Banali, The Unstoppable

A woman who believes –

‘No matter how you feel, just get up, dress up, show up and never give up’,

That’s Banali Malhotra, my woman achiever.

With such an attitude to life, is it a wonder that the woman is a super achiever? When you know what you want from life and will go after it no matter what, how will anyone be able to stop you?

Positivity, consistency, grit and determination are critical to success. These aspects are universal and can be applied to any field, goal or aspiration that you might have, as success means different things to different people. During my interactions with Banali and how she described the journey of her life my faith in these principles had been reinforced, and today I can state with conviction that one’s approach to life’s challenges make all the difference.

Successful individuals don’t do different things, they do things differently.

Banali currently holding the position of Director-Marketing with RAKBANK is based out of Dubai and has been with the bank for the last fourteen years. She has successfully spearheaded several of the bank’s innovative marketing campaigns which clearly bring out her skills in that area.

Like in the case of most women in the corporate world, she leads a super busy life juggling between the various roles that she has to play. What has helped is her ability to organise her work and be clear about her priorities on a day-to-day basis.

However it isn’t as though she is all work and no play. She loves music and is a big fan of Elvis Presley. Music peps up her day and gives her that breather whenever she needs one. It is a part of every moment of her life from the time she wakes up to the time she calls it a day.

Banali, the woman with a unique name, a name which means jungle ki Saheli.

The youngest child of Brigadier Ashok Luthra and Suvita Luthra, Banali was born to her parents after two boys. She has two older brothers, Rukn and Vidur. The parents always believed that they had very common names and so they wanted to give unique and unusual names to their children. As a result, all three children have very uncommon names.

The three of them were raised in Delhi. Being in the army, her father would frequently get transferred to different parts of the country and sometimes to places where not many good schools existed. Since the parents wanted to ensure that the children got a good education, no matter what, each time their father got transferred, the mother stayed back in Delhi to make sure that their education did not get interrupted. As a result, all three were able to focus on their academics and take up careers of their choice. They have all had successful corporate careers with the brothers having taken to the entrepreneurial space now, while she is still very much a part of the corporate world. Eventually, the father took premature retirement so that they could all live together.

Among other things the one thing which had a far -reaching impact on Banali was her mother’s attitude towards life. Though often left with three children to care for, her mother who was working continued to work despite all the challenges. She believed that a woman has to be independent and has to have an identity of her own, a belief that she was able to pass on to her daughter.

Banali grew up in a liberal and broad-minded family where there was never any discrimination between a boy and a girl. Everyone was treated in the same way, and the same set of opportunities were available to all three. It was up to them to do what they wanted and sky was the limit. The only thing was that due to safety concerns, her curfew times were a little stricter than her brothers. This kind of a fair and impartial upbringing ensured that she grew up to be a confident and self-assured person who believed in herself. It never made her feel that she was lesser than any of her male counterparts. She never let the fact that she is a woman stop her from getting after what she wanted. In fact it was the opposite, she worked doubly hard to make sure that she didn’t get left behind because she was a woman.

Her life goes to show that when women are treated equally as men, being treated thus becomes a part of their life and gives them the confidence and belief in themselves which paves the way for a successful and happy future. Therefore it is crucial for parents to know that they must treat their daughters the same way as their sons and raise them to be strong individuals. Her upbringing made sure that Banali never shied away from following her dreams and passions.

Growing up with two elder brothers Rukn and Vidur meant that she was quite the tomboy and not into the conventional girl scene with dolls or dresses. And probably that is the reason that she is deeply interested in sports like cricket and football though she loves basketball too. In fact, most of the times, she ended up hanging around with their friends. Thus growing up in an environment where she got enough exposure to the opposite sex ensured that she had the natural confidence to interact with men later in life. There was never any question of any hesitation or uncertainty while dealing with men, another pointer to how parents should raise their girls. They need to give them exposure and not keep them tied down.

Banali studied at the Army Public School followed by Hindu College, a prestigious college of Delhi University, where she discovered her love for communication. She followed this up with a Master’s in Marketing from the Times School of Marketing.

Having grown up in an environment where most of the women in her family worked, it was a given that she too would do the same. She had seen ambitious, driven women around her, and so ambition and aspiration came naturally to her. Seeing financially independent women including her mother made her aspire to be as independent as possible and in every sphere..

Thus she joined American Express straight after her Masters and spent the next twelve years of her life with the organisation. The twelve years were not only a huge learning experience for her but they proved that if one puts it the hard work then recognition and appreciation are not far away.

Along with her professional life her personal life was also moving on. A woman who follows her heart and does what she loves to do married Raghu, on her heart’s bidding. She met Raghu, her husband, while they were in school. They were in grade 10 when they met and became the best of friends. This friendship turned into a relationship after college. Both of them attended Delhi University though they went to different colleges. It was the movie When Harry met Sally that did it for them. They had gone to see the movie together, and it was while they were watching it that the penny dropped. They realised that they were in love and had been for quite a while. Though the two of them hadn’t seen it coming, the parents had, and so when they expressed the desire to get married, the parents readily agreed.

They got married in May 1995, and the same year Raghu left for Australia to do his MBA from the Melbourne Business School. She continued to work in India.

Thereafter they were in Chennai for two years with the two of them working for two different banks, he with ANZ Grindlays and she with Amex. Then she got pregnant in 1999 and moved to Delhi with him following suit soon after. In September of that year, their elder daughter Taanvi was born. So from being a working woman and a wife, she became a mother and had another dimension added to her life. It was a new role, a new challenge but thanks to all the support from her family she was able to manage.

Since she had joined a large organisation like the Amex she knew that she had to work hard to make her presence felt. She was one amongst many in the organisation and it would have been easy for her to get lost in the crowd. But she did not do that. She worked long hours, travelled a long distance to get to work and though had to depend on the unreliable world of public transport to do that she kept at it. She did not want anyone to get the opportunity to say that she couldn’t do it because she was a woman. It wasn’t an easy world to live in. People still were getting used to seeing women competing with men in the corporate world so she had to work very hard to make her presence felt. Thus when she became pregnant she didn’t want people to know about it, as she knew that once they got to know they would start discounting her. She didn’t want to compromise on work or family and continued to work very hard. It did of course take a toll because she ended up delivering a pre mature baby. It was tough, it was stressful but she persevered. She continued to manage both work and family.

And just when life seemed to be settling, she got another jolt. Soon after the birth of Taanvi, Banali was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. At one point she had 26 inflamed joints and could not get out of bed for two months. But she held on. Though she had to go through many such episodes and had to go through many surgeries as well, she didn’t give up . It was a difficult period, a trying situation which could have made a weaker individual quit, but not Banali. She didn’t let the condition get to her. Over the years though it became worse, she continued to fight back. There were days when she couldn’t get out of the bed, the pain was killing, but she didn’t let it get to her. She pushed herself, popped pills and got to the office.

However the situation taught her one critical lesson which was to take care of her health. She learnt that though work and family were important she couldn’t neglect herself. So she decided to plan and organise her work much better and be smart about it. She wasn’t going to let her work, her family or herself suffer.

Her commitment to work, her work ethic started to pay off and in a few years time she began to be appreciated and recognised for her work. The list of her accolades and accomplishments is pretty awe-inspiring.

She was twice awarded the Ambassadors club award , then the Presidents club award which is awarded to only one person from a region. This was followed by the Chairman’s award a global award which was like the icing on the cake. By the end of the twelve years she had risen to be Head of Strategic Alliances.

Hers was a very big success story and it wasn’t easy for her to give it up when she had to.

Banali had always had a creative bent of mind and had always been fascinated by the world of advertising. In fact working for an ad agency had been her first choice when she finished college but she figured that in advertising the hours weren’t flexible and it also paid far less. As a result she chose to be a banker which she is till date. However she didn’t let her creativity fade away and kept making use of it even as a banker.

And then in 2006, she had to quit and move to Dubai as Raghu was offered a role in MasterCard and he wanted to take it up. It was a big career move for him, which he didn’t want to miss. But what about her? For her, it spelt a probable break in her career, a break in all the hard work that she had put in and the success she had achieved. It was a decision-making moment. It meant quitting after having put in twelve years with an organisation. Though not an easy decision, she decided to quit and move with him as she felt it was far more important for the family to be together.

Once in Dubai to begin with she had no job though she had a number of offers and she had to make a choice. It wasn’t easy but the path breaker that she is she made an unconventional choice. She chose to go with a brand that was relatively unknown and her reasoning was quite interesting. She had so far been associated with a name that never needed any introduction, a multinational that was a brand in itself. But now she decided to venture into an unchartered territory, a local brand and that was RAKBANK. She decided that she would take on the challenge and work on the brand and make it big and well known, a feat that she has accomplished in the 14 years that she has been with them. What worked with her at RAKBANK and continues to is her creative bent of mind. At RAKBANK she got every possible opportunity to do that and now as Head of Marketing her creative juices are flowing and like how. She is enabling her bank to market its products in not only an innovative and creative manner but in a path-breaking manner too. That is not only helping the bank sell its products it has also enabled it to carve out a niche for itself in the space bringing success for both in its wake. Trust a woman to combine her work with her passion.

One thing that stands out is that the woman has heaps of courage and risk-taking ability. This probably has been always there. As a child, she remembers having jumped from the highest diving board into the deep end of a pool at her father’s telling her to do that. It was something that her brothers though older, refused to do. And of course, the club gave her a prize for being the youngest to ever having done that. And now at work, it’s the same. A task which many would carry out in a simple and staid manner is not the way Banali would want to do it. She will think differently, out of the box and execute it her way. Is it a wonder then that under her leadership the bank has run campaigns using animation, animals, aliens, bees, caterpillars and a whole lot of other things which others probably can’t even dream of using? Catching eyeballs in quite a different way! Many times she has taken decisions which have been very bold and out of the box. But she has not only managed to see them through but has proved herself to be correct.

As had been the case with Am Ex, awards and accolades followed her at RAKBANK too. She has been the recipient of a number of awards which includes the CMO[Chief Marketing Officer] award awarded to the most influential CMO of the year for Asia and the marketeer of the year award.

Another creditable achievement is the fact that her story got featured in The Oxford University Marketing textbook as a case study in Relationship marketing. Other than that she has also been recognised and appreciated by Femina Middle East as an unstoppable woman achiever. Her life story also got featured in the book ‘Break the Ceiling Touch the Sky’, a book which features 25 inspiring women globally. She is also part of many panels which aim to promote gender equality.

She is a regular contributor to several marketing media and advertising platforms. She and her team have been the recipients of 10/15 campaign awards in the last few years acknowledging their different perspective to communicate.

For any individual to succeed, support from their loved ones is a prerequisite. And Banali is no exception. In that respect, she has been quite fortunate. If her parents were supportive of her career and life choices, then in Raghu, she has a spouse who is equally supportive and caring. So despite being a woman with her share of responsibilities and duties, she has never felt the need to give up on anything on the professional front because of his unstinted support.

There is an equal sharing of responsibility at the home front and the raising of their two daughters is as much her duty as it is his. In fact, they have no gender rules and no stereotype roles as mom or dad. There is nothing that a mom can do which a dad cannot. They have always made it a point to sync their calendars in a way that one of them is at home when the other one has to travel for work. So much so that when Banali delivered her younger daughter and was recovering from the surgery, and Myra, their daughter had jaundice, it was Raghu who stayed in the hospital with the child. Quite a refreshing change in a patriarchal society where everything to do with the child is mostly the mother’s responsibility.

Thus as a result of all the support that she has always had coupled with her own mindset, makes her believe that women can do it all though maybe not at the same time. Women probably have to be more mindful about priorities in their lives owing to the several roles that they have to play. They do have to master the art of juggling and learn to switch between the different roles of mom, spouse, boss, teammate, daughter, daughter-in-law, corporate wife, friend, the list is endless.

She believes that man or woman, it is your work that has to speak for itself. As a result, she has all through her career never felt the need to play the gender card. She thinks that it is her blunt and outspoken nature that has got her into tricky situations on many occasions rather than her being a woman. But what has worked for her is the fact that she has always stuck to her guns and has worked as hard if not harder than her male counterparts to always be on top of her deliverables. And she has been duly rewarded for this.

At the same time, she believes that sometimes women push themselves a little harder than what is required to do as well as the men. She admits that she too did fall prey to this very early on in her career but later realised that there was no need to do that. It isn’t ultimately what people think about you; it is your own notions/beliefs which guide your actions. She has faced men with double standards, pre-conceived notions about women and their ability but she has pushed back and made her place. If we want the world to change the way it looks at us, we have to take the first step. We have to make them do it.

Banali has had her share of challenges in life but has always managed to work her way around them and move on. Yes, she has had the support but somewhere it is her spirit and grit that have enabled her to face life and its various challenges.

Thought the couple was happy with just one child, Taanvi wasn’t. Moreover, since Banali was on heavy medication for her arthritis, it wasn’t a very safe option for them to have a second child. But once Taanvi turned 8, she started insisting on having a sibling. And so Banali and Raghu decided to go ahead and have a second child. It wasn’t a very easy thing to do. It meant that she had to give up all the medication, which could lead to arthritis coming back with a vengeance. The doctor was obviously against the decision, but the woman, much against the doctor’s advice, went ahead and got pregnant. The pregnancy was challenging in many ways but not in ways that could make Banali falter. Myra was born in August 2007.

According to Banali a woman needs to balance her various responsibilities. she feels that to succeed in life there are a few ground rules which need to be followed. To begin with she feels that one must set clear priorities in life. So whether it is work or family one must focus on doing the most important things and not everything. One has to be very good at managing time and capacity considering that both are limited. It is also critical to have a sound support system. Everyone may not be fortunate enough to have a ready-made one but if it is not there then one needs to build one. It could be a trusted neighbour, a friend or even a relative

Also, for a power couple to succeed balance, is the key. There has to be balance between work and family life. Along with that there has to be a mutual respect for each other and for each other’s work.

Banali believes that people react to successful women in different ways. She believes that women who are ambitious, hard-working and confident are no different from men and don’t need any gender preference. Still, they must be given equal opportunity to shine. Women don’t need to have a sad story to provide them with strength. They need to be smart, confident and be willing to earn their keep no matter what background they are from or marry into.

A woman who loves to spread cheer, Banali loves her friends and has built several long-lasting relationships over the years. Banali’s life is truly inspirational and it is no surprise that the unstoppable woman swears by this quote:

“My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” – Mary Angelou

15 comments On Banali, The Unstoppable

  • Very inspiring story. It is very true that consistency and hard work with a positive attitude always pay you in the wrong run. Also, your work should speak for you, and for that, there are no shortcuts in life. Thanks for sharing such motivational stories.

  • Proud to bask in your glory Bangali The stars is your limit ,bless you dear bacha💕

  • Banali you are an inspiration for not only women but to all who want to achieve their dreams

  • Dear Banali, Have got to know some of who you are. A well written biography. I served with your wonderful, capable soldier Dad in the mid 80s. You have created a gharaonda which you and your larger family are justifiably proud of. Here’s wishing you good health, continuing growth, success & happiness.

  • A nice and inspiring life journey….the basis of which is strong self belief. I really liked the example of the diving board, which in Banali’s future life also represented that she took daring plunges in important decision making matters and came out victorious. The article talks about awe – inspiring moments when she overcame her health condition without compromising her professional and family life is something we can all learn from and apply in our lives.

    Like always It is a well penned life journey, with good presentation and display skills used. Am truly in love with your writing style and love reading your blogs. Thank you Sangeeta Maám for these wonderful contributions.

  • Banali is an extraordinary woman. I loved reading these lines :
    She believes that women who are ambitious, hard-working, and confident are no different from men and don’t need any gender preference. Still, they must be given equal opportunity to shine.
    She had many breaks with illnesses and transfers to different towns to join her husband but she never gave up. The will to continue and the grit. I admire her and your beautiful style of writing.

  • Banali’s inspirational life story should be circulated among both boys and girls. The article says a lot about how parents should bring up their children. Since, I know the family I can actually see Banali growing up in the footsteps of her parents. 🎩s off to the Little Girl Banali to achieve so much through shear hard work. God bless her and the family.

  • While I am on cloud nine reading about Banali and bursting with pride, I must , more importantly, acknowledge the fact that the author of this epic story , Sangeeta Duggal Relan , needs even more credit. Two main attributes go in her favour . One , Sangeeta, who resides in Gurugram , to have the discerning eye , ability to research and find someone worthy of being written about and that too living in Dubai , is by itself extremely credible and deserves instant recognition .
    Two , Sangeeta has demonstrated her uncanny ability in penning down a biography of an ordinary citizen , in such a captivating and deeply engrossing manner that one is compelled to read through a fairly longish narrative till the end with awe and admiration. Her writing abilities are of a very high calibre . May she achieve whatever goals she has set herself , with ease and enjoy the journey as she sails along.
    I do not know her but it would be a pleasure to meet her.
    Compliments all around are very much in order and I raise a toast to all those who care to join me 🍻🥂

    • There are no words to describe how this piece of appreciation has made me feel. I am filled with gratitude and pride and touched beyond words.
      When someone who is older, wiser and much more learned than you can ever hope to be showers you with such praise, such appreciation it is a huge affirmation of everything that you stand for. Everything else pales in comparison. I must admit I have never been acknowledged or recognised like this before. It is a first and will always remain incredibly special.
      And uncle whenever possible I would love to express my gratitude in person.🙏🙏

  • Very well written it really is a beautiful presentation you have indeed done a wonderful job. It is very inspiring and kept me reading each and every word put down by you. Please keep up with the good work.👏👏

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