Women of Substance from Vizag

International Women's Day
International Women's Day - Women of Substance - Yo! Vizag

Work-life balance is a tricky thing. Managing a full-time role as a wife, mother, and sometimes grandmother, along with pursuing your passion is not a formula all can get right. And so, this International Women’s Day, in this ‘Women’s special’ issue of Yo! Vizag we have interviewed different women who’ve gotten it right. Moving away from the 9 to 5 job, these women of Vizag have converted their interests to profession, work flexibility and recognition.

Ranging from fields as diverse as tailoring to handicrafts they speak to us about their dreams, passions, challenges and unique journeys. All in all what drives them to do the work that they do every single day.

International Women's Day

PUJAA NAYYAR

Around the precinct of Visakha museum is a kitchen that caters to many a family. So if you too are looking for authentic chole bature and Punjabi cuisine then Pujaa’s Kitchen is the place to be at. Owned, operated and managed by Pujaa Nayyar, this outdoor kitchen began operations one year ago, and that too out of sheer interest. ‘I’m extremely passionate about cooking and till last year would cook from my place itself.’

There are different elements that make her place really special. Even today all raw materials are prepared at her place. The chole, batter for the baturas and the preparatory material is readied in a clean kitchen. Moreover, the food has an authentic Punjabi taste to it. Besides this, Pujaa offers a flexible menu where chole bature are available everyday along with two other items that change. ‘I usually have one shallow fried and healthy item for a balanced mix.’

We are even surprised to note that Pujaa manages this hobby with a full time day job. ‘This is my passion. I enjoy cooking,’ she replies when we ask her how she does it all. With just one assistant, she is calm and unruffled, as four more customers come in at that time. She also takes orders for birthday parties and other occasions if given a prior notice.

Pujaa’s Kitchen has now relocated to the space near Bell Park

International Women's Day

SUDHA DWIVEDULA

Wearing a sari that was gifted to her by her students, Sudha Dwivedula is the kind of person who radiates a glow from within. Working on hand embroidery since 1991, her tryst with this line of work had unusual beginnings. ‘I always used to enjoy embroidery, having learnt it from my mother. Then Shramik Vidya Peeth conducted classes and under Ms Seshu Kumari, I improved my skills too.’ With her skills and enthusiasm, Sudha quickly reached the level of training students as an instructor, when at the same time her husband met with a large accident and had to be bed-ridden for 7 long years.

The responsibility of running the house shifted on to her, and so she began hand embroidery at home. Today there are about 7-10 women who benefit directly from her. They come from the nearby areas to learn the work for free and then Sudha provides them employment. ‘My aim is not earning loads of money. What I get is sufficient. I just want the women I’m associated with, to be gainfully employed.’

Working from an independent house in East Point colony near Sai Baba temple, Sudha’s center does not have a name, to which she smiles and adds, ‘It does not need one’. Many women come to get their materials, dresses or blouses hand-embroidered and Sudha’s team does a wonderful job with the intricate designs.

International Women's Day

SANGITAA AND SHYLA

Being a woman is being more in tune with existence’ says Shyla, borrowing Osho’s words, as the duo talk about their unique journey as ‘The Launch Pad’, an entrepreneurial venture that offers training on English language, leadership skills, soft skills and life skills . Shyla Kurma was a Principal of two schools for over 17 years while Sangitaa Sehgall had worked as a Recruitment Head in an American company in Dehradun, before training at Genpact brought the two together. ‘We both had a common interest in training and so we decided on starting our own company’.

The Launch Pad thus began operations in Vizag five years ago, using unique methodologies of story-telling and theatre. Today the organisation provides training for a target group that ranges from 8 to 80 years. They have entered into an association with the Trinity College, London, and British Council and their workshops are recognised by the British Council. They are an examination centre for the GESE programme of Trinity College. ‘We are there for anyone who has the zeal to hone his/her language, employability and leadership skills.

But how is it to be working as a team for the two of them? They tell us that it works wonderfully. Sangitaa does the PR, writes out the proposals and does the need analysis for prospective clients while Shyla chalks out the syllabus, keeps track of the calendar of events and does research before they put together modules for the programmes together. ‘We have learnt a lot from each other. The best thing is that we comfortably switch roles when the need arises. We have named our company ‘The Launch Pad’ because that’s what we are for our trainees. We launch them to success.

International Women's Day

JAYSHREE PAREKH

Known for her intricate designer mehndi for different occasions, Jayshree is a Gujarati entrepreneur who’s been in Vizag for the past 28 years now. ‘I was born and brought up in Calcutta and was always interested in art’ she tells us when we ask her about how she began work in this line. When she shifted to Vizag 28 years ago she had few friends and little to do. ‘I loved mehndi so I’d have some design or the other on my hand. People soon started asking me to apply mehndi for them also and so it began.’ Today Jayshree is an integral part of many weddings, celebrations and festivals in the city. ‘I often get asked to apply bridal mehndi for the bride and a few important people in the family.’

Operating alone since the past 25 years, she says that she enjoys her work this way. ‘I don’t wish to have a team and I’m happy with the way things are right now.’ Women come to her for mehndi on occasions like birthdays and festivals like Teej, Karwa Chauth, Sankranti and especially during weddings. Her family has been her strength. The  joy on the  bride’s face is the biggest motivator. ‘On many occasions, the bride simply hugs me and says, such a wonderful mehndi aunty, thanks! That’s what keeps me going.’

International Women's Day

SONI NAGPAL

Need a hair-style that will suit your face cut and accentuate your best features? Then Soni’s venture with Dawn is just the place to be at. Starting out as a small beauty parlour opposite the beach road, today she has a bigger place at Classic Apartments in the same area. Also from being just a beautician, today her store displays garments and cosmetics too.

Her tryst with beauty began over a decade ago. Post marriage, she went to Romania where she was running a good setup. However health issues with her son brought her back to Vizag in 2009 and here she established Dawn.

So how has it been different working for customers in a foreign country than here? She tells us, ‘In Romania, threading was my USP, people would come to me for that. No one does it there, as many use pluckers.’ In Vizag, she is known for creating some wonderful hair styles that maintain despite several washes. She also has the expertise in cuts that suit your face. With a team of four girls, Soni tells us that the biggest challenge in her line of work is convincing clients on what’s right for them. She enjoys wedding makeup and hairstyles the most, because those are the areas where she can go from scratch to the complete ‘look’.

International Women's Day

SILPA CHALAVADI

Managing a couple of one-digit-age-group children at home is tough, so one can really imagine how it would be running a school with 30 of them! Ask Silpa of Taraporewalla’s Montessori School at MVP and she’ll tell you that her average day is exciting!

Though a 58 year old brand in Hyderabad, Taraporewalla’s began its first branch outside the city in Vizag with Silpa only 3 years ago. Silpa tells us how it is that through a unique Montessori environment they try to teach children. ‘We call it the Taraporewalla’s house of children and deal with a range of activities such as sensorial, grace and courtesy etc. Also, they first start with phonics and then go on to tracing letters before finally getting the children to write them.’ Sharing with us on how her main motivation and inspiration were Ms. Kalpana Vishwas, cousin and Director of the Taraporewalla’s group, Silpa tells us how work with children began much before this. ‘From 2007 we used to run a daycare, but soon felt the need for a proper Montessori school in Vizag. Taraporewalla’s in Hyderabad was really wonderful and I soon got engaged in those ways of teaching. That’s how we brought the brand to Vizag.’

The age group of kids who come here ranges from one and half to six years. Activities are based on age groups and an extensive well-researched course material. Children enjoy the stimulating environment and the process of learning. And what are the day to day challenges that Silpa faces? ‘It’s great to be with children. Even many parents are now aware of the benefits of our methods of teaching. It’s a great experience. I love it!

International Women's Day

RIVA SINGH

Breathing new life into handcrafted products is something that Riva Singh really specializes in. With a hobby that turned into profession eight years ago, today Riva designs personalized and customized handicrafts for a wide range of people, not just from the city, but across the world. ‘I had finished studying law and MBA when I married a naval officer and came to Vizag. I had initially learnt using paper mache at a hobby class, but had never thought I would take it this far. But then, I was fond of the art, I kept experimenting till I could create some really unique designs that got me plenty of appreciation.

In 2006, Riva set up her first exhibition and soon many followed. ‘I display my ideas at the exhibitions and if people like something they place an order with me.’ Today she has held many exhibitions at  AMCOSA, Waltair club and many other locations. She specializes in relief work and paper mache work. ‘Relief work requires the usage of plywood and mirrors.’ She also tells us that the time for creating each product ranges from a week to ten days, depending upon the size, complexity and layers involved. Today Riva’s work is much appreciated by many as she makes some wonderful mirror designs, nameplates, candles, photo frames and decorative pieces. She has also branched out into creating chocolates that are well appreciated. Her main motivation is bringing joy to others and her plans for the future include reaching out to more people through her handicrafts.

International Women's Day

VANI PRABHAKAR AND RAMYA

Vani Prabhakar’s and Ramya’s unique start-up ‘Estique Events’ has today created a name for itself. Being in the area of event management since 2000, Vani tells us how it all started. ‘I had started a school called the Pravan Educational society and was associated with it for 25 years. My daughter Ramya would see me at work and help me organize events for the school. Soon one thing led to another.

Today the two have come a long way and Estique Events caters to events not just in the city but across the country as well. Vani tells us how most of her clients are NRIs. ‘The work often takes place on Skype or phone as most clients live outside the country’ she tells us. Most of them are looking for a well-organized theme event minus the hassle of looking into every small detail.

Vani’s and Ramya’s idea has grown into a large enterprise. So what is the most satisfying aspect of her job? ‘We work to wow our customers. If they come to us with an idea we see to it that they get 200% returns.’ Challenges in Vani’s line of work include working under strict deadlines with there being projects that have been done in a day’s time. Also there is plenty of travel required.

But at the end of the day, work brings in tremendous satisfaction. Their innate ability to understand a client’s requirements, effectively plan, organize and manage different tasks simultaneously makes them a perfect fit to the Wedding Planning and Events industry. The duo offer signature designs, taking the load off many NRIs who can finally come and be assured that their event will be a success.

International Women's Day

ALKA JAJU

When Alka Jaju ventured professionally with trousseau packing, she had little clue that she would go this far. ‘It all began as a hobby and my friends would ask me for packing ideas at weddings or events.’ This led to a career and today, 8 years in the line and Alka has earned a name for herself. She has evolved to become a decorator specializing in event decorations involving innovative themes and plenty of flowers.

A humble bunch of flowers springs to life when she mixes and matches with the right color combinations. On being asked as to how she creates the look she does, Alka says, ‘Clients come to me with very specific requirements. Some want a traditional appeal, others ask me for contemporary or neutral look. Depending on that, I add my personal touch to it and give a unique finish for their event.’

She now works under the banner of ‘Sugandhika’ providing customized fresh and dry flower bouquets, gift and wedding packing, theme party decorations and other specifics for many events including dream weddings. She is the official decorator for the many leading hotels of the city. When asked about how she manages it all, Alka stresses on the support she gets from her family, adding that without them all this would not have materialized.

So what does she think is Vizag’s scene in event decor? Alka tells us that an increasing number of people are now becoming conscious of how they do their events and that it’s a positive vibe. As a next step she wants to make ‘Sugandhika’ a popular brand and reach out to more people with its services.

International Women's Day

MANJEERA CHERUKU

Often referred to as Manjee by friends, Manjeera Cheruku is a proper Vizagite who’s been here ever since she was born. Today, settled with a family and two sons, she has also begun the unique entrepreneurial venture of nail art. Her journey with this interesting art form began when she was visiting US in 2007. ‘On every street I would see a nail art parlour. More interestingly, I saw that despite nail art taking plenty of time, these places were always busy and full with women wanting to get it done.’

Manjeera was extremely inspired to follow suit in Vizag, but for one drawback, ‘Nail art took time’. But luck favours the adventurous and Manjeera discovered a new product called the Konad Stamping Nail Art. In 2009 Manjeera got hooked to it. ‘This is a Korean product that is easy to use, takes only minutes and is extremely skin-friendly.’

Today she provides nail art from a kiosk at CMR Central. ‘I had first started to market the product, but since the past 3 years, I’ve been providing services as well’. About customers, she tells us how people were initially apprehensive, but the numbers are slowly growing. ‘Many get it done for kitty parties, special occasions like weddings, mehendi etc.’ Her biggest challenges she says were getting to market the product initially and managing the staff, but Manjeera takes it all in her stride, thanks to a supportive family. She is also active in social work and gives 20% of her savings to various causes, and in her future she wants to continue supporting these causes in ways she can.

First published in March 2014 in Yo! Vizag

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