The Best Man for the Job is a Woman

Published: 28th August 2015 06:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th September 2015 08:26 PM   |  A+A-


Chitra Vishwanath

Architect, Environmental Visionary

Constructive Conservation

Sometimes, the fastest-diminishing resources are the ones that seem abundant around us. Chitra K Vishwanath, architect by profession, environment activist by vision, believes all structures must be ecologically sound. She lays emphasis on using naturally available materials, both actively and passively. Mud is a favourite building material. “It is suited for local conditions, being both labour intensive and easily available,” she says.

Vishwanath is the managing director of Biome Environmental Soutions, which has executed 700 stabilised mud houses across India. The single person practice that started out in 1990 is now a 20-member team, headquartered in Bengaluru. “The city is home to the increasingly intellectual and open-minded urban resident who is willing to engage seriously with concepts like sustainability. On the city’s soil is the Indian Institute of Science, which provides academic expertise on building with mud and other essential elements that architects and designers at Biome gravitate towards.” Incidentally, Biome has also done exceptional work in intelligent water systems designs. Call her a real-life, real-world conservationist.


Rohini Godbole

Theoretical Particle Physicist

Master of Particles

She could have chosen a 9-to-5 job at the Bank of Maharashtra. It carried the guarantee of a stable life and the promise of a good salary. But Rohini Godbole chose to walk a different path. She went on to win a coveted government scholarship to study physics, and did her Master’s at IIT, Mumbai and her PhD at Stony Brook University in New York. “In my family, girls were given as much support and encouragement as boys to chase their dreams. I was gender blind. It was only after my PhD that people made me conscious of the fact that a woman doing scientific research is a thing of rarity,” she says. In 1991, she discovered a way to describe the complex interplay of high-energy particles in linear colliders with German physicist Manuel Drees. From the mid 20th century, Standard Model, a theoretical construct, has described the fundamental workings of matter but it is by no means complete. “With other particle physicists, I have worked on an extension of this model called super symmetry—SUSY for short—and authored a graduate-level textbook on the subject,” she says.

The second focal point of her research has been theoretical models for production of new particles and devising search strategies for the same at high energy colliders. Today, she is based at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, where she is one the country’s leading physicists. Godbole is also one of the 16 members of the International Detector Advisory Group for the proposed International Linear Collider.


R Susheela

Police Inspector

Crime and  Punishment

R Susheela dons a cop’s uniform in a country where the birth of a girl child is still rued by many. When she moved to Mysuru as Sub-Inspector in 2003, then police commissioner Bipin Gopalakrishna told her that the post in the women’s police station was filled. He asked her to go back to Bengaluru. But the gutsy woman, who was inspired by the Vijayashanti-starrer Telugu film Kartavyam to join the police when she was all of nine, told the top cop that she had “not come as a woman police officer but as a police officer”.  Anti-social elements did not dare raise their voice and women enjoyed a high sense of safety wherever she was posted. Not surprisingly, she stayed. She rescued 90 women, including Russians and Bangladeshis, during her stint in the Anti-Women Trafficking unit of the CID and won the CM’s Gold Medal in 2012 for her work in the unit. After 14 years of service, there’s no sign of slowing down in this Jyoti Nivas College graduate whose phone number ends with 007. “There is no dark, dangerous alley I haven’t driven into. There should be no fear in anybody’s heart. That’s my vision for this state,” she says.


Hemamalini Maiya


Giving Spice to Life

Life is easy when you’re born with a silver spoon. But if that silver spoon is also needed to beat dosa batter, or stir sugar into bitter cups of filter coffee, it may not be exactly that easy. Ask Hemamalini Maiya, the third-generation managing partner of the 91-year-old Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR), a Bengaluru landmark. The 43-year-old was thrown into the restaurant business a day after her father Harishchandra Maiya died in 1999. “I had to step into my father’s large shoes,” she says. Maiya remembers spending hours in the crowded humid kitchen, manning cash counters and dealing with troublesome staff. “I realized very quickly that women at the top were not taken seriously, and men certainly didn’t want to take orders from them. ” In 2000, she was joined by her younger brother Vikram, who till then was unsure about getting into the family business, and later by the youngest sibling Arvind. The brand grew significantly under the siblings. In 2013, MTR opened its first overseas restaurant in Singapore, followed by one in Dubai. ‘‘There is pressure on us to constantly innovate while maintaining the experience that people are familiar with,” says the lady, who keeps the brand’s aromas fresh.


Dr Vijayalaxmi Deshmane

Surgical Oncologist

Curing With Hope

Social scientists, journalists and novelists have authored many theories on India’s caste system. The truth is, every society is stratified in its own ways. It is up to us to rise above them. Dr Vijayalaxmi Deshmane chose to do the latter. “I come from one of Karnataka’s most backward areas, Gulbarga, and belong to the Madiga community, which repairs and sells used footwear,” says the lady, who was the first of eight children and grew up in a slum.  “My mother gave her only ornament, her mangalsutra, to my father so that he could get the money to pay the fees for my MBBS,” she remembers. In 1984, Deshmane joined Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology as a Senior Resident and went on to serve it for the next three decades. The American Biographical Institute declared her Woman of the Year in 1999. In 2004, Karnataka honoured her with the Rajyotsava Award. Her biggest reward, however, was closer home. Four of her sisters went on to get PhDs and her brother became a famous lawyer in Gulbarga.


Jayna Kothari

Human Rights Lawyer

Keeping Law in Order

The law will always be the law, it will always take its course and it will always take its time. It may not always seem just. Fortunately, there are individuals like Jayna Kothari who work within the law to bring about course correction, time management and above all, an all-encompassing sense of fairness. Kothari is a human rights lawyer who practises in Karnataka High Court and Supreme Court. She is also Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Policy Research, Bengaluru. She completed her BA LLB from the city’s University Law College, and went on to receive her Master’s Degree in Law from the University of Oxford. Kothari has argued before the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court in two landmark decisions on the right to education. For several years, Kothari has been litigating in the Karnataka High Court in cases relating to disability discrimination. In fact, she was one of the first lawyers to represent people with disabilities, seeking their right to equal opportunities in employment and education. Her work has resulted in a dramatic transformation in the employment of persons with disabilities in the state government.  In 2010, she co-founded the Centre for Law and Policy Research, which is an institution that’s engaged not only in academic law and policy work, but also in strategic public interest litigation in disability law.



Writer & Engineer

Writings from the Heart

Nemichandra could have lived out her life working as an engineer. But this alumnus from the National Institute of Engineering in Mysuru and the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, chose also to be a writer. Life, she says, isn’t simply about what you have achieved, but more about what you have created. Today, her day job has her working as Head of Department, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Her passion for travel has seen her visiting 20 countries on a shoestring budget and picking up experiences. Her interest in science, literature and strong female characters has seen her authoring 29 Kannada books—of fact and fiction—and being showered with awards for them. Nemichandra has been conferred the Karnataka Sahithya Academy award thrice. She has also received the Shivaram Karanth and Dr Ha Ma Nayak awards. The gamut of awards is not surprising when you learn that this engineer, who thinks and writes from the heart, tends to fall in love with the characters she creates.


Vidya Kolyur

Yakshagana Exponent

Dance Dramatist

What is it like to be a woman playing a man’s role in a segment of culture usually dominated by women? If there’s anybody who can answer the question within the question, it’s Vidya Kolyur. Only a handful of women have taken up Yakshagana, the male-dominated dance drama form, through its 700-year-old history. Vidya is perhaps the first woman to not only take it up as a profession but also perform it in 22 Indian states every year. Not to mention her  performances in 12 American states and the UK. Born to veteran Yakshagana exponent, Dr Kolyur Ramachandra Rao, in 1977 in Mangaluru, she imbibed the rich tradition right from her childhood. In fact, from the age of 7, she says. Her critics say she has the ability to summon emotions without stimulus. She prefers to play more emotional roles and her emotions have a direct effect on her success as a performer. With immense grace, Vidya portrays leading ladies from Hindu epics, such as Sita and Draupadi. Vidya has changed history and given a new dimension to Yakshagana theatre so it can be appreciated by urban audiences as well. She is the only artiste to have  received the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar from Sangeet Natak Akademy for Yakshagana.


Sukanya Ramgopal

Ghatam Artiste

Explorations in Sound

Everything that you can touch is a source of sound. From steel plates to wooden tables, try tapping or beating and you’ll receive a response even from objects that look lifeless. Sukanya Ramgopal is the first woman ghatam artiste of the country, the ghatam being a clay pot with a narrow mouth. She began training in the mridangam at the age of 12, under the tutelage of Sri TR Harihara Sharma. Over the last four decades, Ramgopal has mastered unique ghatam playing techniques. She has conceptualised the Ghata Tharang that blends the ghatam with Carnatic tunes composed by her. She is also a proficient performer on the konnakol (vocal percussion). Besides giving performances across prominent venues in India, she has enthralled audiences in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, Dubai, Singapore and Denmark. Ramgopal leads an all-women’s instrumental ensemble called Sthree Thaal Tharang. She is an ‘A Top’ grade artist of All India Radio. She hails from a family of musicians and Tamil scholars. Her great-grandfather, Mahamahopadyaya Dr UV Swaminatha Iyer, is fondly known as Tamil Thatha, the grand old man of Tamil.


Shilo Shiv Suleman

Technology Artist

The Art of Science

What is the difference between science and art? Why can’t technology be put into paintings, alongside colour and sketches? Is the romance of paper and oil so exclusive that technology is mere anomaly? Shilo Shiv Suleman might have changed that, for good. The 26-year-old is a visual artist who focuses on the intersection of magical realism, art for social change and technology. In recent years, she’s been engaging with biofeedback technology, and the interaction between the body and art. She has created large-scale installations that beat with your heart, apps that react to your brainwaves and sculptures that glow with your breath. She has also designed stages for some of the world’s biggest festivals and conferences. She is the founder and director of the ‘Fearless Collective’ that engages with gender issues and art for social change in India. As an INK fellow, her work became known when her talk made it to, and got over a million views in 2012. Post that, she was chosen as one of the three pioneering Indian women at TEDGlobal, and spoke at conferences such as WIRED, DLD in London and Munich. More recently, she founded a collective of over 400 artists in India using community art to protest against gender violence and was featured in a host of documentaries including Rebel Music by MTV. In 2014, her collaboration with a neuroscientist on creating art that interacts with brainwaves and other biofeedback sensors made her the recipient of several grants and residencies, including an honorarium grant from Burning Man for the interactive project Pulse and Bloom. The biofeedback installation brought together artists, architects, entrepreneurs and ‘neurotechnologists’. Does she live to create, or create to live? Dispel clichés, we say, just create all the time!


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