Monday, March 29, 2010

Pushing Tresholds

Pushpanjali Reddy is a tall woman. Being an architect and builder by profession, she was forced to stand tall in a space that has for long been a man’s stronghold. As an entrepreneur, she is the founder of three business ventures. Pushpanjali has now donned a new hat and has turned author. She is elated about the release of her first book, de Facto, the definitive women’s directory.
Big ideas invariably have small beginnings. What began as a search for a lady surgeon to perform an operation gathered momentum and is all set to fly out as a first of its kind ready reckoner for women. The book was launched on 8th March 2010, on the occasion of International Woman’s Day.
“Initially people were skeptical and it was hard to get information. But soon, the idea caught up and many were enthusiastic and excited to be featured in the book”, she says with a smile. The highlights of the inaugural edition of de Facto are profiles of women achievers, “must knows” for women, pioneers in various fields and a listing of women entrepreneurs who have carved a niche for themselves in different spheres of life. It also contains details of organizations, associations and services for women. “Famous Firsts is about women who have broken barriers to achieve something that has never been done before”, says Pushpanjali speaking about the section, which is her personal favorite.
The women of today are standing tall in what was once a man’s world. They dare to take the road less traveled. Defying the odds, they can make the impossible, possible and are redefining the phrase that the “sky is the limit”, quite literally. The book features achievements of about 70 such women who have scripted stories of success. Dr. Sakhubai Ramachandran, the first lady veterinary doctor, Dr. Pushpa Dravid, the first candidate to be awarded a PhD in fine arts from Bangalore University, ace swimmer and coach Nisha Millet, social scientist and activist Rohini Reddy, fitness expert Wanitha Ashok, martial arts exponent Vandana Rao, coffee taster Sunalini Menon and graphics designer Sujatha Keshavan Guha are some go-getters to be profiled in the inaugural edition of de Facto.
de Facto is spruced up with interesting trivia like the sari that plays music and a course for women who aspire to become priestesses. “Swaramadhuri”, a silk sari embedded with micro-speakers and can play as many as 200 songs on the trot, is the brainchild of a designer in Dharmavaram. An institution in Pune offers a one-year course in priesthood for women. Priyadarshini is a project introduced by the Ministry of Tourism to train women in driving, vehicle maintenance and foreign tourists etiquette.
“With each passing day more women are becoming independent and are taking up challenging jobs. We have lady mahouts, detectives, pilots, auto drivers and even a lady priestess. There is nothing a woman cannot do”, says Pushpanjali. She hopes that youngsters dream big and work towards making their dreams a reality. “The book features inspiring stories and tough journeys of women. I hope it motivates the younger generation and provides a window to opportunities that lie ahead”, she adds.
“The research for the next edition of de Facto is already underway.”, she says mentioning that the book is scheduled to have an annual release. “Since this is a directory the profiles are short and crisp. This is going to be followed up by another book that traces the journeys, hardships and success stories of the women featured in this book”, she adds speaking about what’s next in line.
“It’s a one-woman show, I have done everything from funding to research to publishing. It has been difficult but fulfilling”, she adds. Youthful and bubbling with energy, Pushpanjali is one those who will remain sweet sixteen forever.

Priced at Rs. 495/- the book will be available in all leading bookstores.

This article was published in The Hindu, Bangalore edition on the 30th of March 2010. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

It was also published in the Chennai, Delhi and Coimbatore editions of The Hindu.

Delhi Edition:

Chennai Edition:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Winds of Change

As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. For Pushpanjali Reddy, a successful architect, builder and industrialist, the need to know, fueled her desire to discover; discovery led her to explore; exploration revealed secrets of success. These inspiring stories made their way into de Facto, a ready reckoner for women.
Pushpanjali Reddy is the founder of Tropical Habitat India Pvt Ltd, a long-standing construction firm. She set up Ope Systems Pvt Ltd, to manufacture unplasticized polyvinyl chloride (uPVC) windows used in her constructions. She is also the co-founder of Awel Energy, a go-green firm that deals with biomass and renewable energy. Being a self-made entrepreneur, she aspires to establish a platform that highlights achievements of women entrepreneurs in Bangalore.
The inaugural issue of de Facto will be released on the 8th of March 2010 on the occasion of the 99th International Woman’s Day. “The book is about women who have made significant changes to society and life”, says Pushpanjali. The first edition of this directory showcases achievements of women who have battled against the odds to carve a niche for themselves in different walks of life. It features path-breakers who have excelled in domains that have long been a man's stronghold. The book is scheduled to have an annual release and contains a comprehensive listing of women professionals and entrepreneurs based out of Bangalore.
Most of Pushpanjali’s business and social ventures have been preceded by challenges and accidents. When advised to undergo a surgery, she insisted on being operated upon by a lady. After bearing the pain for over a year, a laborious search led her to find a lady surgeon to perform the operation. This incident and the inconvenience it caused propelled her to create a medium of easy access to information about women professionals. Seeds of thought blossomed into an idea and de Facto was conceived.
Educational institutions, business holdings and professionals like consultants, architects, surgeons, advocates, fashion designers, veterinary doctors are listed in the book. It also features quotes by women, interesting trivia and must-knows. “It has been a difficult but fulfilling journey”, says Pushpanjali as she recounts her struggle to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Pushpa Dravid, her teacher during her course in architecture was the first to be profiled. Coffee taster Sunalini Menon, “Mango Rani” Sharmila Pattawardhan, India’s first lady veterinary doctor Sakkubai Ramachandran, graphics designer Sujata Keshavan, vocalist and danseuse Manasi Prasad, swimmer Nisha Millet, martial arts exponent Vandana Rao and social activist Rohini Reddy are some achievers featured in this issue of de Facto. “I feel that I have grown sixty years older in a year”, she says talking about the humbling experience of following these chronicles of success.
“The concept of featuring the achievements of multi-faceted women is great as there is no directory of this kind which highlights the achievements of women”, says Pushpa Dravid as she lauds the novel idea of creating a directory about women. Pushpa was conferred the state award for arts in 1997-1998. A professor of architecture at UVCE, she is the first candidate to be awarded a doctorate in arts from Bangalore University “Girls are hardworking and its tough to find time to pursue their interests as they have to go out to work and look after the family and home”, says Pushpa Dravid as she talks about the challenges she faced as a working woman while pursuing her interest in art.
Internationally renowned coffee cupper Sunalini Menon joined the Coffee Board of India as an Assistant Taster and went on to become the Director of Quality Control. With decades of experience in evaluating, roasting, tasting and qualifying coffee behind her, Sunalini started Coffelab in 1997. The laboratory manned by women, provides quality related services to assist the various stakeholders of the coffee industry in India.
Bangalore’s very own girl with the golden voice, Manasi Prasad leaves a trail of accomplishments as she scales new heights of success. An IIMB graduate, Manasi has excelled both in academics and in the field of art. Being recognized as one among the top ten students of all IIMs she was a recipient of the coveted Aditya Birla scholarship. Manasi has performed in over 500 concerts in India and abroad. In 2008, she was conferred the prestigious Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar awarded to exceptionally talented artists below the age of 35.
“de Facto is a solid idea and a good resource for women”, says Vandana Rao, a third degree black belt in the ancient Korean martial art Tang Soo Do. She trained under Master David Bell while in Fremont, California. After relocating to Bangalore, Vandana established The Healing Arts Center, a school of art. At this school she imparts training in Tang Soo Do, Chi Kung, a Chinese meditative practice and yoga. “Learning martial arts has strengthened my identity and made me focus on who I am. I have become a stronger mother, stronger daughter and stronger wife”, says Vandana.
The queen of the water, Nisha Millet who swam her way in the record books is also profiled in the book. In a career that spanned over 15 years Nisha has won about 600 gold medals in various events and still holds the record for the maximum gold medals in the National Games. She has won several prestigious awards including the Arjuna Award, Ekalavya Award and Rajyotsava Award. At present, Nisha is a much sought after coach who trains swimmers of various age groups.
Sujata Keshavan Guha is the co-founder of Ray and Keshavan, a firm that is a pioneer in the field of brand consulting and graphic design in India. The firm has been consistently ranked as India’s top design firm and Sujata was named as one of India’s top 30 powerful women. She is the only Indian graphics designer to have received the Advertising and Marketing (A & M) Graphics Designer of Year award twice.
The book also features Kapila Saigal, small town girl who has mastered the mantra of success. She landed her first job as a marketing executive and then went on to establish a printing business. Her desire to explore and excel prompted her to set up Chandni Chowk, a flamboyant restaurant in an up market location of Bangalore. Exquisite restaurants Heera Panna, Jalsa and Ruh followed the success of Chadni Chowk. Hats off to this lady who came Bangalore with just eight hundred rupees in her pocket!
At 79, Dr. Sakkubai Ramachandran who has the distinction of being the first lady veterinarian in India is the oldest achiever to be featured in de Facto. In 1948, Madras Veterinary College opened admission of girls and Sakkubai was one of two girls who joined the course that year. After graduating in 1952, she worked as a virologist and scientist at Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) till her retirement in 1991.
These women are living examples of the adage, “Triumph always begins with you” and are just a few of many who have launched themselves to the pinnacle of glory. The women of today are standing tall in what was once a man’s world. They dare to chase wild dreams and take the road less traveled. Defying the odds, can make the impossible, possible and are redefining the phrase that the “sky is the limit”.

This article was published in Bangalore Mirror on the 08th of March 2010. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In the Heart of Art

“She taught me to see”, says Soumya looking at her mother with pride and admiration. Born into a family of luminaries, Soumya Aravind Sitaraman is orbiting success like her ancestors who defied the norm during their times. Her paternal grandmother Alamelu Viswanathan, acted in the first black and white Tamil talkie and her maternal grandmother Kumuda, was one of the first woman pilots in India. Her mother, Usha Kris is a renowned freelance photographer and a guest lecturer at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Trailing on a rich lineage, Soumya’s artistic adroitness comes as no surprise. Authoring a book that has been well received by readers is just another feather in the cap for this award-winning artist and illustrious freelance writer.
Growing up in Chennai, Soumya was exposed to music, dance and art. Her tryst with tradition began at a tender age. She graduated with a degree in Environmental Science and wedlock took her to the Silicon Valley where she established herself as an eminent artist. Soumya’s penchant for art manifested in myriad forms. She used art as a medium to bridge cross-cultural differences. Her work has won accolades from various quarters.
A patron of the arts, she pioneered many initiatives that supported artists from different backgrounds. While in California, she founded Shakti, a coalition of contemporary artists of Indian origin. Under the aegis of Shakti, budding artists exhibited their work at the Euphrat Museum of Art in Cupertino. This was the first of many exhibitions to follow. Shakti was an amplifier of the unheard voices of talented Indians in the Bay Area, California
Soumya was the cultural coordinator of the 1995 Santa Clara chapter of Las Madres, a support group for mothers. For two consecutive years, she curated exhibitions that showcased talents of stay home mothers. She was the first Indian to be conferred the artist-in-residence award at the Works Gallery in San Jose where she created “Lifelines”, a series of 12 paintings that depict powerful stories of individuals living in an environment of diffused, diverse cultures. Soumya painted a 1972 model Volkswagen Bug that was featured in documentary filmmaker Harrod Blank’s movie “Wild Wheels” and book titled “Art Cars”.
Chachaji’s Cup, a children’s book that has illustrations by Soumya is another work to her credit. In 2004, the book won several awards including the Skipping Stones Honor Award in the Multicultural and International Category, the Paterson’s Prize for books meant for the young and the Papertiger’s illustrator’s award. “Tea With Chachaji”, a musical based on the book Chachaji’s Cup is the latest production of Making Books Sing, an innovative arts organization based in New York. Stanford Lively Arts produces and presents performances in Stanford University and has added three shows of “Tea With Chachaji” on its calendar of events for the year 2010.
Soumya did not rest on her laurels. Relocating to Bangalore with her family gave her an opportunity to immerse herself in the lore of India. The feeling that we don’t always appreciate age-old traditions that are based on scientific reasoning kindled her quest for a deeper understanding of Hinduism. She sought explanations for religious practices and rituals. Answers prompted more questions and that led her on a path of discovery.
Her research took her to remote pockets of the country. “One gets to see a different dimension of India that you can’t experience being out of the country ”, says Soumya, while talking about her dive into the depths of our rich culture and heritage. “You come face to face with life”, she adds. The wealth of information that she had accrued over the years shaped up as a book. Follow The Hindu Moon, a comprehensive guide to the festivals of South India marked Soumya’s debut as an author. “Celebrate”, the first of the two-volume set portrays the fervour and revelry of festivities. The second volume titled “Understand” is a treasure trove of information about various customary practices covering Hindu cosmology, culture, traditions, festoons and recipes. The richly illustrated coffee table book contains over a thousand photographs by Soumya’s mother.
In India, celebration is a way of life. In keeping up with the spirit of celebration, Soumya is hosting a television show called “Let’s Celebrate”. This festival special will be aired on Sri Sankara TV. Being a perfectionist who leaves nothing to chance, Soumya co-ordinates the entire spectrum of activities from shooting to editing of episodes of her show. When she is not facing the cameras, she is behind it directing the shoot. “Creativity is a channel of expression”, she asserts while talking passionately about topics ranging from the vedas to colours on the canvas.

This article was published in The Hindu on the 04th of March 2010. Below is the link to the online version of the article.