Textile and Craft Revivalist, Fashion Designer
Breathing Magic Into Textile
When Anju Modi launched her fashion label in 1990 with no official training, there was nothing to lose. She had simple dreams like giving her son a good life and, maybe, sending him abroad for higher education. Clearly, it was enough. Fifteen years hence, Modi is a couturier of repute. As co-founder of the Fashion Design Council of India, she has played a huge role in preserving age-old Indian textiles. In 2013, she made her debut in Bollywood by creating colourful, craft-rich outfits for Ramleela. Internationally, she showcased at Hyeres Fashion Festival 2006 in Paris, Miami Fashion Week 2006 and India Calling at the Hollywood Bowl 2009. She has stores in the UK and US, Hong Kong, Spain and the Middle East. "Every woman has a creative force within her, she needs to channelise it," says Modi.
Filmmaker, Screenwriter & Artist
One Lady, Multiple Lenses
When filming of travel show Namaste India started in 1994, there were no local travel shows or books, even movies didn’t have a rich focus on India’s cultural wealth,” says Anu Malhotra, founder of AIM Television, whose crew passed out due to lack of acclimatisation near Changla Pass in Ladakh. Malhotra's show Khoobsurat filmed the first fashion shows of Indian designers and launched many noted anchors and models. Her documentaries Apatani of Arunachal Pradesh, Konyak of Nagaland, Maharaja of Jodhpur and The Shamans of the Himalayas are aired on discovery and form tourism archives. She walked out of television when the saas-bahu wave took off. Art is her new love. In 2014, she held her first solo show, Hue Borne, of giant canvases drunk on colour.
Celebrating Women Through Art
Awoman is benign, a woman is fierce, she is the source of strength, harmony and energy in nature,” says contemporary artist Jayasri Burman. “In most of my paintings, at the central point is a woman. That’s because I believe women are creators and preservers of life, of health and prosperity.” Burman also believes in creating positive energy through her art, and often turns to nature for that. Her paintings reinterpret the lush green of grass as easily as the stagnant pools that bring out the flaming colours of basant (spring) or the hybridised imagery of a woman who is bird-like in her grace and form. While working on my painting Shristi, I understood women, and myself, as a plant that blooms beautifully and stays rooted and strong,” she says.
First Woman Chief Justice of a State High Court
Justice Leila Seth was the first woman Chief Justice of a high court in India, the first woman judge of the Delhi High Court and the first woman to top the Bar examinations in London. She retired as Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh in 1992. But, in the beginning of her career, Seth was told by a barrister that he doesn't want a woman's opinion. “I approached a senior lawyer to join his team. He asked me to get married. When I told him I am married, he asked me to have a child. When I told him I have a child, he asked me to have another one,” she reminisces.
She was the Chair of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) for several years, and feels that social action litigation should be aimed at providing a decent standard of living to the common man. “The law doesn’t change on its own. Civil society needs to educate itself and evolve with it. Sometimes women don’t want to accept property rights,” she says, and urges people to understand law in a cultural context. Her books make it easier for people to understand that. This year, she released her third book Talking Of Justice: People’s Rights In Modern India.
Bringing Art to the People
In India, art is imposed by either parents or schools. Children are dragged to art houses for educational excursions,” says Neha Kirpal. “I wanted to take the intimidating element out of art as we perceive it in India, and make it accessible to the public.” Therein came the idea of the India Art Fair. Kirpal employed over 10 years of experience in the creative industries, marketing and event management both in India and the UK, to launch this art bonanza in 2008. Under her aegis, the India Art Fair has become one of the world’s most attended art events, with over 400,000 people attending it over the last six editions. Her trick? She approaches art as a commoner and hopes ‘everybody’ will have a chance to experience it, even if they can’t buy it.
Lightening The Load
Considering women deal with so much nonsense on a daily basis, I would imagine them to have a better sense of humour,” says Neeti Palta. And yet she is one of the rare women comedians in India. Still, her special position allows her to bring to India’s stand-up scene something it sorely lacks–a female perspective. “I am here to bring out the idiosyncrasies and daily irritants in an Indian woman’s life,” says Palta, who was sick of women being portrayed as nagging wives and girlfriends by male comics. She started out as Creative Director at JWT and was head-writer for Sesame Street’s Indian production Gali Gali Sim Sim. Palta was India’s first stand-up to perform at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2013. "Once women are out of the house, they're on a stage anyway, so why not get on it," she winks.
Hotelier and Tourism Ambassador
Taking India to the World
Jyotsna Suri believes that tourism acts as an economic multiplier that results in jobs as well as peace and prosperity. Not surprising then that Suri was chairperson of Ficci’s Tourism Committee for five years. Her initiative, ‘Developing destinations and not just hotels’, has inspired her to organise annual events like the Polo Tournament in Drass, the Tipaiya-thon in Khajuraho, Shikarathon in Srinagar. She took on chairmanship after her husband Lalit’s sudden death in 2007. Under her leadership, the company is the largest privately-owned hotel chain in India, with 11 luxury hotels. “Empires need to be built by somebody and it doesn't matter if that's a man or a woman.” She is right.
Making Luxury a Household Name
The fact that an alien French brand is known to urban Indian women across social demographics, even those who don’t know a Lady D from a Princess Di, can be attributed solely to this doe-eyed lady with a surprisingly loud laugh. When Kalyani Chawla became in charge of marketing Dior in India in 2006, she quickly realised that Bollywood was the ticket to success. “It let the gown take over the saree on the Indian red carpet.” With Chawla showing the way, of course, by putting film stars dressed in Dior on magazine covers and at glitzy events. “I have never taken a career break," the single mother says, adding that her teenage daughter's dreams are what motivated her to do big things in life. going.
Loan Recovery Agent
Hustle, Without Muscle
Mention a loan recovery agent and you visualise a goon flexing muscles. The image of petite Manju Bhatia certainly does not come to mind. And yet, loan recovery for banks is exactly what the 28-year-old has been doing for the last 11 years. As a 17-year-old in Indore, she managed to convince a minister to repay the loan and saved SBI from initiating a long-drawn legal procedure against him. Today, Vasuli has gone from an eight-person Indore operation with a billing of `25,000 per month and a single client, to a 25-branch company that handles `5,000 crore worth of recovery for 20 nationalised banks. “Women keep the lines of communication open. That’s the quality I make the most of in my line of work,” says Bhatia.
Binalakshmi Nepram’s soft voice and face are inversely proportionate to the fierceness of her fighting spirit. “When I was in class III, I witnessed the Heiranghoithong massacre at a volleyball match in 1984. My house was just next to the site of violence, where more than 13 persons were killed by security forces,” says Nepram. “People in the region are told to keep their mouth and ears shut, and accept whatever goes on,” she says. In 2007, to help the thousands of women affected by gun violence in Manipur, she started the Manipuri Gun Survivor Network. On being pushed through a wall, you either break the wall or your head. Break the wall, she says, just break the wall.
Scaling New Heights
She wanted her daughters to take up adventure sports, and ended up climbing the Everest herself—at age 48. In 2014, Jamshedpur’s Premlata Agrawal became the first Indian woman to climb the Seven Summits, or the highest peaks of each of the seven continents. “I am extremely proud to have accomplished this on behalf of my country and all the women who live here with courage and determination. This experience has taught me that if you have the will and focus, no matter where you come from, you can conquer the world,” says the soft-spoken mountaineer, about her triumph. An hour before reaching the Everest summit, Agrawal says she lost a glove and was almost turning back when she spotted a pair of gloves lying in the snow. And they say miracles don’t happen.
Priya Paul's love of art and design defines her as much as the 10 hotels she runs. Who else would create an arty hotel on the premises of a film studio? Paul, chairperson of Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, is a trustee of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and board member of the National Council of Science Museums. A second-generation hotelier, she is in the executive committee of the Hotel Association of India and is a founder-member of World Travel & Tourism Council’s India chapter. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2012 and the Insignia of Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite by France in 2014.
Getting Women Working
A mother isn’t just a mother, a wife isn’t just a wife. For Sairee Chahal, women are much more than their domestic duties, and should not be deprived of professional opportunities just because they choose to also honour their personal responsibilities. Her venture Sheroes.in offers online mentoring and career resources to women, of all ages, in search of flexible jobs. While the platform connects women professionals with businesses, Chahal believes just setting up a framework isn’t enough. “We keep updating our database with new opportunities and expanding the ecosystem of professional communities for women making difficult but bold life choices,” she says. “A woman’s role in her family and house shouldn’t come at the cost of anything, especially herself.” Amen to that.
Rebecca Mammen John
Always Mounting the Best Defence
For Rebecca Mammen John, criminal defence is the last barrier between constitutional correctness and anarchy. “We deal with human emotions on a daily basis. When one deals with people who are in severe pain, one begins to understand that there might be a hundred different reasons behind people's acts and intentions,” she explains.
Sometimes, the system comes across as brutal, working at the cost of cultural and social sensitivity. “But I am not scared of making interventions for the sake of society at large,” says the criminal lawyer, who has been involved in several high-profile cases like the Arushi double murder and the 2G telecom spectrum scam. Just four years into her chosen field, she fought the late stockbroker Harshad Mehta’s criminal cases in Delhi.
Today, people ask her how she can plead for someone she thinks is guilty? And why Kasab was entitled to a lawyer? “The legal system is symbolic of how fair our democracy is. As citizens, we need to keep faith that the system will deliver. The rule of law must be respected; there is nothing greater than that in a democracy,” says John. She fights pro-bono for several who come to court with nothing but faith in the system. The system, she says, is all that matters.
Keeping Brains Ticking
This is a searcher with a difference. “The pursuit of knowledge for betterment of humanity is the primary goal of science and technology research. We should invest in basic sciences to promote technological innovations,” says Vijaylakshmi Ravindranath. We need to make the discipline more gender-friendly, and to incentivise research for women to stay on in it. There are several women scientists who have made significant contributions that have gone unrecognised.” She is focused on understanding the pathogenic mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative disorders in order to develop disease-modifying therapies. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2010. For some, science is the purest art.
Keeping Hearts Happy
It used to bother Dr Roopa Salwan when “India had limited options in healthcare and heart patients had to go overseas for treatment.” Today, the Director, Myocardial Infarction Program of Max Healthcare, is happy at how cardiology has evolved in India, with primary angioplasty being performed at will, and patients having a good chance of recovery if treated in time. If there’s one thing that makes Salwan different from most other doctors, it’s her reluctance to thrust emotion aside. “Being emotional makes you vulnerable, but it also drives you to get the best for your patient. I know my patients love and bless me and that me gives the strength to sustain my endeavours,” she says. May the emotions never run dry, we say.
Selling Cyber Happiness
Limeroad.com was born out of a moment of utter frustration, when I was in London and felt like buying a piece of jewellery I spotted in a magazine. I couldn’t buy it because it was from a small store in Mumbai and there was no way to access the interesting products being manufactured in India,” says Suchi Mukherjee, who started her online shopping portal in 2012, with the intent of creating the most extensive and delightful discovery platform for lifestyle products. In May, Limeroad added $15 million in funding to its previous kitty of $5 million. The idea was to create a digital-age equivalent of the 16th Century Grand Trunk Road, the highway that changed the face of trade in the subcontinent. With the aim of getting Indian women to become experimental and fun with their shopping, she hit the ‘lime’ road running.
Keeping Women And Children Safe
No, lady cops are not women in a man’s world,” says Sampat Meena, IG, Organised Crime, Ranchi. “It is as much a woman’s world. The difference in strength between boys and girls is a creation of a patriarchal society,” says Meena, who feels traditional policing is important but what really works is social policing. Which is why this 1994 batch Jharkhand IPS officer focuses on improving policing for women and children in her daily fight against domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse of children, human trafficking and juvenile delinquency. Meena, who was awarded the President’s India’s Police Medal for Meritorious Services in 2013, has been injured in Naxal areas many times. “Dangers are always unknown, one has to be prepared to deal with them all the time,” she feels most battles are lost because we think we're scared.
Putting a Song in Our Heart
Her singing connects her to her parents who died a few years ago. For Sonam Kalra, music strengthens the soul to deal with loss and gain. “I believe in one God, in the goodness of people and in finding God in one’s heart,” says Kalra. Her brainchild, The Sufi Gospel Project, is a haunting blend of the ‘voices of faith’ that has moved audiences the world over, with Bhakti poetry, foot-thumping beats of the churches of the American Deep South, old English hymns and classical strains of Indian instruments. Kalra has lent her voice to several jingles. Fly Indigo, and it is her voice that warmly welcomes you to Delhi on the bus. At the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, she presented the opening ceremony to the world. Maybe the world moves ahead on melody.
Creating Green Vistas
I grew up in Mumbai, where we had only a small balcony that was crammed with plants,” laments Savita Punde. Today, as the capital’s primary talent in landscape design, Punde does national and international projects that boast limitless green horizons. She is particularly known for her sensitivity to plant selection and commitment to indigenous species research. That, as well as her knowledge of a wide range of native and exotic plants has proved an invaluable asset to Design Cell, the firm she runs with her architect husband. She has done both the Bangalore airport and the Mumbai one. In case of the former, she designed the foliage on both sides of the drive to create a fabulous entry into the Garden City. In Mumbai, she inserted landscape on an elevated driveway. Thinking out of the box, or shall we say, out of the garden?