Hi Pritha, Thank you so much for sharing your incredible journey with us. We are really proud to have you on our INCREDIBLE MOTHERS OF INDIA segment.
First, Tell us something about yourself, your childhood, college days
I was born in the City of Joy – Kolkata and then grew up all over India given my father’s transferable job. I suffered acute social anxiety as an infant and till Grade 2 never opened my mouth in class. Needless to say I was disciplined in all the usual ways with rewards and punishments both at home and school but to no avail, till one fine day, one Ms. Fatima Joy, at the Holy Cross Convent in Thane, Mumbai, came into my life and changed it for good.
She laid the foundation of my biggest learning that has been validated time and time again academically, professionally and personally. The concept of the “Pygmalion effect” is what she exemplified for me. Simply stated, it is a term in psychology that says, if you trust an individual with showing positive behavior in any area and treat them with respect, they will never fail you. Google will provide more information but as far as I go the story took on a very different route. She made this “socially mute” 7 year old scared little girl, the class prefect the moment she walked in and asked me to take care of the class while she stepped out to get a few things. I wish I could recall everything that went through my mind at that moment, but I know, public speaking in any kind of forum has never been an issue since. As I have grown older, I find myself going back to this lesson over and over again. I will come back to this later again, I assure you.
A lot of folks have asked me, if moving from city to city affected my friendships or if I resented it. I will vehemently deny. Children adopt and adapt to change way better than parents. My mother played a huge role in helping my brother and I always appreciate the positive in a place and its people. We moved to Kuwait in 1982 and I was there till 89 after which I joined Lady Brabourne in Kolkata with Economics Honors. The first Gulf War in 1990 was another landmark incident in the process of growing up. I was in first year college. My brother and mother were visiting during his summer holidays. My father was in Kuwait on that fateful day the war broke out. The next three months gave me life lessons yet again that I still carry. I realized my mother was the “Phenomenal Woman” Dr. Angelou described, I saw my brother grow up from a shy 13 year old overnight to becoming a kind caring responsible man, and I came very close to accepting I would never see my father again, till on Durga Shashti morning he came home leaving behind everything my parents at built together for years. What he could bring were a few photographs, and till date, my fetish to capture memories probably can be attributed to that milestone. Resettling back and building everything from scratch is where I saw my mother’s tenacity and my father’s patience and hard work. I dropped a year in college given all the turmoil but did graduate top of my class with a scholarship. I am find it very silly when I find moms talk about children missing a year here or there at elementary school level. It all adds up in the end, if it doesn’t as they say, it is not the end.
Following Brabourne, I thought my calling continued in Econ, but didn’t feel it. So even though I was in Jadavpur University pursuing my masters, my heart and mind had taken flight and soon I followed suit in pursuing my passion in “people” by getting my degree in HR at XLRI, Jamshedpur.
How did you meet your husband?
I met the good man at work. I was fresh out of XLRI with my first job at Wipro, Bangalore and he an experienced well reputed engineer with half a dozen overseas assignment and many more recognitions under his belt. I was assigned as his HR person to do the campus interviews at IIT Kharagpur and Indian Statistical Institute Kolkata. Apart from almost making him miss the Steel Express at Howrah station, I think I did everything right and after returning to Bangalore we interacted a few times at a strictly professional and platonic level before the guy took off on yet another assignment, only this time leaving me with a phone call from the airport with a marriage proposal. The rest is an 18 year old history almost but when my aunt asked me to describe him after I had said yes after getting my parents approval, I recall saying, “He is a good man.” I still hold that to be true.
What kind of field you were working in before you quit?
I studied and worked in the area of Human Resources, Organizational Behavior and Development, Strategy, Leadership Development and Team Building for close to almost 15 years. I pursued by second masters in Organizational Behavior soon after I came to the US in 1998. I worked in industries that spanned Infotech, Semiconductors, and health and beauty. The key learnings in all of them go back to my 2nd grade class prefect moment.
Every individual is capable of excellence, every organization is capable of phenomenal success, once you are able to provide the right environment, tools and motivation for all the right reasons. The rest as they say are just details. I enjoyed my career immensely and feel I was able to contribute meaningfully. I still maintain a professional blog (https://gettinghighonod.wordpress.com/) that I write in now and then, and wrote the book Blissful Discontent that is available as an E-book on Amazon Kindle and Kindle reading apps.
Why did you quit?
Losers quit. I am not a loser, so suffices to say I didn’t quit. If you mean, why I made a decision to leave my career and make a different choice, it was because I decided to pursue a real job – motherhood. I have always been taught to give 200% to what my life calling was at that point in time. Be it academics, a professional career or the pursuit of motherhood. I have phenomenal respect for the women who manage a career and a home with amazing élan. I am also very self-aware of my own strengths and weaknesses and this balancing act was never going to be a forte. So I was very clear about making a choice of leaving the work desk to be home with my child. It was a very easy decision; one that I have honored and loved dearly and pray will do so in the future.
How has life changed after your children were born?
My life changed in a strange way even before my little girl Parijat was born so I think her birth was the consummation of a truth that I saw and understood up close and personal. I am thankful to the Divine for all of it and wouldn’t change a thing if it happened again. About 5 years ago, I went through a series of three road accidents (for no fault of mine) within a span of one month. So the physical therapy work kept regressing with each “hit” for the lack of a better word. I woke up with a locked spine, a bulged disc, and an inflamed SI joint with tremendous pain in my lower back. Given the hits kept happening, the healing took an inordinate amount of time. It was the same month; my husband was diagnosed with an inconclusive viral low grade fever that made him homebound for several weeks. I refused to give into my fear of the roads and as a result ended up with a mild case of PTSD – ( post-traumatic stress disorder) coupled with mild clinical depression. A year’s worth of therapy and anti-depressants later, I was left with new found appreciation for life in every which way.
I disciplined myself with work and exercise and weaned myself out of the anti-depressants and therapy. I lost the 26 lbs I gained as a result of the medication and happily turned 40. Neel and I had never thought of children and our parents had given up too. But early 2011 we thought, this year, we either gave a baby, or go to Italy. Well, Italy is still waiting. Having a baby at 40 is probably the best birthday gift a woman can give herself if she is mentally and physically ready for it. I had an easy breezy pregnancy followed by a 40 min push and Cinderella was out at midnight delivery. My doctor and my husband made my pregnancy the most enjoyable experience ever as did my friends and work colleagues. I relished each minute, spent hours talking to my baby, and going on long walks with her in me and of course enjoying all kinds of music during my drive and from work.
My husband and I were very particular about having the first 9 months to a year with her alone without any parental help. This was not to demean the importance of our parents in her life in anyway, but we felt we were responsible for her a this crucial time and we three would figure stuff out together and bond in a way that time wouldn’t allow later. In hindsight, I still think it is the best decision we took as a couple till date, apart from deciding to get pregnant of course.
Life changed in many many ways, but to be honest, I don’t even want to compare what it was like and now but if I were to sum it up in one sentence, it was probably carefree then, it is complete now. Enough said. Having lived a kid free life for a very long time, Neel and I really don’t miss the typical “couple stuff” of “date nights” and movie times etc. Parijat is a just little girl, we rather have her a part of everything we do as a family than find this “quality time” as they say for us. She is the most “quality” we will ever have in our lives, and taking her away for extra quality isn’t happening anytime soon.
We do have our individual “me times”, he at work with hikes and colleagues, me with my hobbies, and we also have times individually with her, and together as a family.
How does your typical day at home look like?
It is just a usual day with LOTS of cuddles, kisses, story times, lots of activities together from baking to mall visits to library visits to a coffee shop date to lazing in pajamas at home. She inspired me to write my first book as I mentioned above. Her actions, words, thoughts and behavior keep me in awe even as she turns 4 in a week’s time. I cannot get enough of the learning she provides me and have to keep up with her to reciprocate given the sponge she is. So from cloud shapes to taking a shower together and learning to say what a vagina and nipple is, and be honest about every bit of curiosity, my days fly by with her. But of course she is a toddler and like every toddler she is a like a woman going through menopause and PMS at the same time on some days !! That is okay too, because I firmly believe to treat a child as anything less than a thinking individual is the biggest injustice you can do to them and the greatest fool you can make of yourself. So keeping my sanity in check is important and for that 5 days of Zumba at the gym and disciplined workout on a few other days with a trainer keep me feeling good about myself and thus about everything else.
Do you regret any decision?
Not one. 🙂
How do you see yourself in the future?
This anecdote should explain. A little conversation with my child, that happened one morning while I drove her to preschool.
Pari: Are you Pritha Lal
Me: I am
Pari: Are you Pari’s mom?
Me: I am that too
Me: So which do you like more ?
Pari: Pari’s mom
Me: I will always be that
Pari: You will be Pritha Lal too?
Me: I will be yes, is that okay?
Pari: Oh yes …
Me: ( looking at her on my rear view mirror ) You like Pari’s mom better don’t you?
Pari: (smiles back, softly ) – Yes
Sinuses have never affected early morning #RoleClarity and drives to school have never taught me so much…
What are your hobbies and passion?
Reading, Writing and absolutely no ‘rithmetic J J
Photography is something I totally and immaturely indulge in. A friend calls me his favorite story teller. I think in the last several years, I have developed this passion of finding joy and meaning in the smallest things. The accidents, almost losing my life, and then finding this new little life to take care of, makes me almost obsessive compulsive in finding little stories everywhere, the camera is my partner in crime.
Any word of advice for all the mothers and would be mothers out there?
Find an AWESOME DOCTOR first and LISTEN TO HIM OR HER as opposed to the zillion other people giving you advice like I am.
Listen to your body at all times and trust what you hear. And your baby is born, TRUST your instincts and your doctor’s advice over all else.
Know you are not perfect and forgive yourself for the mistakes you will make. Unless you do that, your child will not be forgiving of others.
Motherhood is a very fun and meaningful ride. The stress factor can make it hard if you let it, the choice will always and forever be yours. Know what you do is what your child will emulate.
And do laugh at yourself.. I do all the time..
To the “fabulously ordinary” mom… ( Composed by yours truly on one Mothers day )
It’s ok if the laundry pile is now, a little mountain on the floor,
And it’s totally fine if crayons have created a Monet on the front door.
It’s super cool if the car smells of long forgotten meals,
And sometimes, a missing child can only be located through high-pitched squeals!
It’s ok to have lampshade hair when you drop your child off to school
And don’t worry if folks think, your legs are not shaved enough for the pool.
So what if the little black dress is a stitch too tight,
And those oh-so-white lace napkins are a strange creamy delight.
Ice cream on the counter top or coins in the sink,
The child is only “learning”, say it to yourself with a wink.
If tattoos are the only thing you see when the first “date” comes home,
Breathe a little deeper, and then go rent some chick flick about Rome.
So sit back, relax, celebrate yourself, and know perfection is a thing of the past,
Being yourself and a “fabulously ordinary” mom is what will truly outlast!
Any advice for your children?
Doe eyed and beautiful, your soft glance
Endearing and enduring, your little stance.
Mesmerized, you watch fairy tales unfold,
Awestruck, you are, by all the little stories told.
I wish you innocence in your vision of the world
I wish you wisdom as each of its chapters unfurl
I wish you kindness to give and not just receive
I wish you patience for the moments that make you heave
I wish you love, the kind that opens your soul.
A heartache or two that makes you whole.
Doe eyed and beautiful, may your soft glance always endear
Mesmerized, may you watch life’s chapters without fear
Awestruck, may you be, by the power of your own heart
May you finish with grace, every journey you ever start.
( A Mother’s Wish – PL 2012)
The shorter version is 2 words – “Be Kind”
Interview co-ordinated for IWI: Rhiti Bose