While education and globalization have raised women’s rights and social status, age still continues to be an obstacle. But there are a few who have overcome this barrier. This Women’s Day, we were fortunate enough to speak to two trailblazers whom we consider superwomen. Both are stalwarts in their own field and have managed to pave the way for several others.
Girija Venkatesan is a woman who exudes confidence and positivity. Her outlook towards life has brought her tremendous success, both in life and her career. However, she has had her fair bit of challenges in her 69 short years. She is a single mother who battled stigmas in a conservative society to raise two sons. When she first started out as an interior designer, she struggled with her finances to make ends meet. Today, she is a thriving businesswoman with many accolades to her name. These experiences have emboldened her to live a life with no regrets.
When she was 66 years old, she bungee jumped off the Kawarau bridge in New Zealand – a feat that would intimidate even the most adventurous of us! But already having scaled Patalsu peak in the Himalayas, and skydived off a plane, this was another exhilarating experience that she simply could not pass up on. “In my life full of challenges and obstacles, I have always emerged as a winner. So the prospect of this new challenge excited me, more than it made me fearful,” she recalls. “The fact that it was outdoors was an added bonus!”
She prides herself on never using age as an excuse, especially when it comes to her fitness. A typical week in Girija’s life includes cycling for 140 kilometers, swimming about 60 – 80 laps, and a strength training regimen which she follows religiously. While the pandemic has put a damper in her fitness endeavors, she still tries to incorporate outdoors trips into her schedule.
Even a global pandemic couldn’t stop Girija from reinventing herself! While she has always dabbled in art from her college days, she used the lockdown to unleash her artistic potential. Taking inspiration from nature, sunsets, and the outdoors, she wielded her brush to create 20 stunning art pieces all of which she sold. She donated the proceeds to several organizations impacted by the lockdown.
“I want to explore more of my artistic side, perhaps with some multimedia pieces this time around. At my age, I will be happy if I can continue doing the things I love, and I have no ambitions left anymore,” she says. Girija has seemingly conquered everything she has set out to do – whether it is in her professional life, her fitness endeavors, or her passion projects. However, we know if something new and exciting comes her way, she will pursue that with great passion as well!
Sabita Radhakrishna was born into a conventional family. Her father was conservative, and could not understand why she had such varied interests and hobbies. The mandate for her was to focus only on her studies. And that she did. She excelled in her education, and whenever she scored high marks, her school gave her a pick of books to choose from, and she always chose classics. Being a voracious reader, she had an endless appetite for the written word.
If her father was strict and old-fashioned, her mother was diagonally opposite! She made sure that Sabita was admitted to the only co-ed school in Bangalore, so she learnt how to handle herself in society from a young age. She recalls how dearly her father loved his daughters and protected them fiercely. She attributes her happy childhood to both her parents. With an extremely active imagination, Sabita used to write down her thoughts in the form of stories and articles, and stuff them into drawers in her huge roll top desk which she still treasures. Her maternal grandfather found these pieces of writing in her desk, and was impressed by her creativity and prose. “He used to call me selfish for depriving the world of my writing!!!!!. He would make me rewrite them on good paper and personally visit the post office to them to different children’s magazines,” Sabita recalls. And they won several prizes, after which Sabita felt that she should continue to write.
Though Sabita excelled in her studies, she married young and had to move to a different city. The sudden relocation meant that she needed to redo her first two years of college in order to study further.Not keen to restart her college journey, she devoted her energies to creating a beautiful home for her family to thrive in instead.
“My husband was not very happy about my decision to stay away from education. He felt I was too talented. But he encouraged me to explore my full potential in whatever way I could,” she says proudly. Her husband was more than just her spouse – he was her inspiration and driving force for a major part of her life. “I always say that it was my husband that brought me up during my early adult life,” she adds.
As with most people there were ups and downs and challenges to be met head on. When Radhakrishna, an engineer, gave up his job after a serious illness there was a period of uncertainty. But they had each other and tough times were just speed bumps on their journey. It was then that they decided to convert her passion for textile and fashion to a profession. The couple travelled the length and breadth of the country, meeting weavers from different textile belts and familiarising themselves with the skills of weaving textiles. Equipped with a wealth of knowledge, Sabita started her first clothing boutique in Chennai. Over time, she created a thriving business that empowered several hundreds of weavers all over the country.
Alongside she delved into traditional recipes and wrote international award winning cookbooks besides chasing a career in journalism, television and radio.
When the children were older, and her mother kept the home fires burning. Sabita pursued her studies and completed her Masters in Sociology,
Tragedy struck without warning when they lost their young daughter of 34. She was survived by her husband and two young children. With the son-in-law working full time the two little girls spent much time with the grandparents. Sabita’s mother was always a bulwark of strength to the family and supported them in all their endeavours to play a major part in bringing them up and to give their father the support he badly needed. Ever in pursuit of knowledge, she even applied for a PhD at the tender age of 65 choosing handlooms as her subject.. She cleared her written exam and passed her viva with flying colours. However, her application was rejected by Madras University. “I was very angry at that point, but I knew that God had other plans for me,” she said wistfully.
Sure enough, God did! In addition to her long list of accolades, her work during the lockdown was commendable. She adopted four clusters or weavers in South India and facilitated the sales of their sarees that were accumulated during the lockdown! She was recently given the Rotary Award for Social Welfare. Despite it all, when we asked her what she is most proud of, without hesitation she replied, “Being a good daughter, mother, grandmother and most importantly, a wife.”
These two women are nothing short of inspiring, and we are sure there are many more stories of resilient and empowered women, and we would love to hear them.