Challenging norms that are deep-rooted in society is difficult. Uprooting them is a completely different ballgame. But that is exactly what these five women chose to do. Battling their own personal tragedies, they realised early on that they had two polarised choices – they could either accept their fate and live the life that society believed was laid out for them, or they could scoff at that notion and create their own fate and journey. They chose to dive headlong into the latter.
This Diwali, we celebrate the victories of these five brave-hearts who refused to cower down to their misfortune and instead, with dazzling smiles and sparkling eyes, gave themselves the chance to cross oceans to reach the best of their potential and win at every single turn.
Here’s presenting the remarkable stories of these five women who handpicked their own identity against the one that the world had chosen for them.
A 23-year old Kanika had her world change when a visit to the doctor confirmed that she had cancer and very little time left. But this headstrong girl of granite willpower refused to pay heed to that predicament. Instead, she turned to him and promised to come back after 40 years, alive and kicking. The CEO and Founder of JetSetGo then decided to travel across the country until she found a doctor who matched her unfaltering belief and enthusiasm, and together they helped her give cancer a hard kick in the rear.
A marathon runner, painter, traveller and entrepreneur, Kanika is redefining her life every single moment. Her company, JetSetGo, is an interactive technology-driven platform that enables users to search and charter aircrafts and helicopters across India to make the private jet charter both economical and simple. As of 2014, she had already convinced over 80 percent of India’s private jet fleet on board with her company.
A young Jyothi had always visualised a future where she was the boss of her own fantasies. This headstrong girl was married off to a man ten years older than herself, at the prime, impressionable age of 16. She became a mother the next year, and like any obedient farm-labourer’s wife, she would spend her day in the fields, assisting the keep, and return to their hut and carry out the household chores, which included taking care of her two young daughters. With no money for medicine or toys for them, Jyothi realised that this couldn’t possibly be her calling. She thus dared to step out from the restrictions imposed by a farm labourer’s lifestyle and began to teach neighbouring individuals and groups.
Soon, she became quite the name around the locality and managed to procure a salary of Rs 120 a month, which she would keep aside wholly for her daughters. But life changed for Jyothi when she met a cousin visiting from the US and was encouraged to make a living overseas. After endorsing in a series of technology and software courses, she soon found herself struggling to make the American Dream. But she was resilient in her efforts, and today, her two daughters are both software engineers and happily married in the US. Jyothi, on the other hand, is the proud CEO of a $15 million IT company, Key Software Solutions, based in Phoenix, Arizona, US.
Kalpana Saroj fought tooth and nail to battle the barriers imposed by caste and society, and is unofficially referred to as the ‘original Slumdog Millionaire’. Born into a dalit family, which in our society is the lowest of the low, Kalpana experienced the full dosage of forced ostracism even as a mere child. With neighbours pressuring her father, she was married off at the terrifying age of 12. For the next few years, she endured horrific physical and mental abuse and torture at the hands of her in-laws. Her heartbroken father took her back home six months later, where she could not keep with society’s shame of a married woman returning to her maiden home. She tried to kill herself but was rushed to the hospital just in time.
When she awoke, she realised that she had a second chance to lead a better life, tradition be damned. From then on, she jumped into the bandwagon of serving odd jobs until she managed to create enough of a reputation and manage resources enough to open up a small furniture business. Later, her resilience and hard work paid off when the workers of the disputed Kamani firms asked her to save the company and take it under her wing. As a result, today she is at the helm of a $112 million empire that is growing rapidly, and her success mantra is purely hard work. To her, “Hard work is not overrated. It is fail-proof. What you want, whatever it is, you shall get if you apply yourself wholeheartedly and work towards it with a single minded vision.”
Kavita always had a passion for running, and one terrible morning, her passion retracted on her. Hit by a bus, her body was deemed broken, and she had incurred scars that the doctors claimed she would carry for the rest of her life. She woke up three weeks after being in a coma, with her memory distorted. But when things got overwhelming, she would turn to her running shoes and sprint out for a jog of fresh air.
Today, she is the proud Founder of Globeracers, which consists of a group of endurance athletes focusing on identifying, training and promoting athletes in running and cycling. It organises ultra-endurance races in India, and at the risk of sounding a cliché, is successfully winning at the race of life.
Nirmala Kewlani has one philosophy – to never allow herself to be treated differently because of her disability. Nirmala suffered the consequences of a polio dose at nine years of age which left both her upper and lower limbs non-functional. Later, this led to further adverse health problems, including the development of scoliosis, and since then, she has had to take to the wheelchair.
But Nirmala’s bright mind, accompanied by the unwavering strength and support of her family and friends, never let her look at her situation as a disadvantage. Although she did meet with some closed doors along the way, she went on to check things off her bucket-list. Running an independent costume-jewellery venture, trying a brief stint at telemarketing and eventually joining forces with Able Disabled All People Together (ADAPT) in 1999, she began working for the rights and entitlements of the disabled.
In 2012, she was hospitalised and told that she would have to carry an oxygen BiPAP machine wherever she went for the remainder of her life. But she refused to be restricted, and gaining support from a Buddhist group she had actively joined, she performed natural remedies herself and recovered from her ailment in a mere month. Nirmala is the embodiment of a woman who will do what she is determined to do. She later enrolled and won in a beauty pageant and even joined a Beyond Barriers project for the disabled, travelling 19,000 km in 84 days. She has also been part of a series of marathons. Nirmala views these achievements as natural processes, because for her, “When you have the will and conviction from within, nothing can stop you from achieving your success.”
These ladies give weight to old adage, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way.’ Each of them has gone forth to prove this by taking the world by quite a storm, and for that, all the more power to them!
- Kanika Tekriwal
- Kalpana Saroj
- Nirmala Kewlani
- Jyothi Reddy
- Kavita Kanaparthi