I still remember that post her accident and the subsequent treatment at AIIMS, Arunima tried to meet me several times, but I was travelling. The day I reached Jamshedpur, she called again and said she would come to meet me the next day. I didn’t take her seriously. How would she get the tickets so soon? But she reached. That was the day, I realised how focused she was.When we met, she told me she wanted to climb Everest. I was stunned! Sometimes I still can’t believe it. I told her, by setting such a goal she had already climbed her first Everest.
I asked her to come for the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF) outdoor leadership program. We tried to create a motivating, positive and supportive atmosphere for her. It didn’t happen overnight. In the beginning, the team held her hand and took her up and jewelry findings
. Later we trained her with load, increasing it gradually. Then we taught her to walk on ice and finally took her to 13,000 feet to test her physiology on high altitudes. It took one year for her to prepare.
The journey wasn’t easy, but she converts every problem into an opportunity. If she found something difficult, she would want to do it again. Looking at her zeal and courage, we presented her details to our MD and sponsored her Everest climb. I also told the MD of the company we had tied up with in Khatmandu that he should not show her pity, but understand what she is made of and support her. She dragged herself physically, but did it.
Mom never lets people know of her worries. We grew up in a very protective environment. Only when I was around 10 years old, did it register that things were amiss. I learnt of my fathers’ addictions even later, around age 16. My sister and I didn’t see the rough side, but when you’re living at your maternal grandmother’s house, and your dad’s fine through the day (he used to drop us to school every morning), but you’re kept away from him in the evening, you know something is wrong.
Mom’s focus was on fending for the family and ensuring that we move up in life. Her day started at 4 am, so in a lot of ways our grandma mothered us. Mom started a business with jams and pickles. Later she put up a small kiosk selling tea, coffee and snacks at a marina in Chennai. Then came the first major turning point for her — getting a contract from the National Institute of Port Management. She had to be there full time, because footfalls ranged from hundreds to thousands.
Every day we saw her getting tougher and tougher. Realizing the kind of ordeal mom was going through for us, our bond with her grew very strong. Today, when I’ve joined the business and deal with skilled labour, I often ask her, ‘How did you handle these people?’ I guess her strength lies in her crystal beads wholesale
; she’ll tell you things to your face if she thinks something’s wrong. At the same time, she easily senses if you’re not fine and will act on it.
I was always interested in the food industry, but knowing the kind of struggle it requires, she didn’t want me to pursue it. Moreover, inspired by travel tales of the navy officers I met, I joined the navy, and worked for a Norwegian company. During the time I was away, my sister and she grew very close. She wouldn’t tell me she missed me, but managed to find a way to reach me even on the ship. I was the only person aboard to get a call every week. When my sister and her husband expired due to an accident, soon after their wedding, mom went completely out of line. She stopped going out for three to four years. It was difficult to see her that way, and watch twenty years of her hard work go unattended, so I decided to take it up. When I made mistakes, she advised and corrected me but didn’t resume work.
FICCI came to us at this point of time; the award was a complete game changer. A regular person just works to make a living, not to get media limelight, but the award made mom recognize her own achievement. Colleges invited her to speak on entrepreneurship. Seeing that so many people looked up to her, she realized she that shouldn't get bogged down. She became active again. Now, she doesn’t micro manage because she wants me to grow, but advices me and monitors things from time to time.
But Suzy fought every odd that life threw at her. People who stayed around her before the accident were now out of sight. Suzy didn’t lose hope. She focused on ‘what next.’ Confidence and optimism led her to the path of becoming one of the most successful stock traders in the Asian market, in 2005. Today, Suzy runs a very successful celebrity talk show, conducts motivational lectures for NASA scientists, is a TED speaker and runs an NGO (Shraddha) for spinally injured children. She has adopted two children whose parents died of spinal injury. Coming from a middle-class background, she may not have the luxuries of life but she has peace of mind.
'Is baar beta paida karna, sab theek hoga (this time, make sure you give birth to a son then everything will be sorted)’ is what my mother-in-law said when she first, heard I was pregnant with Pooja. God had already blessed me with a daughter so my family didn’t want a girl child again. When Pooja was born in 1985, no one visited us, in the hospital, for three days. I didn’t have a change of clothes for Pooja or for myself. Finally, on the tenth day, my husband came to take us home. But, clearly, we were not welcome. He would often tell me to get rid of Pooja; send her to an orphanage. I had to choose between my husband and Pooja. I chose my daughter. ‘This girl will make me proud,’ is what I told my husband while parting ways.
With Rs.82 in my pocket, I began a new life in Mumbai with Shubhra and Pooja. I would cook some food, leave two glasses of milk and lock them up at home before stepping out to office. In the need to give the best to my daughters I decided to leave them back in Mumbai with my mother and move to a better-paying job, in Goa. Often, Pooja would call, cry over the phone and ask me to come back to Mumbai. When I moved back to India after 4-5 years, I was happy to see Pooja grown up into a strong-minded and independent girl. I remember, in school, when her friends would ask about her father, she would simply say, ‘he’s away on the ship.’ Pooja has never questioned me about her father. She would share her feelings, her insecurities with Shubhra, who was an anchor to her.
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