Varsha Adusumilli’s ‘Wonder Girls’ (Juggernaut; ₹299) took shape from a trip to Jaipur to attend a friend’s wedding. She was besieged with questions that are normally thrown at many young, single women in a gathering — was she married, how old was she, aren’t her parents pressurising her, has she travelled on her own (even abroad?) and how did her parents let her live alone... and so on. The questions came from girls younger than Varsha, girls who had dreams in their eyes and were unsure how to convince their kith and kin and explore a whole new world, beyond the boundaries that tethered them.
“The questions followed a similar, predictable pattern,” Varsha tells us in an interview, reflecting on the journey that prompted her to write this book. She remembers a girl who told her of her dream to become a dentist but there were impending marriage plans at home, there was another who wanted to move to Mumbai and work and wanted to know how to go about it...
Returning from the trip, Varsha was restless. She researched and came across statistics (the percentage of Indian women in the workforce is only 27%, according to International Labour Organization, ILOSTAT database. Early release of the 2017 ILO Labour Force Estimates and Projections, retrieved in November 2017) that show a dismal percentage of Indian women in the workforce. The break-up in different fields looked further bleak.
Varsha feels that while the media often puts the spotlight on women achievers, these women are far ahead in their respective fields. She felt that young girls like the ones she met would benefit from were a set of more relatable role models — women who speak their language and perhaps could be someone from their own neighbourhoods.
- Neha Pardeshi: Rugby captain
- Vasundhara Rangan: Neurosurgeon
- Nilparna Sen: CEO and fitness coach
- Nishma Dahal: Scientist
- Shravya Kag: Photographer
- Shilo Shiv Suleman: Artist
- Prerna Sharma: Physics professor
- Rucha Nirale: Flight commander
- Ruth Sequeira: Brand marketer
- Shweta Tripathi: Actor
- Sucharita Tyagi: Radio jockey
- Gowri Varanashi: Rock Climber
- Priyanka Chandrasekhar: Classical dancer
- Rhea Gupte: Visual artist
Introspecting on her own journey, Varsha remembers, “I had access to numerous women who have made seemingly unconventional choices and have built happy lives for themselves.” Varsha is a BITS alumnus who chose an entrepreneurial path. “It was clear to me that India was moving towards startups. There’s so much fun in creating something new — I got to do this at a media startup and at a venture capital firm. BITS is fantastic at creating entrepreneurial skills in students; the institute nurtured by independent thinking,” she says. Varsha went on to work with the venture capital firm Kalaari Capital.
There are several ways in which one can initiate a dialogue on the need for more women to step into the workforce. A book was something Varsha thought she could do with the resources and skills at her disposal. She set about looking for relatable role models. She interviewed 25 women from diverse fields, and 15 of them made it to the book. The professions vary from scientific research to teaching, rugby to a casting director for films, and more. She chose women from bigger cities as well as smaller centres like Jabalpur, Soreng in Sikkim and Saligoan.
Discovering the individual journeys of these women, she observes that all of them share themes of developing skills and confidence over time, having mentors, keeping a network of allies, taking care of themselves and understanding the value of financial independence. “The book has practical nuggets on how the women got from point A to point B. I wish I had such a book when I was 21,” she concludes.