CHENNAI:Women across the world have been pursuing the elusive quest for freedom to live, earn, and seek happiness on their own terms. What better way to celebrate this day in honour of them than to support the contributions they have made to their little worlds as mothers, daughters, sisters, and leaders. CE speaks to 14 such women who look past their hurdles, and celebrate the joys of life, which come in all sizes, shapes and flavours.
Happiness quotient: The feeling that I am no more dependent on anybody is what gives me immense joy and happiness. After struggling a lot in life, independence is the only aspect that makes my heart heavy and proud.
Economic independence: I got married when I was just 15 years old. Being just a 10th pass, nobody ever thought that I could do anything in life. But this job has not only given me economic stability but I've also got respect from my husband, kids and our entire family.
Being a woman: It means you are close to everyone and you know everything that a man can never even try to know.
What keeps me going: I would love to say it’s my children, but over the years, I wanted to create an image for myself and that has been the driving force.
Life lesson: Never trust anybody. You are the master of your life. Never let anyone take decisions for you. Be it right or wrong, every woman needs to develop the ability to take a stand for herself.
Shanthi Kumar,founder, women’s self-help group (Saligramam), maid
Happiness quotient: To ensure that my children are well aware of their surroundings and able to lead their life on their own terms.
Economic independence: I have been working as a maid/cook for 25 years. Initially, my husband didn’t allow me, and I had to work without his knowledge. But, after I had my children, we needed extra income and I began working without hiding about my job from my husband. Today, I know that I can survive without anybody’s help. It has given me confidence to help other women and to ensure they don’t suffer like I did. Ten years ago, I started the women’s self-help group. Now there are about 600 women from in and around the area who receive help through it.
Being a woman: It means standing up against all odds.
What keeps me going: The assurance that my children aren’t like me. My parents didn’t teach me to be bold. But, I have taught my children to be independent and not bow down to anyone, especially when you know that he/she is not treating you right.
Life lesson: To never trust too much. If a woman is too kind-hearted and innocent, people tend to take advantage. I have suffered a lot but, no complaints...they are all life lessons.
Happiness quotient: Becoming an entrepreneur and having the opportunity to provide employment for women makes me happy.
Economic independence: Women are forced to be dependent on men for all decision-making factors in terms of finance etc. They seem independent on the outside, but they are not.
Being a woman: It means being confident, strong and responsible.
What keeps me going: My work and my children. My work makes me realise my inner strength, and my achievements make me feel proud.
Life lesson: There is a lesson on every fall and defeat which has made us ultimately reach the heights. And for someone like me, who has been afraid to even go to a shop alone, breaking out of my shell, to become the confident woman I am today, was a major life lesson.
Keerthana Swaminathan,sports psychologist-cum-author-runner, cyclist
Happiness quotient: Happiness lies in simple things. The more we complicate life, it gets to a point where we miss out on the simple smile that makes the toughest things. When we get our basics right, it simply results in happiness.
Economic independence: Independence is more of a mindset or a state of mind. The moment you take responsibility, it makes you feel independent. This is something that growing up has taught me.
Being a woman: It means being myself, embracing myself, accepting myself, achieving whatever I want to achieve and at that same time being duty-bound.
What keeps me going: Most people these days live a life of regret. For me, it's easier to get things done, rather than regretting what I’ve not done.
Life lesson: Never lose yourself. I’ve realised that self-respect and embracing oneself plays a significant role in one’s life. The moment you lose that, everything seems insignificant and lost.
Anuradha, Chennai’s first women bodybuilder
Happiness quotient: Being fit and staying healthy, because my profession entails that.
Economic independence: It has made me more confident and organised.
Being a woman: The power of recreating. Who else has that?
What keeps me going: I’m self-driven; waking up every day, looking forward to taking my journey to the next level keeps me going.
Life lesson: When you wanted that guiding light and you were weaned off, I made my own guiding light. Lesson is — the light is in you.
Peenal Jain,owner, Zahana
Happiness quotient: The fact that you can inspire 10 others, and then that multiplies into more.
Economic independence: When you earn, you know how difficult it is to make money. You respect and value other’s work and time. Being independent also makes you confident and satisfied.
Being a woman: Women have an inbuilt power that we sometimes forget to explore and we forget that we are capable of doing everything. Only a woman could slip into any and every role which is the best feeling, ever.
What keeps me going: We have customers or well-wishers saying such good things and being inspired by our work which certainly keeps us going,. It makes us want to work harder because we don’t want to let them down.
Life lesson: I believe that no matter how far you go, never forget your roots. Always be humble, giving and kind; never look down upon anyone.
Kirthi Jayakumar,women's rights activist
Happiness quotient: Living every minute to the fullest with mindfulness and love makes me happy.
Economic independence: It has been a privilege, and I constantly strive to think beyond myself and to make a difference to the world around me.
Being a woman: It means being me. My identity as a person is tied to my identity as a woman.
What keeps me going: What keeps me going is, to borrow Muhammad Ali’s ideal, the need to pay my rent for living on earth.
Life lesson: My most significant life lesson is ‘Ubuntu’, meaning I am who I am because of who we are together. It has helped me build empathy.
M Meenakshi,flower vendor
Happiness quotient: The fact I am an independent working woman is what defines my happiness quotient. I have singlehandedly raised my daughter and got her married.
Economic independence: I never went to school. All my life I sat in the shop with my mother and then took over from her, 20 years ago. I am what I'm today because of my job, so it has impacted my life hugely.
Being a woman: Despite a lot of negativity around me, I stood strong and worked hard to take care of my family and myself.
What keeps me going: My work is what keeps me going. I earn and eat three meals a day from the income that I get. Also, now my family respects me a lot, so that definitely keeps me motivated.
Life lesson: Only hard work pays off. I have learned to be happy with whatever I have and get. I never ask for more, be it from God or anybody else.
Sasikala Devi,works at a petrol bunk
Happiness quotient: Happiness to me is the fact that I’m earning to take care of my family
Economic independence: My younger brother just started working, but most of the expenses are borne by me, and I take immense pride in doing so.
Being a woman: It means being strong and independent, and at the same time doing good deeds for people around me. It also means to be compassionate.
What keeps me going: In an age where women are still looked down upon and expected to stay at home and cook, I’m actually working. I singlehandedly support my family and pay my bills. It motivates me every day.
Life lesson: Not everybody around you is trustworthy and may not be as good as you think they’re. So we always have to be careful.
Happiness quotient: The hostel memories, college life with friends, playing cards with my siblings during holidays, and the beautiful handmade cards my daughters gave me for birthdays and anniversaries, which I have preserved.
Economic independence: Unfortunately, though I tried to, I never got the chance to be economically independent. I didn’t get a job with my B.Sc. Math degree, before marriage. Now, I am a full-time homemaker.
Being a woman: It means being selfless and still independent. Women should never be suppressed.
Life lesson: Women should be bold and not sensitive. I have undergone several difficulties because I was sensitive.
Happiness quotient: It is to have enough to fend for my family and grandchildren, and be content with whatever we make at the end of the day.
Economic independence: It has changed my life, because even if I’m earning `10 a day, that money put together with my husband’s runs my family.
Being a woman: It means being as good, or even better than a man. No one taught me to fish in the sea, but I just have to learn to go do it with my husband.
What keeps me going: My family and grandchildren.
Life lesson: It is to be strong enough so no one can take advantage of me — whether financially or otherwise.
Thirupurasundari S,architect and planner
Happiness quotient: I like to do things without judging and being judged.
Economic independence: It is a big support and lets you decide and follow your interests and dreams. The economic stability in my profession helps me concentrate on my other interests and also helped me to support causes I want to.
Being a woman: It means being yourself and letting others be themselves. Everyone fights their own battles. Remind yourself that it's your life and no one can judge you.
What keeps me going: A smile from a child, the outcome of a design, a call from a friend, memories of my grandparents, and the thought that — “When you want to quit , remember why you started”
Life lesson: If you are rooted, you don’t have to be tied. Keep going, follow your dreams. It’s your life.
Rukmani V, teacher
Happiness quotient: When I overcome all the challenges that the day poses, it gives me a sense of happiness. To accomplish what I had set out to do, is my happy quotient.
Economic independence: It has certainly changed my life. Earlier, there used to be just a sole breadwinner in the house but, after I started earning, I began shouldering the expenses.
Being a woman: A woman is the stabiliser of the family. But, I don’t think being a woman is ‘special’. Men and women are equal, so, if we say that one is special over the other, it changes the idea of equality, doesn’t it?
What keeps me going: Day-to-day challenges and how I find ways to overcome it.
Life lesson: Your innocence shouldn’t lead to ignorance; tolerance should lead to acceptance and not frustration.
Happiness quotient: I always give myself a time target and it’s clear. If I get there, I’m happy, otherwise I’m not.
Economic independence: It is important since the world revolves around money; but it’s not everything. I need to be content otherwise too.
Being a woman: It means taking up challenges because of the perception that women can’t do what men can.
What keeps me going: Short targets, so I know what my goal for the moment is, and push myself to do it.
Life lesson: I’ve learnt to not give up. I learnt it during my college days when I had to balance between studying MBBS and go for skating lessons. I was sure I would fail, but I pushed myself to give the exam anyway.
Inputs by: Aarthi Murali, Abinaya Kalyanasundaram, Ancy George, Roshne Balasubramanian, Thushara Ann Mathew.Photos: P Jawahar, Martin Louis, Sunish P Surendran