Learning from a chance encounter

Last Friday when I headed for Mumbai airport, like all other Fridays over last two years, litte did I know that I am about to step into one of the most valuable hours of my life.  I had a heavy lunch, so instead of going to the food court, I headed to the Jet Airways gate, 40B to be precise. How can I forget the exact location?

I usually pick a quiet corner away from the gate. But, my phone was running out of charge. The charging points were closer to the gate; it was crowded with only couple of empty seats. I resigned to my fate and sat next to an elderly lady. I put my headphones and started listening to a beautiful song of Kishore…tera mujhse hai pehlee ka natal koi.. The lady next to me asked, “are you going to Hyderabad?” I looked at her, she was very simply dressed, in a white saree with brown motiffs. Her eyes behind the glasses showed sharp intelligence. I paused the music, said “yes, going to Hyderabad” and was about to get back to music when something in me told to go ahead and speak to her. It’s quite unlike me.. after all the meetings in office, I prefer some quiet time.

We started conversing and soon I got to know that she is Mrs. Ranjana Kumar, first lady to head a public sector bank. As the Chairperson of Indian Bank, she had a turned it around before moving on as chairperson of NABARD.  Today at 72,  she is on board of several companies.  The next one hour proved to be a great learning experience. Have captured few key ones here, especially for the benefit of my lady colleagues and friends.

  1. It’s all right to stay away from family and pursue your career, don’t indulge in self pity, everything works out well in the end – since I moved to Mumbai about 2 years back, I have lost count of the number of times I answered this question, “How do you manage to stay away from your family, don’t your feel guilty, especially when your son is in important class? How can you travel every weekend, don’t you get tired?” Mrs. Kumar shared her story on how she lived away from her family for 20 years… yes, 20 years. How she used to travel from Bangalore by bus on Friday night to Hyderabad and return back on Sunday night. Remember, this was decades back, so no Volvo buses and I am sure the roads were worse. She went on to explain how everything worked out extremely well for the family when she was based in New York. How it benefited her children. She proudly mentioned that both her children are doing well, and she is a proud grandmother of four grandchildren.
  2. Never show your work pressure at home, no frown should ever cross your face, most importantly ‘no ahankar’ (no arrogance) irrespective of how successful you are – so true, who cares how well you are doing if you are constantly throwing tantrum at home. Regarding arrogance, for the one hour that I spoke to her, it just didn’t seem like I was speaking to someone so successful. She was so very simple and her connect was so so strong.
  3. Don’t expect to be treated differently just because you are a woman – I asked if she ever faced discrimination at work, her answer was an emphatic no. And she went on to explain how she never ever expected to be treated any differently. How she spent late evenings at work, people would ask her to leave as she was a women. She shared a story when she had to deal with some very difficult people, who told her that she won’t be able to negotiate with them. And how she put them in their place with just one sentence, “I manage three mothers-in-law at home”. Her statements made me wonder, do women professionals feel more entitled today, with all the focus on diversity, inclusivity, unconscious bias etc etc. Are we beating the drum more than required. Point worth pondering!
  4. There is nothing like a problem – it’s only a situation that you are finding difficult to handle and don’t have an easy solution. When you look at problem like any other situation, it becomes easier to handle. When your mind is full of positive thoughts, you get a solution to this different situation (read problem) as well.

I wanted the conversation to go on and on. For the first time, I hated the boarding announcement and the fact that the flight was on time.  We were the last to board, we walked together. I took her email id and expressed my desire to stay in touch with her. Hope I would meet her again and get some more insights.

Another learning, don’t always pick a quiet corner. Who knows who you might get to sit to next time and what learning you might get!!

4 thoughts on “Learning from a chance encounter

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