Shun conformity. Follow the fire within you. Do the ordinary in the most extraordinary way. These are just some of the lessons that these inspiring women learnt from their mothers, their first mentor and forever hero. We dressed them up to bring their mom’s old pictures to life.
Anita Roy, IPS officer
A woman should never let anyone decide what her potential is, believes this police officer. Roy’s mother, Sumitra, always propelled her to challenge gender stereotypes with self-belief. Her teachings came handy whenever Roy took up any groundbreaking task, whether it was mentoring young female constables under project UDAAN to take up full-fledged beat responsibilities instead of desk jobs or institutionalising all women PCRs with female drivers, female ‘gunmen’ and female van in-charges — a first in the history of Delhi Police.
“I asked these young women not to listen to those who doubted their capabilities and set limits for them. I encouraged them to look for a driving force within their own convictions, something that my mother taught me and my two sisters at a very young age,” says Roy, currently posted as DCP Security (HQRS).
It was her mother who she looked up to for inspiration while growing up. “My father was an IPS officer and my mother was a complete homemaker from a traditional family in Bihar, but it was amazing that the resolve and strength of the house came from her. She was the force behind us, our education and career,” she says.
Roy ’s mother also made it clear that her daughters would have a life different from hers. “She was the one who drove my ambition. She was very emphatic that we had to go out and make a name for ourselves, and do it in a way that we make some difference in other people’s lives,” she says.
Sumitra also taught her daughters to never rely on anyone for their finances or the choices they make in life. “She taught us to be on our own. And never set boundaries when it comes to ambition,” says the cop, who took to powerlifting recently and won Gold in Delhi state and Silver in the Nationals Powerlifting Competition (Masters category) last year.
Ritu Suhas, civil servant
This 2004-batch PCS officer is known as a hard taskmaster with unflinching commitment to her duty. She was applauded for her relentless service as a Covid-19 warrior during her posting in Lucknow as joint secretary, Lucknow Development Authority (LDA). Suhas is also a part-time model who graces the ramp for causes close to her heart, such as promoting khadi and craftsmanship of rural artisans. Winner of the AR Mrs India Queen of Substance 2019 contest, Suhas has a flair for fashion that her mother, Janak Dulari Sharma, helped her nurture. “Since childhood, I loved dressing up and modelling. My mum would sit through the night and painstakingly stitch stunning costumes all by herself when I participated in shows in school,” she recalls.
Sharma was the head clerk in the irrigation department. “It was rare for a woman to have a job like that some 40 years ago. There were no other female employees in her department. When a marriage proposal came her way, her family made her resign, fearing that her career aspirations will ruin her prospects as a worthy bride. In those days, being a thorough homemaker was the only expectation that people had from a girl,” says Suhas, who is posted as ADM, Ghaziabad.
Despite giving up her own career, Sharma made sure her two daughters got the best of education. “My mother detested women playing damsels in distress, waiting for the knight to come rescue them. She believed in being your own knight. She taught us the importance of being financially independent and made us understand that there is no alternative to hard work,” she says.
When Suhas was preparing for her PCS exam, her mother was her backbone all through. “She would wake up with me early morning and do all the household chores herself so that her daughters did not have to enter the kitchen. She made endless sacrifices to help me and my sister achieve our goals,” says Suhas.
Sharma also believed in living a life without regrets. “She taught us to do our best, put in our 100% in whatever we took up, without worrying about the results. According to her, giving up without trying is what failure looks like,” says the officer.
Nida Mahmood, fashion designer
Mahmood stands out for her quirky, lighthearted designs that have an energetic, youthful vibe. She draws inspiration from vibrant Indian streets to create drama on the ramp. She also popularised the relaxed and comfy saree draped over jeans, accentuated with a belt, making it fun for young women.
Mahmood was studying to be a doctor but, in her heart, she was an artist who loved to express through her canvas. Her mother, Safia Faruqui — a school teacher in Lucknow — stood by her decision of choosing design as a profession. “Coming from a family that has mostly doctors, the extended family tried very hard to tell me that painting is a great hobby, but it can’t be a profession. But, my mum totally supported my choice. She has been my biggest pillar of support. She has always had the ability to give the perfect opinion on every deadlock that I might find myself in,” says Mahmood.
Her mother is proud of how Mahmood could bend fashion rules and create her own voice and language of design. “She feels happy that my work got noticed for being bold, hard-hitting and sensitised to take up social issues,” says the designer, whose individualistic style — an unkempt pixie haircut with fresh flowers pinned to it, kohl-lined eyes and a nose ring — make her a headturner.
Her mother also strongly believes in following the heart. “She says, ‘You must FEEL it to be right’. That’s what she has always taught me. I always feel my way through everything. If I get an uneasy feeling for anything, I simply don’t do it. It’s a great guidance system for both my personal and professional life,” says Mahmood.
Yogita Bhayana, anti-rape activist
The firebrand activist who quit her high-paying aviation job to take up activism full time is known for her crucial role in the Nirbhaya movement from 2012 to 2020. Bhayana led the campaign to change the juvenile justice law age limit for rapists from 18 to 16 years following the horrific gang-rape and murder that took place in December 2012.
Bhayana’s mother, Prem, has an inspirational story that always gave her strength to take up battles in life.
Prem grew up in Mandi Dabwali, a town on the border of Haryana and Punjab. At the tender age of 16, she lost her mother. The duty of looking after her seven young siblings fell on her shoulders, and she transformed overnight from a bubbly teenager to a responsible caretaker. “When she got married a few years later and moved to Delhi, she took all her siblings to her in-laws’ place to be able to look after them. She brought them up, educated each one of them and married them off. Her life journey taught me a lot about honouring one’s commitments in life,” says Bhayana.
Prem ventured into real estate to contribute to the large household’s income. “Running a real estate business some 40 years ago required guts. At a time when women hardly had a say in property matters, she was guiding her male clients how to invest in real estate,” says Bhayana. She often invited ridicule from the society for her ‘weird choice of profession’, but took it in her stride. “She never cared about external validation. This is what she taught me, too,” says the activist. She became famous as ‘behen ji’ in her locality for helping the distressed. “Her house was more like a public grievance centre, where people would walk in with all sorts of problems. My mother would tirelessly work to sort out their woes. She was sort of a superhero for everyone,” says Bhayana.
When Bhayana gave up her glamorous career in aviation to take up the cause of rape survivors, her mother was her biggest supporter. “Courage is contagious, it spreads fast. You only have to make a beginning, she told me. She was very proud of my decision,” says Bhayana, founder of PAARI, a youth-driven NGO that is fighting for the rights of rape survivors in India.
Manisha Bhatia, educationist
Bhatia describes her mum, Chander Kanta, as a gritty, career-driven woman who was far ahead of her time. Her looks often made people underestimate her. “Behind the beautiful face was a resolute young woman with unwavering belief in her own abilities. An IAS officer, she triumphed in a man’s world with sheer courage. She taught me that instead of placing blame for not being heard, be dauntlessly authentic, believe in who you are and the world will listen to you,” says Bhatia, founder of Abhinandan, an education and welfare society that works for children in need.
Bhatia took to serving the distressed after losing her 20-year-old brother in a horrific road accident and father to cancer, in the same year. “I felt strongly that I had to do something to lessen the pain of others. I was reminded of my mother’s words — have a higher purpose in life, beyond yourself,” says Bhatia, who rehabilitates children vulnerable to substance abuse.
“Despite counselling and medical support, some of these kids fall back into the trap of addiction. It’s emotionally draining to see them suffer like this. Whenever I feel low, I draw strength from my mother. She inspires me to never give up, no matter how trying our circumstances are. Perseverance prevails, she believes,” says Bhatia.
Aavika Chhawchharia, entrepreneur
A passionate baker with a massive sweet tooth, Chhawchharia always wanted to start a French-style patisserie in Delhi. In 2017, she founded Honey & Dough along with her husband, Utsav.
With no background in the F&B industry, she self-learnt her way to success. The mother of a two-year-old, Chhawchharia holds a management degree from Bayes Business School, London. She looks after marketing and product design for her chain of bakeries that has now grown to ten outlets.
“It took a while for my dream to become a reality. People often don’t take women seriously, despite the education and expertise they have. I witnessed this while running my business. But my mum, Neeru Ganeriwala, never let me feel disheartened. She has an amazingly positive attitude towards life that has given me immense courage to overcome the hurdles that come my way,” says the entrepreneur.
Every time Chhawchharia would feel low, whether it was because of a vengeful review or absence of integrity in employees, her mum Neeru would advise her not to take it to her heart. “She is a homemaker with no knowledge of business, but her optimism always gives me the strength to keep going. You can overcome any adversity with positivity, she tells me,” she says.
And she bets Neeru is also the most bindaas mum ever! Energetic and outgoing, she socialises more than Chhawchharia and dresses to kill. “She is a thorough party animal with an ever-growing gang of girls! She believes in enjoying life to the fullest. When I was in school, she would take me and my siblings to the movies just a day before our exams! ‘You have studied the entire year so don’t worry and chill now’, she would tells us,” shares Chhawchharia.