A Woman, A Teacher, An Inspiration

We live in a world where we see all kinds of people around us, people with different ambitions, aspirations, hopes and goals. What we also find is that most people are happy leading regular, run-of- the-mill lives, playing the roles they are meant to play with no questions asked.  They don’t challenge or object too much and like to go with the flow. They have no interest in doing anything different, unique or unconventional. They are happy being part of the crowd.

However, there are some who have the desire, the urge to do something different and unprecedented.  These people are not happy, just fulfilling expectations and obligations; they aspire to do more. The desire is so strong that nothing can come in their way. They have the determination and the courage of conviction to follow their dreams and passions. They will not let stereotypes like age, gender, society decide things for them. They will define what they want from life and break the stereotypes whenever they feel the need. Their life is all about accepting challenges, dealing with them and emerging as winners. Dr Preeti Singh, my woman achiever, is one such winner. This is about the journey of a woman teacher.

She has accomplished a lot and is at an age and stage where she can sit back and bask in the glory of her achievements, but she chooses not to do that. She aspires to do more and more.

A woman who lives by the motto,’ Live, Love and Laugh’ Dr Preeti Singh retired from the University of Delhi after devoting forty-two years and six months of her life to it. She joined Jagannath International Management School after that and spent the next six years of her life over there. She retired in May 2020 due to COVID 19 and now, believe it or not, has got into blogging and writing. Apart from regularly publishing on her website, she contributes to various online platforms. One has to read her works to understand the kind of diversity she packs into her choice of topics and ideas.

She is also a yoga enthusiast, loves to read, go for walks and meet friends. To top it all, she is a fashionista,  dressed in her elegant sarees inspiring and motivating everyone around her.

I was fortunate enough to first interact with her as her student and then got to know her even better when I  joined the University of Delhi as a faculty. And now life has brought us together once again through our love for writing and blogging.

Preeti was born to Pritam Singh and Satwant  Kaur in 1949. She is their elder child and has a brother who is younger to her by seven years. She had a wonderful childhood living in Ranchi where her father, who was in the Agriculture Ministry, had been posted as Secretary of Lac Cess committee. They lived in a large house which had a beautiful garden with beautiful flowers and fruit trees. The young girl loved spending time in the garden surrounded by nature, and that love became a life long passion for her. Today she writes about the flowers and the trees that she fell in love with at that time, the jamun, mango, lychees, kathal, banana and guava.

Both her parents were very well educated. Her father was MA in Economics from Government College, Lahore. Her mother studied at the prestigious Lady Irwin College, Delhi which was quite path breaking for those days. Her mother was also fond of singing, dancing, stitching and gardening and passed on the love for flowers and trees to her daughter. Preeti’s initial schooling took place at Loreto Convent, Ranchi, a red stone building as she still remembers it. An outgoing girl, the young Preeti took part in several extra curricular activities like singing and was a great sports enthusiast as well who loved to play hockey and badminton. But when she was in Grade 9, her father got transferred to Hyderabad, which meant a new city, a new school and new people. But Preeti took to the new surroundings like a duck takes to water and quickly made friends in the new place.  She joined St. George’s Girls Grammer School and finished high school there. After that, she went on to join The Nizam College. On her father’s advice, she decided to pursue an unconventional stream of study, which was Commerce. The year was 1967, and those were not the days when Commerce was opted for by most girls. In a class of 54 students, she was one amongst the only four girls. If that wasn’t unconventional enough, the young girl chose to drive to college in her father’s Ford as he could afford to walk to his office, which was next door to where they lived. She participated in the Miss India contest held at the regional centre Hyderabad and was the second runner up to Miss Hyderabad.

These events not only sowed the seeds of independence but of unconventionality as well. They also bring out the fact that parents play a critical role in the way the personalities of children shape up. A supportive and a modern father ensured that the young Preeti could have dreams and ambitions which were different and bold for those times. Not only that she could follow her dreams with the full support of her parents. Choice of pursuing the field of Commerce and Economics had been her father’s idea who had wanted her to do something different and not go for the run-of-the-mill areas which most girls, in particular, opted for. So in this sense, he encouraged her to break the stereotype.

Along with academics, Preeti also loved to organize various activities for her campus from conferences to seminars. She would always take the lead in these things, which meant that she was very often in the limelight. She was very good looking and was often likened to the actor Mala Sinha. Those were happy, carefree days which enabled her to blossom into a bold and liberated young girl.

But by the end of 1969, her mother started feeling that she had reached the marriageable age and started pressurizing her to get married and settle down. But Preeti had no such intentions; she had decided that she wanted to study further and there was no way that she was going to get married. And when her mother refused to listen to her, she went on a hunger strike to convince her.

Having been left with no choice, her parents had to agree, and so she joined college to pursue her M.Com. She was in Nagpur now as that was where her father had got transferred. Once again she broke the convention, by being the only girl in a class of 60 students. She completed her first year and moved to Delhi, and that marked the beginning of her corporate journey. The thing was that she had been on a visit to Delhi, where her grandparents lived when her cousin told her about this position in the company where he worked. The company was called Avery India, and they were looking for someone to handle their accounts in their new office. The young Preeti thought it would be the right place for an internship, but once there, the company did not want to leave her, and so her internship got converted into a full-time job.

The year was 1971, and Preeti was the first person in the Accounts Department of the company. She was given the designation of  Assistant Accountant. When she began work, she realized that the work required her to put a lot of what she had studied to use. It wasn’t easy, and she had to go back to her books and basics of accounting, but she happily did that.  Though she now had a job, she continued with her M.Com and completed it by getting a first-class. This was commendable, considering that she was working and studying at the same time.

On top of that, she was living away from her family in a Working Woman’s hostel and managing her life on her own. She had even got herself a cycle to get to her workplace. Thus the independent streak which she had developed as a child now got reinforced and strengthened.

Though those were times when women did not take up jobs, Preeti was the different one.  She had two reasons for being like that. The first was that being economically independent was a big thing for her. She was very clear that she did not want to be completely domesticated like the other women and wanted to be her person. Moreover, she knew that she had worked hard to get a degree in Business and Management, and there was no way that she could let it go waste. So not working wasn’t an option at all. She was determined to not fall prey to the stereotype of depending on others all her life.

However, there was one stereotype that she could not break. She had to give in to her parents wish of getting married. As per conventional standards she had passed the marriageable age as she had even completed her Master’s by then and her parents felt it was time for her to find a good match and settle down. To enable that they would keep sending profiles of young men to her in the hope that she would like one of them. Though reluctant to begin with eventually, she liked one of the profiles and agreed to get married. Though the profile had been sent by them, her parents were a little apprehensive about her choice as the boy in question belonged to a large family consisting of seven brothers and sisters and of course the parents. Four of the siblings were already married by the time she got there. Her parents felt that it would be difficult for a girl like her who was not only from a small family but also too independent to adjust into such a huge setup. They were right, and though the transition into the married life wasn’t easy and smooth, Preeti managed it beautifully like so many other challenges in her life.

She got married and entered a new setup, a new family. Everyone in the family loved her, but they were all pretty conservative, a far cry from her parent s home. There were several do’s and don’t, many restrictions, something she wasn’t used to at all.

The first thing was that they didn’t like the fact that she worked in an office. That was something like a taboo in those days, and girls from good business families  [as she was told] didn’t do office jobs. So although her new family had no objection to her working, they objected to her place of work which led her to change the path of her career.  Her husband suggested that she should take up teaching as it would enable her to strike a right work-life balance. She would be able to work as well as look after her family. So, therefore, she decided to get into teaching, and this decision laid the foundation of a long and fruitful career in the field. She joined Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi on the 18th of October 1972. It was a new department, and she was entrusted with the responsibility of setting it up. And though she had got married just three days before she joined work on the 18th.

Life changed pretty dramatically for her from then onwards.  Suddenly she was swamped with responsibilities, challenges in every part of her life. There were multiple roles that she had to play, and juggling them proved to be quite a task. The list was endless. She had a new job and a new home. Not only was the job new, but she was the only one in the Department, and it had to be set up from scratch, which wasn’t easy at all.

On top of that, her personal life had also changed drastically. Her new family was large; she was new and had to accept and adjust to their ways. Ways which were different and strange from those that she was used to. But since she was the daughter-in-law, she was expected to change and become a part of the family. The situation was overwhelming, to say the least.

Now she had come from a family where her parents had given her all the freedom in the world to do what she wanted.  So she had picked up many hobbies and interests. She loved her music, dance, yoga, French but now she had a to give up a lot of it. Moreover being a small family, everyone had been at liberty to do what they wanted. Her new family wasn’t at all like that. Apart from being large, they were all very conservative and traditional in their outlook. They were not all used to seeing such an independent girl with a mind of her own. It was a big cultural shock for both the sides but more so for the young Preeti who was all alone. In a regular Indian joint family, especially in those days, all expectations were from the daughter-in-law. It was a given that she would unlearn whatever she had learnt in her parents’ house and mould herself according to the ways of her new home.  The husband, the in-laws were made that way that they could not understand that it could be difficult for a person to do that. And even if they did understand there wasn’t much that they could do about it. They had to follow the norms of society.

For Preeti, it was an uphill task. All of a sudden from being an independent young girl who could focus on just herself and her career, she had to give up on a lot of her freedom and focus on keeping her new family happy.  Though she held her own, she had to make many adjustments and compromises. This involved taking on household responsibilities like cooking for everyone before leaving the house, helping with various household chores and then depending on public transport to get to work. The couple manged to shift to an independent house with the permission of the parents after their first son was born due to lack of space in the house. That eased up things a bit but she still had a lot on her plate. To top it all within four years, she had three children and so had to cope up with the additional responsibility of motherhood as well. Those as she says were the most challenging years of her life.

But then she wasn’t someone who would let the challenges get the better of her. So while on the one hand, she coped with her family responsibilities, she devoted enough time to her work as well. She didn’t let her personal life interfere with her professional life.  She saw this different home environment as a challenge which was to be faced and dealt with. Thanks to her upbringing, she was a strong girl and could take on anything and not give up no matter what. The confidence, the courage that she had developed as a young girl stayed with her through her life and helped her cope with many a challenging situation, including those in her marital home. This attitude I feel was the result of her liberal and supportive upbringing.  So when, as a young girl, she had learnt to take challenges in her stride, to face tough situations, she could do it later in life too. So this was just another situation.

Preeti’s life proves yet again the need for parents to provide a free and supportive environment to their children if they want their personalities to flower. You suppress them, and they are never able to come on their own. Preeti’s parents, on the other hand, encouraged her to do what she wanted and thereby sowed the seeds of a confident, self-assured person which has kept her in good stead throughout her life.

Thus though surrounded from every side with work and burden, she never lost sight of her professional goals. It was at the time when her elder son was to be born that she took a decision which wasn’t received well by her family. The decision was to enrol for her PhD.  The family could not understand why she would want to do that. According to them, her life was pretty full with her husband, children and home.

On top of that, she also had a job. So where was the need to take on something more and that too something which involved more work? Their concern was that something more would get done at the cost of what she was already doing and that wasn’t really acceptable to them. But Preeti was a determined woman with a mind of her own. Fully aware of all her responsibilities and not in the least wanting to neglect any one of them, she decided to take on the new one.

This was another instance of the cultural mismatch between her and her family. Her professional aspirations which were so dear to her, made no sense to them. But she decided to go ahead.

Preeti registered for her PhD when her first son was to be born and completed it when her third and youngest son was just six months old.  By deciding to pursue her PhD. Preeti signed up for more responsibility than ever before. Intense research work was added to the long list of things that she had to do. It was very tough, but she carried on fueled by her will power and single-minded determination to get to her goal.

Research work in those days was not simple. Those weren’t times when one had easy access to computers. Preeti would have to book the computer in the university, pay rent for it and since the system wasn’t infallible many times at the end of the day she would realize that due to some error her day’s work had got lost. All the data collection had to be done manually and to add to her woes; her research supervisor was a tough person who sometimes made her wait the whole day before taking a look at her work. This meant that she had to spend long hours away from home, which wasn’t appreciated by the family. There was pressure from every side, which eventually took a toll on her health, and she ended up losing a lot of weight. The only saving grace was that by now they had moved to a place which wasn’t too far from her place of work. So despite all odds, she was able to manage and eventually finish her PhD. But even after completing her doctorate, she had to wait for almost two years before she could become a Doctor in Finance from the Commerce Department of Delhi University, the first woman to do it from there. The reason for this long wait was that the PhD thesis had to be sent abroad for evaluation in those days and since one had to depend on the slow postal system it took that much time.

Life wasn’t easy even otherwise. Those were not the times when men volunteered to help their wives with the household responsibilities. Though Preeti had a lot on her plate with three children, a home and a job; she had to manage everything on her own. Her husband wasn’t very forthcoming in terms of helping her with  the children’s school work or extracurriculars.  But look at the grit and the level of ambition that such challenges notwithstanding, she never shied away from taking on additional responsibilities at work. When the opportunity to take a deputation and teach a new course in the Post Graduate department at South Campus presented itself, she happily accepted it. No one else was prepared to do it, but she chose to take it up. This decision proved to be a boon for her as she was asked by a publisher to write a book on the subject, as she was the only one with knowledge on the subject. Though she had no time to do it, and she expressed her inability, the publisher refused to listen to her. He volunteered to help her out. Since she didn’t have a computer at home and had no time to write, he asked her to handwrite some portion every day which he would pick up from her in the evening. So although her boys were very young,  the process was incredibly slow she managed to finish the book and currently that book is in its 20th revised edition.

This, I feel, is a lesson for all women. No matter how difficult it is, no matter how much opposition you have to face, don’t let go of your ambitions.

Preeti went back to the college once the period of deputation was over, but she continued to be a visiting faculty in the Department and then went on to teach at IIT Delhi.

Always someone who could strike up a rapport with her students she managed that at IIT as well where she could influence some of the students to be appropriately dressed and be there on time for the class. One thing which Preeti picked up was that to be a good teacher; one has to establish a level of informality with the students. It is always better for both the teacher and student if the connection is more than that of a student and teacher.

Forging ahead in her professional pursuits it was during this time that she got the opportunity to travel overseas to take part in a  one week long workshop called the Salzburg Seminar. The year was 1987, and she was selected and invited to this prestigious seminar  for which she was to travel to Austria. In those days it wasn’t common for women to travel alone and especially to go abroad. It was another tricky situation, and she had to work hard to convince her husband to let her do that. But thanks to some of her friends she managed. Being her first trip, she decided to make the most of it and so travelled not only to Salzburg but extended her trip to go to London and Washington as well. She thoroughly enjoyed herself and came back with her first pen drive, a prized possession which none of her friends in India possessed and which she has till date. The trip was a big high for her and was another milestone in the journey of her life.

Meanwhile, her husband was busy in his work and successful in his own right. His work involved a lot of entertaining and socializing for which he needed Preeti by his side. But though a friendly and outgoing person, Preeti wasn’t the partying kinds. Her life was busy, she had a gruelling routine, and so the late nights did not agree with her. On top of that though having lived with someone as independent as her, her husband still wanted to control every aspect of his family’s life, which obviously she resisted and resented. So though she did go out with him, she wasn’t really happy because he in turn did not want to go to the events or places that she wanted him to escort her to. What she wanted was to spend quality time with her spouse, but all the socializing and going out did not let her do that. He on his part showered her with gifts but more than the gifts she wanted his time and attention which he wasn’t able to give.

As luck would have it around this time, her husband’s business went into pretty huge losses. The family business was also split, and though the division was relatively amicable, all these developments took a toll on him. He couldn’t bear the trauma and went into depression. Depression wasn’t something that was openly acknowledged at that time, and it was tough for people to understand why he would not work and had to and keep lying in bed.  It wasn’t easy for Preeti to explain things to people. Though he underwent treatment for it, it was a long time before he could get back to being normal. This took a toll on the family in many ways. For one, as it is he wanted to control everything when he was well but when unwell he was unable to control anything. He had no control over himself or the situations around him. As a wife Preeti had to switch between the roles of giving in completely and then taking control of everything, two absolutely opposite situations.

There were other practical repercussions too. Just before the illness, they had started building a house but once he fell ill the construction work had to be stopped, and it was only three years later with the help of their youngest son that they could complete it. Since her husband was unwell and could not work, there were financial consequences too. The young mother had to look for ways to supplement her college salary. So she decided to set up a boutique designing clothes for women.  In the morning she would go to teach, and in the afternoons right till 9 in the night, she would be busy managing her business, again a very trying time of her life. The children would also come to the boutique after school, and she would help them with their studies while they were there.

Though as her children were growing up, she was beginning to get more time for herself, she had to contend with another issue. Her husband, who had always been controlling by nature was the reason for it. He was extremely strict with the boys who as they were growing up were highly resentful of his attitude. They were developing their independent streak, and that did not allow them to be dictated by anyone even if the person happened to be their father. This created a lot of tension in the house, and Preeti was the one who was caught in the middle. She was a wife, she was a mother, but no one was prepared to understand that.

The result was that the children started drifting away from the father. As a mother and as a wife, she could see what was happening, but she couldn’t do anything about it. The closeness that she wanted between the father and the sons proved to be elusive.  Many instances contributed to the distance between the father and his sons. For one though their’s is a Sikh family,  the boys cut their hair which did not go down well with their father. It led to a lot of animosity and bitterness as he just couldn’t accept their decision. Then all three not only chose their life partners but decided to get married to girls who are not Sikhs, another decision which their father could not accept. Though ultimately he was left with no choice but to accept their decisions, it did create distance between them and sons moved away.

The process began with the eldest son who after his graduation, expressed a desire to go abroad. He moved to Australia to study and after that decided to settle there. He got married to an Australian girl and now lives there with his family. He hardly visits India though he is very hospitable and loving whenever they visit him.

The other two chose to be engineers though they too studied in different parts of the world.  While her middle son lives in Gurgaon, the youngest is settled in San Francisco. So while the children are there for her, they are a little indifferent towards their father.

Though her husband recovered from the initial bout of illness and was fine for a few years, he had another episode in 2004. Once again, he had to leave work.  After that, it became like a pattern. He would be well for some time, resume work but then again get stricken by something or the other which would disrupt their normal life. This, of course, affected her more them anyone else.  Apart from the fact that he couldn’t keep a job, she also had to face the illness on her own, especially after the children moved away. If it was traumatic for him, it was no less for her. Since the children had never been close to him, they could never understand him or his frequent health issues. She continued to be caught between them.

Thus it is evident that though with time, one would expect life to get more comfortable and uncomplicated, it rarely does. One set of problems is replaced by another one.

But as Manson says’ Problems are a constant in life. Problems never stop: they merely get exchanged and/or upgrade. happiness comes from solving problems.’

Thus life will have problems; it is one’s attitude that determines the extent of a person’s happiness or unhappiness. And my woman achiever bears testimony to that. No matter what she believes in being happy, being her smiling self.

Though being a mother, she wants to visit her children, spend time with them,  most of the times she has to do it alone as her husband is either unwell or not willing to accompany her. So whenever she goes, she is torn between him and them. She cannot spend a lot of time with them and has to be back to be with him. Now that she has her grandchildren, it is even more difficult.

Her life also brings out the fact that parents have to open and flexible to adapt and accept their children’s desires and choices.  They must realize that for the relationship to flourish, respect and space are two very critical elements. One needs to respect the other person even if he is your own child and give them space. While one may want to stick to one’s rules and principles, but sometimes a little bending can go a long way in making the relationships stronger. Preeti’s children and husband had issues on which both took a stand, and the result was that the wife/mother got caught in between. It was almost impossible for her to strike a balance. Parents need to remember that if they don’t adapt, children will move away and lead their lives the way they want to. It makes sense to give in gracefully even if one feels that they are taking the wrong decision. Once they cross a certain age, it is best to point out the right path to them and then let them take their own decisions and be responsible for them. Sometimes however, fathers are unable to understand this and it is left to the mothers to bear the brunt from both sides.

Preeti has had a tough time coping up with her husband’s rigid and challenging nature. Their temperaments are entirely different. He doesn’t share her interests, and she has had to live her life alone. She loves nature, likes to travel, but he doesn’t. He does not accompany her for any social engagement and generally pleads to be sick. Even otherwise he has some reason or the other for not going with her. Being a friendly person, she has many friends, but the friend that she wanted in her husband remains a dream. 

However, despite all the challenges in her personal life, she ensured that they could not affect her professional life. In her career, she has scaled heights which only a few people can hope to get to. She has taught and presented research papers in different parts of the world. She has about 100 research publications to her credit. She has written several books on Financial Management, Investment Management and the Dynamics of the Indian Financial System. She has taken up various teaching assignments in leading institutes of India including Faculty of Management Studies, BIMTECH, Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management and the All India Management Association. After serving her college for four decades, she retired in 2014 but not wanting to just sit at home she decided to take up another job at JIMS Kalkaji. She worked there for six years teaching, organizing programmes, writing research papers as Professor and Managing Editor and later as Head of the Post Graduate International Business Development Programme. She retired from there in May 2020 and has now moved on to another area. She has taken to writing stories of human interest and has a blog covering areas like nature, environment, culture, travel, wellbeing and style.

Being a path breaker in many respects, Preeti has led an eventful life. From being one of the few girls during her under graduation days to being the only one in her Master’s class, she has come a long way. She was amongst the first five women to have joined the Department of Commerce, Delhi University. She has travelled to different parts of the world for taking part in seminars, conferences and for various teaching assignments too. She has had instances where while driving on the road she has been jeered at by truck drivers, people commenting on her solo trips but nothing has stopped her from doing what she wanted to do. Admired by her peers and especially by her students, she has been a source of inspiration to many. She believes that a positive attitude towards life, patience, courage, determination and physical fitness go a long way in making people respect and admire a woman. It is the way you conduct yourself that influences the way people treat you. It’s been fifty years since she started working. She has never taken a break, has enjoyed every moment of her journey and continues to do so. She lives for the moment. Each day is special. The Journey of a woman teacher!!

If a woman like her is not an inspiration then who is?

5 comments On A Woman, A Teacher, An Inspiration

  • This is an inspiring bio articulating great background of Dr Preeti whom I met on Medium. Dr Preeti is an inspiring writer and an avid reader. Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece.

  • Ma’am, thank you for this wonderful description of her personal and professional life. I’m Dr Preeti Singh’s student, who met her first at Jesus and Mary College. Ma’am is truly an inspiration and after reading about her so closely, I got the opportunity to learn many things about her life..I’m too in the profession of teaching and being a woman, we have our own challenges. Such real life examples gives us lot of courage and inspiration..
    Much love to Ma’am..
    Regards
    Neha Khaitan

  • You have really shown what a challenging life Preeti has led and continues to lead, Preeti is an amazing woman .

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.