Book Box: Equal, Yet Different
A meeting with author Anita Bhogle brings out many different stories
I am nervous. I am to meet with a storyteller and I have volunteered my house. It is jittery because as anyone who tells stories will testify - physical space, time and the energy of the listeners matter.
It is early morning. The Mumbai monsoons have taken a break, and the listeners troop in, laughing and chattering. They come from different corners of the city - Sion, Wadala, Malad, Malabar Hill and Mid-town, they’ve brought food and drink and copies of the storyteller's book.
We share an alma mater, many of us have studied management at the Indian Institutes of Management. And we are talking about a book that binds us all - Equal, Yet Different: Career Catalysts for the Professional Woman by Anita Bhogle.
There is excitement - the rush of relating to each other through stories, of laying bare barriers, and of ferreting out fixes.
15 plus people in a circle, in a fifth-floor flat in Juhu - yet we might be sitting around a campfire, in the Savannah, trading hunter-gatherer stories. It is a morning with that kind of feel.
No pork roasting on a fireplace spit, but we have sabudana khichri, chocolate brownies, cheese balls and chai.
And the stories - they come fast and furious.
Stories from vantage points around ‘Equal Yet Different’.
Twenty-somethings in t-shirts and shorts, 30, 40 and 50-year-olds in kurtis, dresses, trousers and a sari, all supporting our storyteller with our own stories - consultants, bankers, marketers, startup entrepreneurs, non-profit founders, academics, film producers - women and allies, spouses and friends.
On Bad Bosses
‘My first boss was the worst - she’d summon me late every evening - send me back and forth for micro corrections - she was demanding with everybody, but as the most junior girl on the team, I got the worst of it, and I didn’t how to deal with it’
On the Difficulty of Articulating Ambition Even to Oneself
‘Sure I could be the Chief Marketing Officer. But I can already hear the voices - ‘Have you seen yourself? What about you makes you think you would be a fit for the C suite?’
On Leadership Styles
‘I work well behind the scenes’
‘I’m empathetic, but I’ve been told I should be more firm’
On Being the Only Woman
‘A table full of male film producers who do their deals only at dinner. Should I join them at dinner, should I persuade them to meet for lunch, should I do both?’
‘The silliest thing - the all-male consultant group would be off somewhere, walking rapidly, and I as the only girl would be trailing behind - they didn’t think to adjust their pace or even notice and make space for me’.
When Anita Bhogle speaks, the room falls silent.
‘In advertising, it was easier. But working with Harsha (Bhogle) sometimes people have forgotten to introduce me. Or they have mistaken me for his assistant.
After we wrote The Winning Way together, things became easier. Our publishers advised us to put both our photos on - when we did programs at corporates I insisted we call it ‘The Winning Way’ instead of using our names. Harsha would introduce me as the boss. Slowly people started to recognise us as partners.’
A few days ago, on an online book discussion, there were book recommendations to help with being a better leader.
I remind everyone that August 26 this week is National Women’s Equality Day, in the United States. It is a good time for all these stories.
We have Equal Yet Different - many copies of this book, all of which will be signed soon. Stories from the people in the book like Falguni Nayyar, Roopa Kudva and Rama Bijapurkar and stories inspired by the book, from us readers. Surely, this is oral storytelling at its best, anecdotes that inform, advise, connect, inspire and entertain us - as we listen enthralled, to a story on not to announce a pregnancy.
And finally a bookish exchange - we sign our names in a book gift for Anita Bogle - Daughters of The Sun by Ira Mukhoty. We read this book earlier this year, and loved how the author pieced together these stories of the Mughal Princesses - diving deep into sources like paintings and scraps of stories.
What are your own stories around Women’s Equality Day? Do write in with your stories and your go-to books.
Mattie used to be a suffragette, she now lives on Hampstead Heath and gets into an amusing mix of worthy and unworthy wars. I was recommended this book by a lady who sat next to me at dinner, some months ago. I ordered it then, but read it only this week. It is everything my dinner partner promised and more. Which goes to show that personal recommendations may still trump the algorithm!
Till next week then, Happy Reading!
Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed are personal