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October 2, 2014

Celebrating Women Power by Derek O`Brien

Celebrating Women Power by Derek O`Brien

There is no better time to celebrate Women Power than during Durga Puja. Here is my personal story. The first big female influence on my life has been that of my mother, Joyce. She loves me, like all mothers love their sons, but best of all she has taught me to tackle failure, to get up, dust myself and run on. In class eight I had been kept back at St Xavier's, Kolkata. I had moved mid-year from St Columba's, Delhi, as my father had been transferred from Delhi to Kolkata. The coursework and academic schedules didn't match and I found myself unable to keep up with my classmates.

Those excuses sound fine in hindsight. At the time it happened, and the report card came in, it was crushing. That afternoon my mother did something unusual. She took the family out to lunch. I remember we went to Waldorf, an old Chinese restaurant in Kolkata for what would have appeared to be a celebration. She told me the coming year would be easy enough for me because I had made myself familiar with my books anyway, and could expect to do much better than my classmates. “It'll be easy for you, son,” she said, “don't worry.”

There was a mother's indulgence in that conversation but also a steely will. She was motivating me to do much better the following year, had more or less told me I had the tools and the experience to do well and indicated that success was obvious if I worked honestly for it, and that I would have no excuses in twelve months. Best of all, It was all conveyed with a smile and in an easy manner, over a family lunch.

The second big female influence is that of my wife, Tonuca. From her I've learnt the skill of prioritising, of determination and of commitment. We have a long-distance marriage. She is a doctor and a mother in New York, caring for her daughters from a previous marriage. She is determined to make our marriage work and her career work, to do her duty to her children and find time for companionship with her husband. It's not easy, but to Tonuca it's a no-brainer – it has to be done and done smoothly. She needs to be in New York till her girls go to college in 2017; she owes them that.

So we meet every eight weeks, making trips to each other's cities, chalking up – and using – frequent-flyer miles, and appreciating each other that much more, I would imagine, than if we woke up in the same house 365 days a year. To juggle three different commitments – as a mother, a wife and a doctor – and to make a mark in all three, when de-prioritising one or even two would have been so tempting, is a hallmark of success. Tonuca has taught me a lot.

The third big female influence is that of my daughter, Aanya. She has the uncomplicated honesty and the brutal frankness of youth. She is my worst, or best, critic. If I'm not looking good on stage or the way I delivered my speech in Parliament had some shortcomings, she will tell me. If my clothes sense sometimes fails me, Aanya lets me know. In her own way, she keeps me grounded and I have started valuing her opinion. Realizing her opinion matters to me, she has, showing a maturity beyond her years, begun to offer it with particular thought and integrity. She also keeps me contemporary, I often joke, by introducing me to
new trends in music.

The fourth big female influence in my life was that of my former wife, Rila Banerjee. In 1991, I left a secure job because an entrepreneurial bug bit me. She encouraged me to believe in the idea, when it was only an idea. Risk-taking is important for success. After all, even Edmund Hillary named his autobiography Nothing Venture, Nothing Win! The final female influence in my life is that of Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal. She is the older sister I never had, a friend, mentor, guide and leader. From her, I imbibed the merits of conviction and resilience. When she began her independent political career in the mid-1990s, nobody gave her a ghost of a chance. In time, she built a career, built a party, built a movement and built a mandate. Now she is determined to (re)build a society at peace with itself.

Friends, each of the six influences – five of them women – from my life I have written about in the preceding paragraphs has taught me something different. Each of them represents a different set of qualities. Those qualities come together in an intricate matrix – a matrix that spells success.