A reflection of you
Can one working woman make way for generations of financially independent women in her family?
Brought to you in partnership with HDFC Life.
When one woman in 1964 decided she wanted to work, her confidence encouraged her sister, her daughter and eventually even her granddaughter to realise their ambition. A woman investing in her career inevitably inspires generations of women after her to become financially independent and progressively more successful with each generation. But in the 1950s and ‘60s, it took courage, a supportive family and sometimes even open rebellion to do something as natural as find a job outside home. So how did these women craft successful careers for themselves and how did their careers impact other women in their family?
We followed the stories of five working women whose strength continues to inspire their granddaughters to follow their dreams two generations later.
Zahra Amiruddin, Freelance journalist, Photographer and Educator
Tell us about the first working woman in your family.
In 1975, my grandfather’s biscuit factory shut down, which brought on a bit of financial turmoil for the family. My grandparents were living in Hyderabad at the time, isolated from the rest of the household, which made things harder. That’s when my grandmother stepped-up and began a business called Venus Chemicals, with the guidance of her father. She supplied thinners to companies like Usha, Hindustan Mechanical Tools, and Hindustan Aeronautics.
My grandfather began travelling for 20 days a month as a biscuit consultant through Nepal, Africa and India, which left my grandmother in charge of the household, the kids, and the business. It hardly left any time in the day for herself, but the circumstances and the support she provided for the family alongside my grandfather, was priority, as it still is.
Does your grandmother’s work ethic and independence spur you on? What about other women in your family?
I’m lucky to come from a family of strong and independent woman who believe in complete equality. To this day, she’s always most proud of my travel assignments as a journalist and photographer and encourages me even when I have intensive shoots in remote places. Equality is normalised, as opposed to something we need to fight for. I think with my grandmother holding up the flag of equality, we don’t see life in any other way.
As a freelance photographer and journalist, how important is financial planning?
Financial independence is extremely important for someone who is as restless as me, and who has the constant need to travel. Even if it’s not on an assignment I’m travelling for, I need to be able to have enough money to take off and discover a new place. It keeps my creativity going, and it most definitely builds my confidence and independence, which in turn reflects in my art.
I make regular investments, set aside money and also buy stocks. Knowing that I have a sure set of funds to fall back on, allows me to choose my projects wisely. Being someone who needs to balance both, work and financial satisfaction, it’s important that I take on projects that drive me.
This is where the investments help, even if there’s a period of lull on the work front.
Mesha Bhansali, core team member at Bombay Duck Brewing, Program Consultant at Space Studio Baroda
Tell us about your grandmother, the first working woman in your family. What did she do, when did she start, what struggles did she face, if any?
My dadi’s career path was almost no different from any doctor you see in a family full of doctors. Her grandfather was a reformer by temperament, supporting and encouraging women’s rights, their right to remarry after being widowed, their right to work, and preaching against child marriage, more than 140 years ago.
Being part of that discourse from such a young age, and in a family that prioritised education, independence and saw no difference in a son or daughter, lead my dadi to become one of the distinguished women in education in India. From childhood she wanted to be a teacher, she went to Elphinstone College for B.A., did B.Ed. and M.Ed., and joined New Era High School as a teacher. After her 4-year stint there, she joined the Bombay Municipal Corporation’s Department of Education as an inspector of schools and in 1960, she became the Registrar of S.N.D.T. Women’s University and then its Vice Chancellor.
How did her career impact you and the lives of other women in your family?
Growing up in my dadi’s house, and I say her house because she insisted on purchasing it and financially planned for it, I was always surrounded by working women, women from SNDT, women who ran NGOs in villages, who ran NGOs for women in the red light district. Some of my earliest memories of my dadi include her surrounded by files, frantically making notes on her personalised stationary, which at the time, I didn’t know were research papers on women’s studies, gender equality and policy changes and books co- authored by her and her colleagues. And so, that was my norm- women working. I saw my grandmother in the kitchen but I also saw her in an unrestrained work mode every single day. I’ve seen pictures of her in a bikini on the beach and pictures her receiving awards for her dedication towards her field.
As a working professional today how important is financial independence and financial planning to you?
Being one of the first hires at a start-up, when I was considering my role, I had to discuss my financial package with my partner as we were planning on moving in together and I knew taking on this role would be somewhat of a pay cut or stagnation. I would say it was around this time that my financial planning really kicked in and I had mapped out estimated projections for the next five years taking everything from rent to health to holidays to dog care to monthly groceries into consideration.
And although at this time, I have a few more months of no savings since everything is going into setting up our new home, paying bills, paying staff, I have a clear idea of where I need to be in six months, where I need to be in one year and so on. Working in a start up also gives me the flexibility of working on other passion projects which become a second source of income to restart the savings account. So although I don’t have savings for a rainy day at the moment, I know once I have enough savings, my next step is to start investing. I’m 28 and a little late to the game I feel, but better late than never. There’s a difference between just saving and then spending and in actually understanding savings and expenses. You need to know how to navigate through a situation with some calmness, confidence and knowledge.
Tarjani Divanji, Senior Brand Strategist
Tell us about your grandmother and how her life as the first working woman in your family impacted you.
I was born in the later half of ‘80s when families lived and grew in the same city. And so, I’d say I was lucky to grow up with her ever so graceful presence in my life. She used to be a French teacher in a Convent school as a young mother to four beautiful daughters. She continued teaching aspirants even after she stopped formal teaching. Though I never had the pleasure to see her in the role, it is most definitely a romanticised memory for me. With her weightless Chanderi saris, love for fragrance, soft tone accentuation, her presence always transported you to an eternal spring. For her, being a woman was not about an overt show of masterful achievements, it was rather, about the effortlessness of being; it was about cultivated poise.
I was too little, back when she tried to introduce me to French, to realise I had inherited a flair for languages. I was at all times surrounded by more than two languages. It was only later in school that I figured language was the only subject I was doing well in, that did not take effort, that meanings and words came easier than numbers and logic. I had not, still have not, fully realised the value of it.
What about you, what do you do? How important is financial independence and financial planning as a working woman today?
I currently work as a Senior Brand Strategist at Futurebrands. My work requires a blend of imagination brought alive by words. I enjoy what I do thoroughly. Financial independence, to me, was a rite of passage . It marked a certain untethering from the mothership. It was most definitely a long awaited stage in life.
Financial Planning, on the other hand, is the most daunting part of being an adult. However, it is something I must adopt and so I have.
As a new adult, I must say that my acumen is limited to basic saving plans which include a medium sized gamut of SIPs and PPF. The larger plan of course if to learn how to multiply finances. Considering that I do not have any formal knowledge or background about finances, I do intend to take up a small online course soon enough to learn the basics
I am dependent on financial advisors and will do so in the future as well. Having said that, the goal is to be able to understand enough to have control over my money.
Yati Mehta, Independent Business Owner
Tell us about your grandma, the first working woman in your family. What did she do, when did she start, what struggles did she face.
My grandma was born and brought up in Burma, her father was a jeweller who even designed jewellery for the queen of England. His name was M K Gandhi, and when the second world war broke out Japanese soldiers took him away claiming he was the real Gandhi. He never came back. This traumatic incident prompted my grandmother to fight in the war and she joined Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian national army under the Captain Laxmi Sehgal regiment.
How did her work ethic and independence affect your family and future generations of women in your family?
She was extremely strong headed and a firm decision maker. She taught us to fend for ourselves and never depend on anybody and so she taught us everything from cooking, sewing to skating, cycling and even table tennis! My grandmother had a fiercely independent streak and although she only spoke Burmese, when she came to India after the war, she taught herself English Marathi and Gujarati. In fact she taught us all the three languages too.
What do you do and what professional goals have you set yourself?
I work in my own family business and I aim only to be as diligent and as proud of what I do as she did.
So how important is financial independence and financial planning to you?
So, for me being a Chartered Accountant, Financial Planning is of utmost importance. Before starting any new venture or investing in any business I do a reverse calculation to work out how much I can earn per month and how soon can I break even. Another aspect that needs looking into for me is the fact that beyond a decided upon period say 3-6 months depending on my business model I need to be able to keep my money rolling and spending from my earnings rather than pumping in fresh money into the business. Psychologically I feel the fact that I have saved enough to cushion myself against a financial shock and also that I have my personal investments in the right places that help me grow plays a huge role in leading a healthy happy life. I feel a person’s income-debt ratio should always be in check in order to have financial freedom and security to move forward and expand towards bigger things that one aims to achieve.
Maitreyi, Artist and Independent Business Owner
Tell us about the first working woman in your family, your grandmother. What did she do? Did she face any struggles?
My grandmother Pushpa Doongursee Bhatia, grew up in a warm loving household with simple Gandhian values. Displaced after partition from her childhood home in Karachi, the family made a new beginning in Bombay. Although it was an orthodox Hindu family, my grandmother and her brother Kriti went to the Cathedral and John Connon School at Mumbai. Her parents gave her full freedom and encouraged her to follow her hobbies and passions. She learned horse riding, swimming and was a very good golfer and was captain of the women’s team at the Willingdon Club. In college she played badminton and hockey and was also the hockey captain.
Tragedy struck her life when her brother died at the age of 16 in a motorcycle accident, his was a promising life cut short abruptly. She had to step in and render emotional support to her shattered parents, and so she started helping her father in the family business of exporting wool to Australia and England and continued to do so after marriage. Pushpa at the age of 81 still attends office at least thrice a week and is such an inspiration to everyone around her.
Did your mother work as well?
My mother worked as a graphic artist for two years and then as a freelancer for two years until my brother and I came along. My mother was the driving force behind me being the artist I am today by constantly encouraging me to draw with her when I was a baby, I vividly remember her setting up a table with fruits and bottles so I could practice my still life drawing and even when I was keen on pursuing my BA she urged me to go for the JJ school of arts entrance test, but I never checked to see if I got in because at that point of time I was very keen on pursuing my BA.
How did your grandmom's work ethic and independence inspire you?
Seeing my grandmother wake up and go to work at the age of 81 encourages me to work hard everyday for the things I believe in, also she’s never let anyone else’s opinions ever hold her back and I can see that in myself as well. I’ve also grown up seeing all the multiple people who come to our office seeking help from our charitable trust and I’ve seen her face light up every time they come with good news of promotions and scholarships and news of how well they’re doing in college and universities and that has definitely inspired me to be able to make that kind of a difference in people’s lives.
How important is financial independence and financial planning to you?
I have been financially independent since I was 18 in the sense that I almost never need to ask my family for money for anything I want, it’s always a great and empowering feeling being reliant on yourself from a young age and it’s definitely taught me how to prioritise things.
I have planned to make systematic investments in regular investments and financial assets. I intend to invest in real estate but I will need to wait a while till my financial investments grow adequately as some amounts earned go towards working capital for my business as well. As I have family backing at this stage it is a great help to me, even if I am not financially dependent on them.
Photography: Kavin Jagtiani
Editorial Concept and Writing: Meera Ganapathi
Hair and Make up: Sunayana Subramanian
Casting: Aparna Verma, Shaista Vaishnav