‘How had the women’s congress collated under one roof this brilliant set of international women achievers?’ was the question that was on my mind as I stood within the hallowed congregation at nine in the morning, in formals on 14th February – Valentine’s Day. What better way to spend this day of love, than in ‘sisterhood’ and bonding with women I could look up to, than in condescension? It is normally the way in society, for me personally, to be half present in a conversation consisting of clothes, handbags and sundry girl gossip, wishing myself away trekking in the Alps with nature and my thoughts or then running far away from stuffy people with a holier than thou attitude of preaching and superior propagandising.
But this was different. Here were women, who spoke from the heart, and I strained to catch, keep and hold on to their every word. Every word had meaning and thought and history. A rich history of journeying the troughs and the thrills of achievement. Achievement not of the material, but of the meaningful. Of sharing and caring and doing for the less fortunate sisters of the world. For the first time I felt awed and excited in a congregation.
Who was responsible for this magnificent collection of sharply dressed chic lot of smiling women early on Valentine’s day morning? -Dr RL Bhatia, founder World CSR Day, and of the ‘World Women Leadership Congress & Awards’ who had tirelessly worked to create this congregation and to celebrate these women selflessly.
As I walked up to the stage to receive my award from Dr Bhatia and Indira Parikh- professor and dean at IIM Ahmedabad, hearing my name being called to receive the award many moments, vignettes and thoughts flashed before my eyes. Happy and Sad. Honestly from the heart? – More poignant ones than not. The challenges and the crisis. What was it that Dr Bhatia had said? “Women who made strife and challenge their ally”, wow! How well put, and so apt for me? My life is testimony to this one statement. Every trough made me work harder at the way I performed, at the way I looked. My mother it is who has always said, “look your best when you feel your worst”.
I’ve often wondered if most people live with more challenge than accolade?- I’ve often felt the going is tough and yes, the tough must get going at times like this, but it can be tiring. Through life’s innumerable challenges, I’ve always stuck to my mantra of fortitude, hard work and stepping up my objectives and goals, and it is gratifying that my work is recognized but more so, along with such intense, magnificent women.
Yes! It was the greatest compliment when Jeffrey Archer saw how unique my life has been, and wrote what he said was one of his favourite stories about me. I felt over the moon to see my name on London buses that had the book as its livery, on book stores. He’d chosen to use my real name in the book ‘And Thereby Hangs A Tale’, but it had all come with a heavy price. (Which I will share in my book one day soon).
Pulling myself back to the present- I walked up, received the award, was humbled and grateful at the honour, as they announced my achievements. At the end of the day, we were all excited girls taking twitter and fb pictures together, brandishing our awards on stage at the finale.
What followed for a select few was a session that was even more stimulating. I was elated at the rousing panel discussion that followed. The topic “Women Leadership – Opportunities and Challenges” had an impressive line up of panellists, Tamara Hasan Abed, Senior Director, BRAC Enterprises; Karin Verloop, Managing Director, Thought Works; Prof. Leah Marangu, Vice Chancellor, Africa Nazarene University; Namita Lal, Global Head, Mobile Money Standard Chartered Bank; Me- Columnist* Interior Architect *Luxury Brand Consultant* Art Curator; Farah Fortune, Managing Director, African Star Communications moderated by Phalgun Raju, Vice President & General Manager, Japan, Asia Pacific Brand Business.
The talk started out on a more professional note, but we found ourselves discussing private moments of sacrifice, strife, challenge and trial through the journey. Of loss and forfeiture that went into the achievement. To quote a fellow panellist and awardee Shehara De Silva– GM Janashakthi Insurance PLC “I have met some amazing women at the Women leadership Congress and awards In Mumbai yesterday. I am humbled and feel so inadequate in the shadow of their spirit and substance. I have never heard such substance or sense in decades of awards and international conferences usually banal talk shops and brotherhoods of complicit complacency!!”
It is a great encouragement, and of course an honour to receive this prestigious award. I have always believed that a sense of responsibility to the community is an essential quality towards a better tomorrow, and have strived to exemplify that ideal in my own life. In India we have so much that requires support and attention – from art to sport, healthcare, education, children’s and women’s causes and so much more. My greatest drivers are service for the betterment of the less fortunate and I’ve strived to be a tirelessly, altruistic ally to help their lot with a sense of dedication and perseverance. The distance is a big one to cover, and receiving this honour in this august company is great encouragement.