“These wonderful women”- 19 September 2012

The threesome formed one of the most fantastic pictures of Indian womanhood in recent times. It told a great story of the capabilities of the Indian woman. And the picture showed three of India’s top women in the banking sector — Shikha Sharma, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Axis Bank; Chanda Kochhar, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ICICI Bank; and Naina Lal Kidwai, HSBC India Country Head. They were snapped sitting together at a meet of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FICCI). Draped elegantly in sarees, wearing only a basic make-up but a big smile of success, all three sat together perhaps listening to a speech. And they made a picture-perfect of the role models modern Indian woman would want to for herself: successful, supremely confident, and ready for more challenges.

No woman would want to erase this image from her mind. For, Shikha Sharma, Chanda Kochhar, and Naina Lal Kidwai are symbols of successful foray of women into the tough world of banking and finance, a field dominated so overwhelmingly so far by men, an area that needs not only toughness but also a polished roughness — to deal with numbers and the people who play money games with aplomb. So, when the three women made their arduous way up the ladder, they were looked at eagerly by the world. Will they succeed? Will they fail? Will they totter about? Or, will they roar their way to the top?
Such questions arose and fell with clock-like regularity. But as the world searched for answers, the three women did not bother about answering the questions; they were too engrossed in their quest for more and higher achievements.
From the distance, the quest looked wonderful. But what swirled around the three women was the rough and tough high tide of the finance world- a no-nonsense environment from whose dictionary word ‘mercy’ had long been erased altogether. There was no mercy for any one — men or women. So, what was so special about Shikha Sharma or Chanda Kochhar, or Naina Lal Kidwai?  When they were daring the cut-and-dried world of finance ruled by men, they did not evoke sympathy or pity; they evoked stiff competition, and they bore the brunt of the race with challenge, with a smile on the face.
But this is not their eulogy; this is a statement of their harsh reality. This is something which Indian women in general must know. The Indian women also must know that all these three leading names of Indian banking did not have to forget their feminine qualities to succeed in what was billed to be a masculine world. To their respective jobs, from the bottom of the ladder to the top rung of today, they brought certain endearing femininity, some humane considerations in greater degree, some ruthlessness, as well, needed to make hard decisions and tough choices.
But even as Shikha Sharma, Chanda Kochhar, and Naina Lal Kidwai did all this, they did not carry pretences or airs. All they did was to carry themselves with dignity, with certainty of winners’ personalities, with stars in the eyes, but feet planted firmly on the ground of reality.
‘Oh, this is too high an order, too tall a talk’, some may say. But when one looks at the dynamism of the three women, one realises the quiet strength they must have build in themselves from childhood to the present-day. Can we afford to ignore this process as we look at the product? Not in the least. For, the three women stand for something very special — a sense of mission, too. And to carry that sense of mission lightly on the shoulders is no mean a task.
Of course, India has seen many, many successful women, — Kiran Shaw-Majumdar, Shobhana Bhartia, Kiran Bedi, to name a few of my favourites  — in varied fields, in seemingly daunting situations, in palpably damning conditions. And all of them have a more or less common story to narrate — of focused passion, of hard work, of persistence, of patience, of ability to rise above the mundane and go for the skies, of willing to leave the safe perch of the home and fly into the dangerous zone of human endurance in hostile conditions.
Does the average Indian woman try to know this – their – story? She must make a sincere attempt to know. For, the moment she starts the journey of knowing ‘what’ and ‘how’ and ‘why’ and ‘where’ of that story, she will start rising.
One waits for that great moment.

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