A perfectionist, multi-tasker, wife, mom, temple-hopper, saree lover and one who does not believe in online shopping, the Honourable Governor of Telangana, Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan is an interesting mix of several things.
In an exclusive fireside chat, she reveals to Hyderabad Express what she does to make every minute of her hectic schedule both happy and productive.
Incidentally, she completes six months in the current post around International Women’s Day!
Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan, the first woman Governor of Telangana, is a woman with many interesting facets.
The 58-year-old who took charge as the Honourable Governor at Raj Bhavan on September 9, 2019, will be clocking in six months in her post next month - March 9.
While most of us know that she rose from a BJP karyakarta to the Governor of Telangana, has held prestigious posts such as BJP State president for Tamil Nadu for five years besides South Chennai district medical wing secretary, State general secretary etc, not many know that she has also conducted a programme on oratory skills for students in a Tamil TV channel for more than 10 years.
She also hosted Magalir Panchayat (Women’s Court), a popular weekly programme for women on Doordarshan for five years.
A doctor by profession, she had obtained post-graduate degree in gynaecology from Madras Medical College and took special training in sonology and foetal therapy in Canada, Australia and London and Assistant Professor in the Department of Gynaecology at Sri Ramachandra Medical College, Chennai she has also translated many important political and medical articles from English to Tamil.
Besides, she has translated speeches of senior BJP leaders including LK Advani, Jaswant Singh and Venkaiah Naidu.
On a sunny day in February, she gives us time for a freewheeling interview at her official residence Raj Bhavan, Somajiguda, where she reveals the lesser-known facets of her.
Dressed in a blue and cream chequered silk saree and sporting her trademark vibhuti and a string of jasmine in her hair, she touches a range of topics, from her favourite book to her time management secrets. Excerpts:
You are always busy with your office and public meetings, not to mention your family. Do you ever feel like stealing a holiday for yourself?
No, I don’t feel the need to, as I enjoy what I am doing. I have been this way ever since I was in my 20s. I have never known a day that an average Indian would call ‘a leisure day’.
I am the eldest of five siblings and my parents wanted me to get married early. While in my third year of medical college, I got married and gave birth to my son.
Pursuing Medicine itself is a full-time job. So is being a mother.
While tending to a newborn, giving internals, practicals, managing the household etc, I cleared all my exams with no backlogs. I love to juggle things and be the best as it gives me a maha high.
As a child, were you ambitious? Did you ever have a vision of yourself becoming a doctor or a leader? Or did you just go with the flow?
I was action-oriented, not ambitious. I would do things without really planning ahead about what it would lead to.
Academically, I was a topper, but I hadn’t planned on becoming a doctor. In fact, I opted for life sciences because of my aversion to mathematics.
Again, I was active in co-curricular activities, but never with the intention to become the head girl. But then, I was the school leader in Class X and was an office-bearer during my Medicine too.
I admired great leaders. If we had a dignitary visiting our college and I missed it because of my classes, I would find out from others what they spoke or read about it in the newspaper the next day.
When I was in school, I was told that I can render service to the community if I become a politician. I did mention the same at a family function and my mom gave me a mouthful for saying that I want to become a politician.
My dad has been in active politics and she was of the impression that as a woman, I would never be able to give my family any time.
I was already busy as a doctor, but I felt the need to go beyond the call of the duty and I did choose to be in the public life to be able to render public service. Today, I am blessed with a happy family.
My husband, Dr P Soundarajan lives in Chennai and is a renowned kidney transplant specialist.
My daughter Dr Poovini, son Dr Sugandhan and daughter-in-law Dr Divya are doctors too.
All of them are gold medallists. I am the only one who does not have one. But then, having a family full of toppers is a gold medal in itself, right.
Many of us get flustered with so many things lined up in a day. Yet, you are known to be calm and friendly at all times.
I would say that acceptance and mindset are two things that help me do what I am with a smile, always. I have been a doctor for 30 years and in public life for over 20 years. First I accept responsibility and then I strive to enjoy it.
As a doctor, I have studied myself and those around me. Being angry or stressful affects our performance by 50 per cent.
It has been clinically proven too. When you are angry, channelise it into concrete action. That way the anger will subside and the problem gets resolved.
If I am unhappy with a situation, I choose to speak up or write a complaint and get it sorted than let it show its effect on me or my work.
Even as a medical student, while my classmates would crib about the record books, I took pride in writing it.
If they all used red and blue crayons for the diagrams, I would use natural colours.
I love to give my work an extra special touch. I enjoy being exemplary in whatever I take up. Back in Chennai, I was an expert in handling the Press.
Even if the journalists provoked me with their questions, I am the one to give it back with a punch with my words and enjoy the interaction.
Your work involves a lot of travel and each day is different from the other. What’s an average day in the life of the Governor?
I am an early riser, 5.30 am it is. I am blessed to live in this palatial heritage building and I take a small walk to greet the flowers in my garden. I love colours and flowers. I spend 30 minutes on the treadmill doing an intensive, power walk. I then switch to yoga for 30 minutes. It is important to be flexible in your 50s and yoga is ideal to achieve that. Later, I go with the flow of the day. I retire by 11 pm. During my car commutes, I quickly prepare for my talks when I go for inaugurations or other government events. I am a voracious reader and all that reading of over 50 years has helped me have an understanding of many things in the world. So be it a nutrition conference or a technology launch, I manage to speak with a little prep before-hand.
You always sport a smile on your face and the sacred ash on your forehead. Are you religious?
Devotional, not religious. I believe in God, but I don’t indulge in the rituals. I am lucky to live in the heart of Hyderabad and in the midst of the most powerful temples. I visit a temple every day, well most of the time. After I took charge as the Governor, I did make an effort to ensure that we do regular pooja to a beautiful stone idol on the premises.
What temples do you go to in Hyderabad?
You can call me a temple-hopper. I visit Vinayagar temple on Monday, Murugan temple on Tuesday, to Shirdi Sai Baba and Puttaparthi Sai Baba on Thursday, Amman temple on Friday and Hanuman temple on Saturday. Here, I found that most visit Hanuman on Tuesday, but it works out well for me as there is not a big crowd. I also try not to spend too much time in temples as I feel guilty when the devotees are stopped because of my arrival due to security reasons. So I do a quick darshan, ring the bell, take the aarti and move on. Sundays are for temples that I haven’t visited if I have the time.
I am curious about why you skip going to the temple on Wednesday?
(Laughs). That’s because that is the only day I eat non-vegetarian food. Last Sunday, I visited Skandagiri Temple in Padmarao Nagar. Hyderabad is lucky to have so many temples that are powerful and have great architecture. Perhaps that is why I don’t miss Chennai.
You must be missing the saree stores of Chennai though? You are known to be a hardcore saree lover.
Not really, I now have Pochampally weavers coming home to show me their new weaves. I did visit the textile town, but they said it was easier for them to drop by as they keep frequenting Hyderabad on work. So that is sorted.
I love Indian wear, sarees and kurtis and bright colours. Although many dissuade me from wearing bright colours due to my complexion, I feel they lift my mood. Sarees, junk jewellery for less than Rs 50, especially in hues matching my outfits and books... these are a few of my favourite things. Unlike most of my friends, I am not into online shopping at all. I love it the old fashioned way.
Is it true that you have 5,000 books in your personal library? What are you reading currently and what book inspires/leads you?
Yes, shelves and shelves of books are what I love. Here, in the last six months, I have accumulated about 300 books.
I am currently reading The Republican Ethic, a compilation of the speeches by our President Ramnath Kovind. Ramayana is a book that inspires me. Recently, I was reading a particular chapter in which the Nidra Devatha, Goddess of Sleep, tells Lakshmana who is on the forest trail about the importance of a good night’s sleep.
Our ancient epics and medicine are relevant even in the digital age. Bharatiyar’s poetry and Thirukurral are the other two books that are on my bedside table.
What are your personal goals for 2020?
I came to Hyderabad when dengue was prevalent and that spurred me to focus on Red Cross. I have succeeded in enrolling 16 lakh people to the Indian Red Cross Society. I want to get more numbers under this umbrella.
I also want to take up special rehabilitation programmes for the tribals this year. Differently-abled is another community where we need to do a lot of work.
I hosted an event recently where I could interact with several disabled people who have great thoughts and ideas to lift the community. I fell in love with their spirit for life.
I hope to do something concrete for them. On Sunday, March 4, I have also planned an event, as a run-up to the International Women’s Day, in the Raj Bhavan lawns.
From GHMC women employees to Padma Shris in the city, we want to felicitate several women who have gone beyond the call of their duty.
I am keen to meet the visually-challenged lawyer and the girl who sang the Samakka song. The idea is to reach the unreachable women, celebrate their work, their thoughts and actions besides taking it to a logical end.
What’s your message to all the citizens of Telangana?
Life is beautiful. Don’t while it away in stress. Take care of today and tomorrow will take care of itself. Every morning, we get 86,400 seconds to celebrate life. Don’t you dare to waste them. Enjoying every second should be your first priority.
Being angry or stressful affects our performance by 50 per cent. It has been clinically proven too. When you are angry, channelise it into concrete action
From GHMC women employees to Padma Shris in the city, we want to felicitate several women who have gone beyond the call of their duty