It was my 13th birthday and my aunties and cousins had gathered home for a birthday hi-tea. After I did the cake cutting and everyone wished me Happy Birthday, I realized my aunts were whispering in my mom’s ears – It’s her time, make her understand about it. And my mom reciprocated with an embarrassing grin, saying – I have asked her cousin to talk to her.
I overheard this conversation many times. While this made me happy for all the attention I was getting, I was also curious to know what was this thing.
I am sure by now; you must have guessed it too. Yes, they were talking about Menstruation, menses, periods, monthlies.
Menstruation, a life giving, biological process of our body, yet a taboo in our society. It is so ironical, when a woman is pregnant, has a life inside her, she is pampered, her pregnancy is celebrated but on the other side when the same woman gets her period she is abandoned and almost secluded from the society.
In my 10 years of corporate stint, I realized even the corporate women; the educated, independent and significant lot of our society fail to express openly about this bodily function. They may joke around this topic, may laugh at the code words used for addressing menstruation but the fact remains that they still feel the need to shush around often when talking about periods.
So, coming back to my 13th birthday, and the time arrives when my cousin finally gathers the courage to talk to me and explain about this phenomenon. While I don’t clearly remember about what she told but I do remember her expressions. Throughout she was hesitant and embarrassed. She asked me to always keep it a secret, to not talk about it with anyone, and especially not with my papa and bhai as men are not supposed to know about this at all.
While this episode left a not so good impression about the upcoming phase of my life, I now feel that at least my mother was keen to make me prepared for my first period.
Per few studies – Even today, about 70% of mothers in rural community think that Periods are dirty and impure and sadly they pass on this stigma to their daughters. About half the girls are unaware of their first period and are not prepared. Many girls I spoke to shared they thought they had got some disease.
What does this unpreparedness lead to? Confusion, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, feeling of isolation, loss of confidence, inferiority complex and the list could go on.
Menarche – What could have been a cherished experience for girls becomes a dark memory of their lives that they want to forget about. Having to adhere to societal practices in name of rituals and traditions, feeling as if their wings had been clipped. There’s nothing beautiful about womanhood for them.
However, we all can bring a change in our society. One of the important contribution can be normalizing periods, normalizing conversation about periods and helping to invoke immense confidence in our daughters so they never dread of Periods in their lives like a lot of us did. We must talk to them and assure that Periods is just another biological function of our body, yet important, as important as breathing.
Let’s enable them to celebrate this phase of life…LET’S TALK PERIOD!!!
Amongst all the things that I successfully did in physical endurance, right from scuba and bungee, trekking was still something that had never happened. My first attempt at reaching for the stars, was Kilimanjaro. My excitement covered up the longish journey from Dhaka to Arusha with a break journey in Mumbai and a bus journey from Kenya to Tanzania.
This was the first time that I was trekking, and there were a thousand thoughts blinking like headlights in my head. Sleeping, bathing, nature motions, sleep, water, food, cold etc. etc. That made me have a bath twice as soon as I landed in Arusha base camp, as thinking of not having a bath for the next one week was almost a nightmare. My first impression of the guide at the introductory briefing session was” He smells of alcohol; God save us!!” His reassurance that he had done 400 climbs was the only saving grace.
I knew harsh weather conditions would be the biggest challenge for us trekkers. But I could foresee this as more of a mental challenge. So, my motto was to live in the moment rather than thinking about the summit. I knew, rain, hail, snow, sun whatever it may be, I needed to continue walking.
The first day trek was good fun with us singing songs and enjoying the nature though it was not a normal terrain. Even the small tent felt big and warm, with unpacking and changing done using head torches. It was about 15 degrees and we were at 2500 meters. I got up to use the wash room in the night around 3:30am, and my jaw dropped to see the sheer vastness of the sky. The feeling of nothingness and we so small in the vast universe. Stars scattered all over like silver powder, was a sight that I witnessed for the first time! Breathtaking!
The second day trek was hot and I was absolutely famished and dehydrated. I had finished my quota of water that I was carrying and managed a drink somehow from others. Started listening to music to keep my wandering thoughts in track. Seeing my despondent self, one of the porters challenged me to keep up to his pace Well my ‘Garwhali’ genes did surface as he later called me ‘fast and furious’, Ha!! The night was chilly, and we just got a bowl of hot water to brush our teeth and wash our face. My closing thoughts on Day 2 was “If u want to be grow, then you have to try out something which you have never done before. So, here I am trying something, which is away from my comfort zone and I needed to enjoy it.
The third day ,apart from the changing weather and terrain was hugely motivational. We met three trekkers, one with an artificial leg, the other with no eye sight and thirdly a gutsy lady of 75 years. Indeed, it’s all about determination. Age and physical barriers cannot make one weak for sure. By this time you can feel the vastness of nature. It felt amazing to witness the snowcapped mountains~ black volcanic rocks surrounded with snow. The cold breeze hitting one’s face in warm sunny weather was awesome. The climate had dropped to minus 2 degrees and sleeping at night had now become an experience. The ‘diamox’ medicine that each of us had to take for altitude sickness, made us urinate and eternally thirsty even after drinking six litres of water daily. Consequently, one had to use the loo in the middle of the night as there was no other way. That was hell of a challenge, as getting in and out of layers and gloves, sleeping bag and tent at 3:00 am is a memory to stay for life.
In the morning of the 4th day, I started noticing the water freezing in a bowl and ice particles on the tent. Getting a bowl of hot water to brush was literally bliss as fingers hardly moved due to the cold. The Sun had come out, but it was chilly and windy. The terrain had also become rocky and with a definite incline. In these extreme conditions one doesn’t have a choice but to think. Reflecting on things and people around me, enjoying the loneliness, walking at my own pace in that vast land wondering why am I doing this?? There was a certain stillness living in that moment. Even though I was physically moving I was mentally quite still, trying to absorb everything around me. The still mountain, the feel of the deserted vast space that makes you feel so small yet significant.
My tryst with water and cold continued into the 5th day. I remember the guide reminiscing “You drink so much water, that’s why you are so beautiful”. Well some motivation in the middle of nowhere. The pace of the trek had reduced quite a bit as we were getting out of breath very fast. The inclination was about 50-60 and we had to put in that extra effort. Cold was my constant companion and enemy. I had to put heat pads on feet over the socks, and held the hot water bottle the entire night to keep the fingers warm. Even the gloves did not feel warm enough.
Day 6 was the coldest and also the summit day and the final trek started at 11 pm in the night. I wore 3 thermals below and layered it with waterproof pants, 4 thermals on top and layered it with fleece, down jacket and summit jacket. But the feet and hands were still freezing. The altitude and inclination was quite a lot and the walk was steep. I once managed to look down in the moonlight, the mountain looked scary as we were really high up. After 3 hours, I could feel the lack of oxygen and I started feeling dizzy. Even though I kept breathing, my eyes were closing and body was completely tired and giving away .The porters and guides were singing and were trying to keep our spirits up, but each one of us, was struggling within ourselves. I wished every step to be the last one and the summit step. A moment came when I thought I will blackout, but then I noticed streak of sun rays in the sky. We were approaching ‘Gilbert Point’, which was our first point to see the run rising. Never knew sun rays would energize me that much, and by that time we had already walked 7 hours and it was 6:30am. Watching the sun rise was beautiful. The hues and colors made me feel like painting it right away.
Summit was still one and half hours away and we had to come back the same route. Mind and body both were giving up. I had started getting a severe headache and feet were getting colder and colder due to the height. The guide saw that I was dizzy, so as we proceeded he just held my hand. At that moment, I felt reassured I can push myself. Mind really plays games at this point and one feels helpless, because no one apart from yourself can help. I started thinking of all good things after the summit. Saw people coming down after their summit encouraging us to go a bit further. Finally we made it through the last stretch and finally seeing the ‘Uheru” summit board @5895 meters seemed like heaven. We all hugged each other, a couple of them started crying, it still did not dawn on me that I had made it! There was of course another 5 hours of trek that we had to do to reach our camp below.
The trek down on the last day was something that I was looking forward to. The trail down was beautiful with barren rocky land to lush green forest, moors, fresh cold breeze and warm weather. It was perfect and beautiful.
There is so much I’m taking back from this place;
- Being closer to nature taught me to appreciate and find happiness in simple things in life.
- Living in the present, thinking positive helps one to enjoy every moment.
- Challenging oneself, overcoming your fear, going beyond the comfort zone, pushing yourself to the edge has a positive effect on self to stay for life.
- There are a lot of good things around us, it’s just that we don’t take the time out to notice, appreciate and acknowledge it.
- Jumbo (hi) and Hakuna matata (no problem) and Poley Poley (slow) are Kili terms that everyone needs to internalize for a happy life.
Want to summarize with what I read recently “the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”
I have come out a stronger, motivated and confident individual. Thank you Kilimanjaro!
“Travel not more because you will learn more” – there was perhaps a reason why women were confined to homes for a long time and even now. Because once you travel, you fly like a girl.
It was just another Monday when Fly Like a Girl was born in my head. An all woman paragliding trip. There are several women trips butI had a simple agenda #reclaimmyspace. And as quite often. I worked from scratch without knowing where it would lead to. Booked Tickets. Arranged Logistics. Limited promotion. What I didn’t realize was a lingering impact of some reinforcements and some new insights.
Believe your gut and go with your plan – A blue sky thinking approach is what is required to make things happen. Things do happen, dots do connect. It might not be a perfect ending but indeed is a beautiful and meaningful beginning. 5 was the total number. The sharing and fun though was exponential. We did Fly like a Girl- ate drank, shopped, laughed, cried and ofcourse flew- literally, after all it was a paragliding event.
Dots connect and one thing leads to another – This small event (small because of limited number) opened many doors and opportunities for my business. The idea became bigger and we launched the woman vertical of Unhotel (that’s my hospitality company www.unhotel.in ). As I had already been working in space of woman leadership, I pitched the concept to my clients and they loved the idea of mapping adventure and leadership skills for their women executives. This was not the original idea, things evolve..dots connect.
Structure is great when balanced with fluidity – How I loved Oxymorons when I first was introduced to the concept. I think it still takes me to a magical world of opposites. It’s amazing, I write this piece in a break session at one of my woman leadership sessions. One of the things mentioned in the last session was that women are not as flexible as women, they have a certain rigidity about things. I do not know how true this holds but what I did experience that this group had a wonderful balance of structure and flexibility. ‘Lets go’ and we were on the road but at the same time respecting the homestay rules, commitment made towards the group, empathy and care for the staff also held true. The larger canvas was to have fun, experience a certain weightlessness, perhaps the way it is in the space and that we did.
Young Women Club is the answer to Old Boys Club – It’s a narrative told and reinforced by the society that a bunch of women cannot stick together. Women don’t help women. It’s time to challenge the narrative because that’s not true. We were all there for each other, to listen to each other, be present for each other and support each other. I experienced an unmatchable bundle of energy and bonhomie. Change the story and share your story because those will break stereotypes.
Love who you are and don’t get swayed by who you are not – Summarizing by the beautiful Poem Not by Erin Hanson
You are not your age,
Not the size of clothes you wear,
You are not a weight,
Or the colour of your hair.
You are not your name
Or the dimples on your cheeks,
You are all the books you read,
And all the words you speak,
You are your croaky morning voice,
And the smiles you try to hide,
You are the sweetness in your laughter,
And every tear you have cried,
You are the songs you sing so loudly,
When you know you are all alone,
You are the places you’ve been to,
And the one that you call home,
You are the things that you believe in,
And the people you love,
You are the photos in your bedroom,
And the future you dream of,
You’re made of so much beauty,
But it seems that you forgot,
When you decided that you were defined
By the things You’re not
The Supreme Court of India has, in two highly progressive recent judgement, supported the rights of women. Through its rulings, the Court struck blows against the feudal mentality and patriarchal mind-set of some members of society (who try and destroy the identity of their daughters and steal their property).
The two judgement are indicative of a changing India, where gender neutrality and the rights of women are the new normal. Society sometimes hesitates to support women who stand up for themselves (until they win!) but the apex court has provided guidance and a moral compass once again.
In one case, a woman in Jodhpur was being dispossessed of the house she lived in by her father, as the gentleman claimed it to be his self-acquired property. As is common, he wanted to give the property to his son, leaving nothing for his daughter (a single mother at that). The Supreme Court refused to consider his claims of it being a self-acquired property and ordered the father to buy his daughter a house where she and her children could live. It took a six-year legal fight, but Kaushalya finally found support for her rights in the Supreme Court of India.
[Read more about the case in an article in the Hindustan Times]
The Supreme Court ruled on another property matter where a brother was trying to take over his sister’s property. The Court held that a brother cannot claim right over property inherited by his sister from her husband because he is neither her heir nor her family. Brothers conveniently try and become “family” when they want a share of their sister’s property and ignore the women when they want to snatch their rights.
[Read more about the case in an article in the Hindustan Times]
The above cases are similar to Ratna Vira’s book, Daughter By Court Order, where the protagonist, Aranya, was a woman fighting against power, money, deceit, and treachery for her right to be recognised as a daughter. In Ratna’s book, the mother and brother try to take away the identity and inheritance rights of Aranya, supported by the mother’s brother, until they are stopped by the courts.
The two recent judgement of the Supreme Court should make patriarchal families who try and snatch the rights of their daughters pause and think … for the Honourable Judges have clearly indicated their mind.
This article has been first published in ratnavira.com
If you are a woman in position of influence, you probably are doing things right. Getting to next level therefore needs even deeper introspection..what can you now do even better? Top positions in organizations and on boards are not shortlisted merely on skills and talent – being visible and talked about plays a very crucial role. Thereby Networking.
Networks expand your sphere of influence, expose you to new ideas, showcases your talent to new people and keep you informed on new opportunities. Herminia Ibarra mentions that an individual has three different kinds of network – operational, personal and strategic. Quoting her, “Operational networks help you manage current internal responsibilities, personal networks boosts professional development, and strategic networks focus you on new business directions and the stakeholders you must get on board to pursue them.”
Perhaps, like all of us, you may know the importance of networking, but when it comes to choosing how to spend time, Networking falls down in the list of priorities. How about making Networking, a part of your natural inner rhythm. It’s time to leave behind excuses and be more aware of self; it’s time to look into reasons why you avoid networking. It is not to do anything with you being an introvert or an extrovert.
My work involves helping many women leaders to become more aware and comfortable with Networking. When they find their inner rhythm, it just flows naturally and effortlessly.
Set your Networking Goals today. !!
Ranjana Deopa, COO, Biz Divas Foundation in conversation with Ms Sonali Sinha, Founder & CEO, SoaringEagles Learning Pvt. Ltd.
Sonali Sinha has two decades of experience in investment banking, social sector and entrepreneurship. She is the Founder & CEO of an innovative talent development organisation, SoaringEagles Learning Pvt. Ltd. SoaringEagles offers a range of innovative learner-centric programmes to develop self-awareness, personal effectiveness and professional skills which are highly valued by world class employers today. Prior to setting up SoaringEagles Learning, Sonali was the CEO of Dignity Foundation, an NGO working for senior citizens. She was associated with this cause for three years.
During her sixteen-year investment banking stint, she held senior leadership positions in marquee companies like SBI Capital Markets, Ernst & Young and IDFC Capital. She advised several Indian and multinational companies on joint ventures, acquisitions and equity fund raising. She advised large financial companies on entry into the Indian market.
Sonali is an Independent Director on the Board of STCI Primary Dealer Limited. Sonali is a FICCI Young Leader and was on the Steering Committee for a Knowledge Paper on ‘Organizing for Corporate Social Responsibility in India’. Her articles on skill development and entrepreneurship have been published in prestigious publications like Entrepreneur India, Your Story, SME World, Education Insider, etc.
Sonali Sinha was awarded the Women Leadership Achievement Award at the World Women Leadership Congress & Awards 2016. Sonali is a Professional Member of Association of Talent Development (ATD), the world’s largest talent development association. She is also a Life Member of Indian Society for Training & Development (ISTD).
She has a stellar academic background, having completed her Economics (Hons.) from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University and MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur.
You are a role model and inspiration for many career women. We would like to know more about journey as a Career woman as well as your personal journey.
“My journey over the last 20 years has been very exciting and fulfilling. I started in investment banking as an equity analyst with SBICAP. This gave me a thorough understanding of the sectors I covered and the opportunity to interact with top management, very early in my career. Then I moved into the M&A and Advisory vertical as I wanted to get involved in transactions, first with SBICAP and then with Ernst & Young (EY). I got the opportunity to work on some marquee transactions and even contribute to policy making. EY also gave me an opportunity to work in a different cultural environment and with many multinational clients. During this phase I started getting involved with social causes and started feeling the need for my work to have more social impact. So I left the lucrative Investment banking space and joined an NGO. My experience as the head of an NGO for 3 years made me more rounded in terms of knowledge about all aspects of running an organisation in a challenging scenario. It also widened my perspective about challenges faced by people and helped me build a diverse network of associates.
I realized that my calling was to help people develop and achieve their potential and so I set up SoaringEagles Learning in 2015. We help build confidence to achieve success in one’s career. We are also into corporate training and have worked with some large organisations. We have received tremendously positive feedback from our customers. The entrepreneurial journey has been a great learning experience. On the personal front I have been very lucky to have a life partner who supports me in every way possible. He is my sounding board. My son and I share a wonderful bond and he has always appreciated my choice to work full time. Seeing him grown into a wonderful human being has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
You are working as an Independent Director on Board STCI Primary Dealer Limited, how has the board experience been so far and what is your advice to aspiring Board members especially on the preparation required for getting on Corporate Boards in the future
I have been an Independent Director for two years now and it has added a lot of value to my repertoire of professional experience. Throughout my investment banking days, I had many opportunities to present to the Boards of companies and handle their challenging questions. During my non-profit days also, I got to manage our Board meetings, so it gave me a perspective on how to anticipate questions that Board members would ask and prepare for it. Given these experiences, joining the Board of STCI Primary Dealer did not really feel like unfamiliar territory, just that my role was reversed. Now I was on the side that asked questions. The company itself was also not new to me. STCI has been a client earlier and I knew the business and the top management. The other Board members were welcoming and encouraging. All this helped me take up the role confidently.
I learnt from one of the very experienced Board members that as a Board member our role is to ask constructive questions and provide broad policy guidance to the management and not interfere in their day-to-day working. The management obviously has a much deeper understanding of the business. The role of the Board members is to bring to the table their own wealth of experience across industries and share best practices.
For aspiring Board members it is important to have an overall perspective of the economy and some industries. The person should have an independent mind. She should be a strategic thinker and be analytical. Good communication and interpersonal skills would really help. Also, knowledge of company laws is an added advantage. Most importantly, women who get invited to join a Board should not see it as a favour. They should see it as an opportunity to grow and contribute to the success of the company.
What have been the key challenges faced by you during your career and how did you overcome them.
Every challenge in life gives us an opportunity to grow. In fact I have always strived to step out of my comfort zone so that I can grow as a professional and as an individual. There have been many challenging assignments that I have worked on but what has been more challenging has been to deal with individuals who don’t see women as equals. Investment banking is a male dominated industry. During my days, there were very few women at senior levels so most of the times, I would be the only woman in the room. I had to learn how not to let others take credit for my work and also how to be heard. From being a soft-spoken young woman to becoming someone who is heard and cannot be ignored, was quite a journey. So I think, I am who I am because of the challenges I had to face. I would not want to change a thing.
Who have been your role models/ mentors/ supporters in your journey and what roles have they played in your success.
There have been many people whose qualities I have admired and tried to emulate. I have learnt a lot in the process. I have picked up qualities like attention to detail, how to conduct oneself in a meeting, how to build rapport with clients and how to create opportunities where there may be none. I have been lucky to have bosses who would rely on me to get things done. Their confidence in my abilities has really prodded me on and given me the confidence to take on challenging assignments. The unwavering support of my husband has made it possible to chase my dreams.