15 Jul Empowered women, Inspire other Women
Sometimes, you don’t have to go far in search of inspiration! At Dr. Reddy’s Foundation we have some awesome people who walk-the-talk and prove that nothing can keep them down. Monika’s story is a case in point.
I met Monika Parmar when I visited Ahmedabad on routine work. She heads our skilling centre in the city and is responsible for driving operations which include new admissions, placements and of course mentoring students who are enrolled for coaching
It was a hot and sultry day and you can add ‘busy’ to that list for there was an impatient crowd huddled in the waiting area at the centre. Parents with their kids for enrolment, potential employers and a couple of alumni were all part of the melee. I spotted Monika in the midst of the crowd, leaning forward and totally engaged. I noticed that she did narrow her eyes into small slits as she craned her neck forward to listen but could not make out from her confident body language or self-assured movement that she had a severe visual impairment.
Born with juvenile macular dystrophy, she is visually impaired from birth and struggles with a 20/200 vision. Because of ‘scotoma’, a big blind spot at the centre of her vision, she is forced to rely on her dimmed peripheral vision; but her bigger problem is coping with ‘bright light sensitivity’ given Gujrat’s hot glaring sun and her daily routine which includes a lot of field work and long hours at the computer.
But does that discourage her? Not for a minute. Monika explains, “My father is a tailor and I grew up without even knowing the nitty-gritty of my impairment! As a result, I was not burdened by the seriousness of it and spent my early child hood studying music and braille as a ‘back up plan’ determined to be independent.” A topper in school she did several odd jobs; including teaching music to kids to ensure she did not have to ask anyone for money. She disses her difficulties with a laugh, “I take one day at a time and believe me, it has never been better. My favourite mantra – and one that I keep telling the students – is that there is always a solution to every problem if you try. The key words of course are ‘if you try’.”
Optimism is her Mantra
I would not have guessed that she had a vision problem. Immaculately dressed, perfectly colour coordinated and well accessorised she was chic and savvy. In fact, as we waited at the busy kerb to cross the road, it was in response to my surprised look when she grabbed my hand, that she explained about her problem and giggled “Since I can neither see nor judge distance or speed of the vehicles on the road, I promptly grab the hand of whoever is close to me and request them to help me to cross the road. Since my eyes look ‘normal’ sometimes this is misunderstood, but usually kind strangers do help me cross the roads. Of course, I also have my ‘friends’ like the flower vendor outside our office and some co-travellers on my regular bus who know about my disability and are always there to help me.”
Bonding for success
Not one for any pretence, she talks about her childhood and cites her modest background to bond with students who come to the centre from socially and economically difficult backgrounds. She focuses especially on girls and encourages them to become independent and the bonding is so strong that, Hinaz Mastani, a young girl who is still struggling to find her feet says with a touch of emotion, “Mona ma’am is my anchor. I trust her completely and will not do anything without asking her because I know she has my interest at heart.”
Many alumni are also grateful for the impact Mona has made in their lives and continue to visit the centre to seek her advice. Sahil Midda an ex-student, and a Pantaloon employee recollects, “She was the one who ingrained into me that you need to have a purpose in life. I was an over-confident boisterous brat when I joined GROW centre. But she made me realise that I had achieved nothing on my own and was just wasting my father’s money. Today whatever I am, I owe it to her and her team.”
“She is a great motivator and an excellent listener. You cannot fool her and she keeps a tab of how we are faring and even what we spend our money on!” adds Salma Pathan, another ex-student, who had a particularly rough life, and was back at the centre on her day-off to talk to Mona for some career guidance
The go-to person
She is acknowledged both in her family and community as a “leader”. People seek her advice about marital problems, diet issues, and career options for their children or even where to buy a flat! She is constantly invited by colleges and schools in Ahmedabad as a “motivational speaker” and is in great demand during the Navratri season to teach Garba with the “bookings” starting as early as July! For a woman who comes from a conservative Rajput family, where “Ghungat pratha” (Not showing your face to any outsider) is an established norm and a woman’s identity is completely appended to her husband, she shows the way. She is the first woman in her family to have graduated, the first woman to have a job and the first one to buy a property in her name with her own salary! Certainly not a small feat for a first generation learner and a woman who is visually impaired! You rock Mona!
Reena Mathai Luke