At the outset, Poonam Sareen is firm about one point: “I don’t want this to be portrayed as my sob story.” After being afflicted by paralysis, the untimely death of her husband and cancer, it is, as a matter of fact, difficult to shift focus from such tragedies.
Then again, it is equally difficult to conceive a sob story when the subject in question is an attractive 51-year-old woman who just about finds time for an interview in-between writing her autobiography, directing plays, conducting workshops, practising pranayam and feeding everyone homemade cake.
Sareen is the founder of SPEED – Speech and Personality Evolution through Educational Drama. What started off in 1981 as a drama class with eight children is now a full-fledged organisation that conducts communication and creativity workshops for companies like Cadbury, Citibank, and HDFC, trains actors, models and RJs in voice, acting and personality development, and showcases theatrical productions.
She is also the creator of ‘The Ultimate AHAH’, a self-development and meditation workshop that was launched as a CD and is currently being telecast worldwide as a talk show on the Aastha International channel.
As a schoolgirl, Sareen’s passions were basketball, bharatanatyam and riding her pony. Then, at 13, she was struck by paralysis and confined to bed for six months. She says, “It was then that I realised that this is just a body. My mind battled against my body and won.” Sareen says she is grateful for those six months which showed her what restrictions meant and how to overcome them.
Having always harboured a love of speaking and debating, Sareen started teaching drama in schools, anchored a show on Doordarshan and directed plays for several academic institutions.
“At that time, I felt the education system and the attitudes of parents were detrimental to the child’s development,” she says.
Thus, SPEED was born in 1981 – a place where children could bond, hone their talents and more importantly, be themselves. She refers to them as “my children” and likes to reconnect with former students on Facebook.
In 1993, tragedy struck again. Sareen’s husband, her “greatest anchor and support”, passed away in a plane crash. But just as her eyes start to well up, she smiles warmly. “SPEED and my children rescued me. They gave me back what I had taught them all these years,” she says.
Her work took on new depth with spirituality. Two years after her husband’s death, she created The Ultimate AHAH, a workshop for “robotic corporates”, based on the belief that personal power comes from ‘Aligning the Head and Heart’. “I wanted to address the inner child in them and bring out their sense of wonderment,” she says.
But along came another misfortune – cancer. But with her habitual cheeriness, Sareen says, “It was a beautiful period for me. I woke up every morning looking at things as if I’m looking at them for the last time.”
Now she fights other’s battles – helping a child get rid of his stammer, training an anchor to become an actor, teaching a weary corporate to enjoy life again.
Unlike other functional workshops, Sareen creates customised modules that personally deal with each of her clients.
What others call tragedies, Sareen refers to as her “milestones”. As she loves telling her students, “Life is a fairytale.
If its not happily ever after, its happily even after.”