The Choices She Made

When I look at the women around me, at their achievements, their accomplishments, I am left awestruck and pretty much speechless. I wonder if there is something special in their DNA which lets them accomplish so much. I find most women to be, multi-dimensional, multi-faceted packing in incredible amounts and types of things in their lives. I wonder how and I wonder why.  Is it because they are forced to do it, or it is a choice that they happily make. Whatever the case may be, I find that they make a resounding success of whatever they choose to do. In one lifetime, they take on diverse roles, challenges, career switches, breaks, and come out stronger and surer than before. It is no mean feat and requires a tremendous amount of courage, conviction, grit and resilience to do it. But they seem to have all of it.

While not undermining the effort and hard work of men, I have seldom seen men, manage several things at one time, organize the home, food, children, take breaks from their careers, or make switches in them. They more often than not unilaterally go about their lives and are never able to spread themselves to do too many things at one time. My personal experience tells me that expecting them to do even two things at one time would be like asking for the moon. Is it because that has never been expected of them or they simply cannot do it?  I wonder. Women, on the other hand, can spread themselves to take on many varied situations and roles at one time and manage them all. From being wives, mothers to being homemakers and career women packing in the tasks of handling food, kids, meetings, social gatherings and God knows what all!! And if that is not enough, they decide, at times to take a break or make a switch in their careers!!

My woman achiever, this time is one such woman. After putting in twenty-three years of her life into a career that was her dream, she decided to let go of it to not only get into uncharted territory, career-wise but even to move countries to do that. She chose to give up on a familiar, comfortable environment, friends and family to be with her husband. Need I add that she is killing it there as well. To be able to start from scratch, to choose an unknown career path and then put in unimaginable amounts of hard work to succeed in it even though age is not really on your side is quite an achievement. But what one can see from her journey is that if you have the desire, the aspiration, the dedication you can do it.

Dr. Sona Pranav Kumar, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a Professor and now a counsellor in Singapore. A woman who is deeply interested in music, reading and is passionate about yoga, walking, running and meditation.

Sona was born to parents who were both in the field of education, which was probably why she and her sister chose to follow them.  As a child, she was very close to her sister. Since there was only a one year age gap between them, in their growing up years, they were the best of friends. Most of their friends were common, and it was a fairly common sight to have all of them visit their house and getting pampered by their mother. Apart from her sister, Sona was also very close to her mother, a sweet and loving person, ready to walk many miles for her family.

While she was relatively young, the Principal of her school discovered that she was a multi-talented girl with a passion for music, dance, public speaking and sports. She decided that her talent needed to be promoted and encouraged and so left no stone unturned to support her. The encouragement worked wonders on the little girl who blossomed into a star performer participating in music, dance, debate and many other extracurricular activities. All the recognition and acknowledgement did wonders to her self-esteem and self-confidence, and she was genuinely grateful to her for all her support. Somewhere this mentoring and motivating affected her at a sub-conscious level and led her to be as encouraging and motivating when the tables turned, and she became a teacher herself.

And then life changed. Her parents decided to change her school. They decided to move the girls to a bigger and better school to enable them to get more opportunities and exposure in life. The little girl was just about 12 years old at that time and somewhere not ready for a move which would affect her in more ways than one. From the safe and cocooned environment of her old school, she had to move to a school that was not only bigger but had a lot of people in the midst of which she got lost. She felt out of place because most of the kids were from super-rich families with money to spend and Sona was not used to this. Her parents had always taught them to be careful about money, about their possessions, and here it was the opposite. Getting accustomed to this was not easy, but the little girl knew she had to do it. She had to make a place for herself. And with that end in sight, she started looking for opportunities to do that.

One such opportunity came when the school basketball team auditions were being held.  She discovered then that she had a natural talent for shooting and as the team needed a shooter desperately, she got selected as the shooter of the team, her short stature notwithstanding. And then there was no looking back. The enterprising girl was all over the basketball court, shooting goals for her team and winning laurels for herself and her school. She went on to represent the Delhi State in the National Basketball team and later went on to win several zonal tournaments. She considers this to be one of the best phases of her life, one of those which took her self esteem, her self confidence to still greater heights. And mind you even in the new school her forays into music, debates and other activities continued.

Notwithstanding her other interests and pursuits, Sona never lost sight of the fact that academic excellence was to be her focus and her parents expected that out of her and her sister.

Keeping that goal in mind, Sona worked hard and throughout her school and college life performed well in her academics. Very early on in life, she discovered her love for the sciences and in particular for the field of Electronics. That is the reason why she chose to pursue this field for her under graduation and post-graduation from The University of Delhi followed by a PhD in Microelectronics from the same place.

When she joined college, there was so much academic pressure that there was no time for music, sports or any of her other passions. But all the hard work made sure that her dream of following her parents in the space of education could be realized. After completing her Masters, she appeared for an interview for the post of Lecturer in a college under Delhi University. She heard from others that she did get selected, but because of internal politics, the interview got cancelled. This was hugely upsetting for the young girl who had worked so hard to get there. But then every cloud has a silver lining. The cancellation of the interview had ramifications for her personal life.

Soon after she got appointed as a lecturer in a temporary capacity in Hansraj College, a well-known college of Delhi University. It was like a dream come true for her. She had strived hard to get to a goal and lo and behold she was all set to take her first class. All of a sudden, she found herself on the other side of the table, full of apprehension and trepidation. But after the first few nervous moments, she forgot all about her anxiety. She discovered along the way that she had a natural flair for teaching and found it very easy to connect with her students. Since she was young and enthusiastic, the students could also relate to her in a big way. She was always ready to mentor them, guide them and counsel them in every possible way. Her hindsight now tells her that this was probably the time when the seeds of her future career in Counselling were sown.

She was happy the way her professional life was shaping up and then one day as she was preparing for a class she felt someone’s eyes on her. Getting a bit conscious, Sona moved away. But the lady who was observing her was not one to give up. She was looking at Sona as a prospective match for her nephew. She got in touch with Sona’s parents and arranged a meeting between Sona and her husband-to-be, Pranav.

As Sona remembers she and Pranav clicked instantly. They figured they had a lot in common from reading to music to exploring new areas of learning. And though not ready for marriage, she agreed to get married to Pranav as somewhere she had fallen for him. Marriage meant a significant change in the familiar pattern of her life. To begin with, her new home consisted of three men and one woman, Sona.  From a family where women were in the majority, she entered a house where she was the only woman, as her mother-in-law was living with her sister-in-law. Though a little uncertain about how she would manage in a male-dominated setup, to her surprise, she found the men to be extremely warm and welcoming. She was pampered by all of them and so had a wonderful initiation into this new phase of her life.

Within a few months of getting married, she moved to teach in Acharya Narendra Dev College, to begin a twenty-three year-long association with the institution. On joining it, she realized that since it was a young institution, most of her colleagues too were young and enthusiastic, raring to go.

But before she could get into the grove of things she had to go on leave as she was nine months pregnant at that time. She went on leave to await the birth of her firstborn, Prabuddha, whose coming led to a life that was busier and full of things not entirely in her control. Her mother-in-law moved back to live with them.  There were newer responsibilities, relationships and challenges that had to be dealt with on a daily basis. It would get pretty intimidating and overwhelming at times. But there wasn’t any choice other than to carry on. Very soon after the birth of her son, she had to join back work which added to her already full plate. And then just when her older one was getting to be a little independent, she discovered that she was pregnant once again.  Though a little more prepared than the first time, it still wasn’t very easy. Two small kids, a joint family setup, a job and her own ageing parents, there was no breathing space. Though she got a tremendous amount of support from her husband and in-laws, still it was very tough. Of course, the best part was the little boys whose faces were enough to make the mother smile no matter what.

Prabuddha and Ritwik, her world revolved around them, and everything else had to learn to be second in priority. She learnt to find happiness in the little things of life and did not let the pressure get to her.

She thoroughly enjoyed motherhood.  She loved being with her children, cooking for them, playing with them, reading stories to them. The time with them was blissful, and she cherished it. The family outings were times they all loved and looked forward to. Gradually the children became older, and she started getting control over her life.

But just when it seemed as though she could take a breather and relax just a wee bit, the doctors told them that her mother-in-law needed to go for bypass surgery. So now, along with everything else visits to the doctor, the hospital became a part of her life. There was so much to do and only that much of time. As most women are prone to do, Sona put everything on priority, excluding her own self. She had no time to care for her being, her health. As was bound to happen, her health took a toll, and she lost a lot of weight and became very weak. It seemed as if she had no energy left in her. But thanks to her grit, her resilience and the family support she managed to keep going. Her husband kept supporting her in whatever way he could.

Despite all the trials and challenges, the couple made sure that they spent enough time with their children and were always there for them. So whether it was going out for a meal or on holidays or just watching the television together, or even going swimming or cycling, the family spent a lot of quality time together. This ensured that the boys grew up in a secure, stable and happy environment. The values of love, respect and gratitude, were embedded in them.

The family responsibilities notwithstanding, the professional side of Sona wanted her to move forward and add to her professional accomplishments. Her profession demanded that she pursue her Doctorate, and she also wanted to expand the purview of her knowledge. But in the seemingly never-ending list of domestic issues, this seemed next to impossible. However, once again, her husband and father-in-law stepped in to push her, encourage her, to go ahead and follow her dream. And that is precisely what she did.  Though adding one more dimension, that of research to her life wasn’t exactly a cakewalk; she decided to add it nonetheless. And what she discovered was that now along with the other two men her boys had also decided to support and encourage her which was very heartwarming. The sense of pride that she could see in their eyes whenever she achieved something like when her paper got published was something that kept her going. Therefore in a family where the culture of supporting each other, being there for each other was a given, the children too got to imbibe those values. Not only that they also learnt the importance of consistent hard work and effort. Their mother was a living example for them. The two boys turned out to be exceptionally bright and well brought up kids. They finished school and joined college following their dreams and passions.

Sona having completed her Doctorate joined back her college. It was a stage by which she had become relatively free from her personal challenges, and so found time to get involved in the life of the institution. She decided to contribute to the cultural side of the college. She took to organizing musical events, debating competitions, festivals in the college. Once again, life gave her the opportunity to follow her passions. She now motivated her students to participate in and pursue their interests. And since she had had the connect with them, events organized by her always had huge participation.

Life went on and then in 2015; it was time for another change. Pranav got an offer for a job which was to be based out of Singapore. It was something that he had always wanted to do. But if he did that, then the family would have to be uprooted. The children were by then in college, so the move was not likely to affect them so much. But for Sona, the change was going to be a drastic one. For one, it meant that she would have to put her teaching career on hold with the chance of having to forego it ultimately looming in front. Also moving to a new country meant uprooting their entire life, leaving behind their friends and family. But the woman that she is, she decided to do just that, put her career on hold and move with him. Though excited about the new life, it wasn’t long before she started missing the old one. Being in a new country with no friends and family around, Sona found it very hard to come to terms with life. The children had moved, the husband was busy settling into the new job, so what was she going to do. For someone who had worked all her life, sitting at home and twiddling thumbs was not acceptable. Suddenly from being a someone, she had become a no one. And she didn’t know what to do.

And then during one of his vacations, her younger son, not willing to see his mother in such a state sat down with her and suggested that she do something with her life. He pushed her to join a course or something that interested her and told her categorically that there was no point in wasting her time or her life in being sad and melancholy. She had to get up and get on with her life. This conversation had the desired effect. It made Sona think and choose between either being a victim of circumstances or taking advantage of an opportunity that life had presented her with. As was to be expected, she chose the latter option and started exploring options. Options that not only would keep her busy but would be in areas which are close to her heart.

While pondering over all of this and trying to figure out the life ahead, the desire to give back to the world started growing in Sona. Given her compassionate and considerate nature, it was probably always there but had not been able to surface in the mundane of life. It had remained latent, but now that she had the time, her mind was free and open, this desire not only took root but spread its tentacles. Sona decided to volunteer with a Hospice care organization, a daycare centre for the terminally ill, as part of the Art of living initiative to teach yoga and meditation to the patients. This was something that resonated with her. Though just a once a week activity, to begin with, Sona got a lot of love and satisfaction doing it. It was the trigger which made her rethink about her life and the course she wanted it to take. It was at this point that she took a life-changing decision. She decided that she would give up her teaching career and get into the space of Counselling, which would enable her to give back to society, to the world. Her interaction with the patients made her realize how far love, caring and understanding could take an individual be it an adult or a child. This experience made her resolve that this was going to be her life going forward. This was her calling, and she had to devote herself to it. Somewhere she feels that she got her inspiration from her mother, who despite the many hardships that she had had to face in her life, never lost her loving and kind self.

But before embarking on this new venture, she knew that she had to equip herself. She had to once again go to the other side of the table, don the student mantle and learn. She joined Monash University to pursue her Master’s in Counselling. As part of the course, she interned with many reputed organizations and centres in Singapore to gain practical experience and exposure into the world of Counselling. She completed the course and followed it with the ‘Choice Theory and Reality Therapy’ Certification program from William Glasser International, the official global organization that offers Choice Theory Psychology Education and Training. She also attended several workshops on Mindfulness-based therapies and other trainings to understand various aspects related to human behaviour and its impact.

Having armed herself with these requirements, Sona has now taken to full-time Counselling. She is getting recognition and appreciation for her work, and her client base is expanding.  Her client base consists of a diverse set of people, including young adults, older people, court-mandated clients and those suffering from mood or mental health issues. She is driven by the desire to help people lead a fulfilling and happy life.

One thing that stands out in her journey is the tremendous amount of love, affection and respect that the couple has for each other. They have stood by each other through thick and thin and continue to do so. They are in complete harmony and sync with each other. And when the circumstances demand, they are ready to move back to their homeland, though to a smaller city to be with their friends and family. Beautiful, isn’t it?

As we know, where there is a will, there is a way. Sona wanted to give meaning to her life, she wanted to make it worthwhile, and so she went ahead and did that. In spite of circumstances being not favourable, despite difficulties, she has and will continue to follow her passions, her dreams. She has never life get to her. She may have stumbled, paused for a while but has never stopped herself from getting to where she wanted to. Firm in her conviction, strong in her resolve, she can make her presence felt in a room, in life. Pretty much unstoppable and truly inspirational.

So all you women, time to aspire and get inspired.

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