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Will, grit are key to achievement, say power women

delhi Updated: Mar 08, 2010 12:16 IST
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They balanced homes and careers, often with great success. But breaking bastions and new grounds was not easy, say a cross-section of women who look back on their lives this International Women's Day.

And what keeps them going? Determination, they chorus.

"My message to the women is that if you have a goal then you have to let all the rest eddy around you - but you need not totally reject all that the Indian society forces on you," Anjolie Ela Menon, the 70-year-old artist said.

For Menon, juggling home and work was difficult because she had to travel constantly around the world with her husband who was in the navy.

"The image of my early life that I cherish is of one where I hold a paintbrush in one hand, a ladle stirring the broth in the other and a baby strapped to my back. But 24 hours were enough to accomplish all," she said.

The major battle was that "we were nomadic," recalled Menon.

"I changed 30 homes in course of our married life. But the lesson I learnt from M F Husain was that I could sit on the ground and paint - I didn't have to own a home to be an artist," said Menon, who was conferred Padma Shri in 2000.

"He would say, like hell, you would come with me to Siberia but I made sure that I painted everyday of my life wherever I was. Many women artists who went to study at Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris on a French government scholarship dropped out because they married. But my great sense of humour kept me rooted to art and life," Menon said.

One of the things a woman of our generation had to make was the choice between "career and home", added ace fashion designer Ritu Kumar.

"Balancing both was difficult and one had to be a Draupadi. But professionally, it was tougher because I was breaking new ground post-Independence when there was no retailing, no boutiques and no factories, there was no one to fall back on.

"I had to find my own roots which was difficult as my area of expertise was revival of traditional textiles and I was forced to start my own store in 1967. It has been a lonely struggle," Kumar said.

Lesley J Saunders, a veteran IT business developer turned professional photographer from Britain, who is hosting her solo exhibition of photographs in the capital, "The Portrayal of Real Women of India", said: "The strength to see things through is thread that binds the women of grassroots India and artists like her own self, who want to cover new artistic ground in a foreign country like India without any financial or local support."

Saunders, who has set up successful IT businesses in challenging environment like in male dominated South Africa, "with pro-black bias", has travelled extensively in the villages of south India to shoot her women.

"Two years ago I decided I needed to de-stress because I had lived life to the fullest. I came to India to click photographs. I wanted to document the emotions that flows from the women in villages and small towns of India who toil to feed the family - the smile, the pride and the hidden strength," Saunders said.

She says her "images of women helped her breach the divides in the world of Indian arts".

Shivani Dang, the head of the corporate communications at Avantha Group, advised women in the country's corporate fraternity to stick to their "field of domain expertise because the gender glass ceiling is getting more constrictive".