefully resonate in more villages across India.By Karishma Goenka3) Anjuli Shukla, 43Cinematographer, MumbaiFramed by filmAs a young girl Anjuli Shukla would spend all her free time in front of the television devouring films from every state in India and every country in the world. She loved to see how creativity manifested itself in such diverse forms in different regions and was absolutely fascinated by how films would seamlessly bring so many different art forms together to tell a story. When she grew older, she decided to join the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune and her world suddenly amplified. “Diversity is the greatest teacher. At FTII I was exposed to inspiring and creative people of all kinds and ideologies. Each one’s unique sensibilities rubbing off on me”, says Shukla.This is a great time for women as so many platforms have opened up for us. Remember one of your biggest limitations will be your own mind, so conquer that and the whole world is your oyster. Photo: Mandar DeodharThe friends she made at FTII took her all the way down south where she worked as Director of Photography (DOP) on films such as Urumi and Kutty Srank, which won her the prestigious National Film Award for Cinematography. She is the first and only woman to win that award. Critical of the popular notion of success she says, “Success is usually associated with fame and popularity, but all of that is hinged on what other people think of you. Success has a lot to do with your own self. There are so many people who do amazing work out there but are underappreciated; I would call them successful” Women have, until now, been associated with the more glamourous side of the film industry but Shukla has broken that barrier and shown everyone that women can conquer all.advertisementBy Karishma Goenka4) Rajani Pandit, 50Private Eye, MumbaiMs HolmesDont be afraid to voice your concerns and work towards solving your problems. The government provides women with a lot of benefits, dont be afraid to claim them. Photo: Danesh JassawalaWith 75,000 solved cases under her belt, Rajani Pandit is a treasure trove of stories. About 30 years ago, Doordarshan called her India’s first female detective, but it was years before the sleuth earned the respect of her family and friends and became a professional detective. Pandit has had the chance to work on a range of cases but she enjoys solving domestic problems the most. “That’s where the thrill is,” she says. “People used to tell me, ‘You break people’s homes. What kind of a job is this?’ But the truth is I only bring the betrayals to light,” she says. She and her team are equipped with cutting-edge technology but back then she relied on nothing but her watchful eyes. “Getting proof was challenging in those days. The police would refuse to take me seriously unless I presented strong evidence. I’d often complain to my father, who was in the CID, but that’s the law unfortunately so what can one do?” she says.By Moeena Halim5) Ansuja Madiwal, 15App Developer, Mumbai Appy Ever AfterEducation is important. Keep doing projects that aid learning as that is the thing no one can take away from us. Photo: Danesh JassawalaA safety application targeted at women, especially those from low-income communities, Women Fight Back allows users to send distress signals to five friends or family members in the case of an emergency. Available on the Google Play Store since January 2015, the app was created as part of the ongoing slum innovation project in Dharavi by 15-year-old Ansuja Madiwal and her young tech-savvy teammates all aged between 10 to 14 years. “In our community, girls are not allowed to go out in the dark. Our parents worry about our safety, but we also want to see the world,” rues Madiwal.This is what inspired the teenager and her friends Rani Shaikh, Mahek Shaikh and Kusum Verma to create an app that empowers women with the confidence to brave the world.By Moeena Halim6) Mayanti Langer, 31Sports Journalist, MumbaiScoring BigYou are allowed to change your dream. As long as you are true to yourself, things will fall in places. Also, fear comes from experience and it is absolutely allowed. Photo: Nilotpal BaruahThe people who make cricket real on radio remain faceless but sports anchors are the toast of big games. Nearly a decade ago, this job was relegated to retired cricketers, but sports journalist Mayanti Langer has challenged this perception. The leading face of many IPL and ICC World Cup matches, she is one of the finest television anchors today. When in college, she got an offer to host a cricket match as a lead anchor. “Until then, I didn’t know much about the game. I think it was just an accident waiting to happen. But it’s been a lot of fun so far and I think I am lucky to host so many World Cups,” says Langer. Cricket is largely male dominated, but she never sensed this opportunity as a threat. “To be honest, I have never thought of myself as a woman anchor. I just like to think myself as a host as when you start classifying yourself according to a specific gender, your world becomes really limited.”By Shadab Nazmi7) Mehrun Nisha, 28Bouncer, Hauz Khas Social, DelhiThe Tough GirlMy father never wanted my sisters and me to work or study, but we persisted. Do whatever you feel like or you will never be happy. Some time or the other your family will come around to support you. Photo: M ZhazoMehrun Nisha’s penchant for trouble-making finally brought her to a job that involves curbing the same. “When I was younger, I was always looking for a fight,” says wide-eyed Nisha who today works as a female bouncer at Hauz Khas Social in Delhi. Coming from small-town Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, she spent her early years struggling to convince a reluctant father of her need to study and work. When her family was in financial trouble, she left for Delhi to get a job that would enable her to support them. She finally found her calling when the opportunity to become a female bodyguard knocked on her door. In a profession that is associated with masculinity, muscles and intimidation, Nisha brings a feminine sensibility.By Karishma Goenka8) Yamuna Krishnan, 42Scientist & Researcher Chicago, USScience WomanWherever in the world you are, science is a tough profession, you will have difficulties. What is required is the will to work through them so that you can do what you love best; good science.Yamuna Krishnan’s desire to interact with researchers of other disciplines drove her to seek out graduate students and post docs at Biochemistry, Physics, Math and Literature, even though she was in the Chemistry department at the University of Cambridge. It was probably the single biggest factor in preparing her for a life in interdisciplinary science and trying to understand topics outside the ambit of her curricular training.She learnt early on that it was okay to feel like a novice initially as long as one made the effort to eventually understand. She finally got her first job as an independent scientist at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS). She believes, it was the most challenging time she faced professionally since she had to prove that what she was doing, as a chemist, was useful to this new community. “I believe that if you live your life by statistics, then you will be a statistic. Statistics and stereotypes crumble before passion, belief and determination.”By Shadab Nazmi9) Alisha Abdullah, 26Super Bike Racer, ChennaiRace to the FinishI’d like to see a day when my girls can become fast and efficient enough to have a male racer be taken off the track for being too slow. The tide has to turn. Only by breaking into this male-dominated sport and proving that it doesn’t have to be so will that change happen. Photo: Jaison GShe is the first woman to have made it to the podium in the coveted Polo Cup. This of course preceded by her incredible victory in several races, including the fifth position in the JK Tyre National Racing Championship. To top it all, she is ready to launch her own first all-women’s racing team this June. She launched the Alisha Abdullah Racing Academy for women over two years ago and set out on a nationwide hunt for girls interested in racing. “It’s the passion we were looking for. I knew that everything else could be cultivated and skills could be honed.When we started off, we managed to get two interested girls. That’s some number for the lofty ambition of setting up India’s first all-girls racing academy,” she laughs. But Abdullah’s biggest advantage is probably her inherent rage against any mindset in the system that questions a woman’s ability to reach great heights. It is this rage inside her that has also successfully made her blaze this trail ability to expand those two girls to an initial batch of 85 girls. After several rounds of shortlisting, the number now stands at 18 girls, who will be launched as Alisha Abdullah’s first batch of all-girls racing team.By Saranya Chakrapanilast_img read more