Literary Review

Primer for feminine success

30 Women in Power: Their Voices, Their Stories, Ed by Naina Lal Kidwai.  

Close on the heels of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In comes this book of essays by 30 women achievers in India. Lean In was a bestselling hit because it told lots of little stories from Sandberg’s own life and chronicled the struggles of a working woman. 30 Voices is a little different; it has many more voices, and much more formality.

This book has women achievers like Chanda Kochhar of ICICI; Vineeta Rai of the IAS; Shaheen Mistri of Teach for India, TV presenter Shereen Bhan, activist-scientist Sunita Narain and business baronesses like Preeta Reddy of Apollo Hospitals and Jyotsna Suri of Lalit Hotels writing their stories in an essay format. They discuss their growing-up years, their careers and their families. Women can have it all, say the majority. They credit their success to their hard work and the support of their parents, in-laws, spouses and children. “As a woman, I have never been discriminated against,” says Meher Pudumjee, chairperson and director of Thermax. “Even in my early days at SBI, gender was never an issue,” says Arundhati Bhattacharya, the first woman chairperson of SBI. A few disagree. “In a man’s world, I knew I had to perform better than all men to get what I deserved,” says Naina Lal Kidwai, Chairperson of HSBC India and also the editor of this book. Debjani Ghosh, Managing Director at Intel India, seconds this: “We’re expected to be domestic goddesses, whether or not we have career ambitions.” In another essay Mirai Chaterjee, Director of SEWA, talks about an incident during her school days at Mumbai’s Cathedral and John Connon School “Our teacher, an Australian, told me to turn down my nomination (for President of the school Interact Club) because, with a girl at the helm, boys would not join.”

There are a few lighter moments too, like the essay by Zia Mody on wearing a short skirt to work. “In 1984, bright-eyed and fresh out of New York City, when I first entered my chambers in the male-dominated Bombay High Court, I was dressed as was customary in America — in a short formal skirt. My senior, the wonderful Obed Chonoy, looked at me through owl-like glasses and said nothing. On the second day, he told me, almost apologetically, kal se jara salwar kameez pehana lo (please wear a salwar kameez from tomorrow). Overnight I had to change my wardrobe.” Facebook India CEO Kirthiga Reddy says, “There will never be a perfect time to have children”, and writes of having a baby as an MBA student at Stanford. “She had 365 aunts and uncles — all my amazing classmates.”

The 30 voices are an interesting mix, coming as they do from women in sectors as varied as banking and information technology to tractors and teaching. Yet the succession of their stories, told in a uniform essay format, make for monotonous reading. Also these essays are ham-handedly heavy on advice. The book seems intended as a primer for feminine success and delivers on that intent without subtlety. Each essay offers instruction, often emphatically. Sentences like “As a leader, it is your responsibility to share your commitment to and whole-hearted love for your job with your team at every opportunity” are in bold. “Ambition is not necessarily bad” and “Humility is a hallmark of success,” say the subheadings in the introduction, also in bold. It’s edifying but hardly entertaining.

30 Women in Power: Their Voices, Their Stories; Ed. Naina Lal Kidwai, Rupa/Maven, Rs.500.

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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 7:18:35 PM |

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