Female frontiers

Wednesday, 10 March 2010 - 1:50am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

DNA profiles some women who've made their way to the top.

Power brand
Sujata Keshavan Managing director, Ray+Keshavan

Even before the Indian economy opened up in the early 1990s, Sujata Keshavan introduced the country to brand design. This was at a time when no one even knew what brand design meant, let alone what it conceptualised.

After returning to India with a degree in graphic design from Yale University in 1989, Keshavan founded India’s first graphic design consultancy, Ray+Keshavan, in Bangalore. Their job was to create new brands and redo older ones so they stood out globally.

As the pioneer, Keshavan was responsible for laying down the ground rules for the brand design industry; the many players who followed picked up cues left by her. “It won’t be an understatement to say that we were responsible for creating the industry and directing it,” Keshavan said. “Brand designing is still new.”

Two decades later, Ray+Keshavan remains on the top of the game with a client list that includes the likes of Hindustan Lever, Reliance, Bharti, ITC, Wipro, Infosys, McKinsey, Dr Reddy’s, Dabur, Max Group, TVS, MindTree, Airtel, among others.
- Malvika Tegta

Serenading solo
Aruna Narayan Kalle Sarangi player

The sarangi is slowly disappearing from the concert stage and moving into the more fashionable fusion circuit to survive. Aruna Narayan Kalle, daughter of the legendary sarangi player Ram Narayan, is one of the few women to take to the instrument and the first to play it solo on stage. The artiste, who lives in Toronto, says that gender issues affect women musicians in a big way, especially those who play musical instruments.

“People prefer to listen to male instrumentalists. They play louder, faster. This is one reason why women prefer to stick to vocal music; you have clear distinctions between the qualities of a male and female singer,” says the 51-year-old musician. The sarangi is a tough instrument to master, and to play it solo requires a high degree of specialisation.

Aruna has been performing extensively in India and the West. She also teaches young enthusiasts in Toronto how to play the instrument.
- Malini Nair

Salon style
Sapna Bhavnani Hairstylist

“Completely impulsive and completely in the moment!” That’s how hairstylist, writer and photography enthusiast Sapna Bhavnani defines herself.

Sapna spent her youth in  Los Angeles and Chicago in the US, having moved there at the age of 18. “I began cutting hair when I was 19 and I continued without training for 13 years,” she says.

Five years ago, Bhavnani, then 32, came to India and trained as a hairstylist. Deciding to stay back, she got a job as a junior stylist in a salon at a salary of Rs4,500. “I believe one has to start with baby steps,” she says.

Soon, she set up her own salon, Mad-o-Wat, in Bandra. The salon reflects Bhavnani, which is a 1960s disco ball-meets-Bollywood-poster-art-inspired space. She has also penned the book Style-o-Wat.

Bhavnani went through many phases: tomboy to punk rocker to being bratty, and continued till she discovered the best one — “Myself”.
- Humaira Ansari

Born rebel
Dr Laxmi Satyavrata Freedom fighter

She was a young rebel, one who danced away the night when India won independence on August 15, 1947. Laxmi Satyavrata had braved opposition from her conservative family to join her partner, freedom fighter late C Satyavrata. To follow her dream of free India and for love, she left her family.

Satyavrata  spearheaded several anti-British uprisings, in which Laxmi took an active part. They were in Mumbai on “the first August 15” waiting to hear the announcement, perched on top of a packed lorry. “When the word azadi mil gayi! spread, the world was suddenly ours,” Dr Laxmi recalls.

But the state of affairs in the country now saddens her. She is dismayed that hard-earned independence did not translate into real progress. “Poverty, illiteracy, social evils… they are still there,” she says. “And now there is the post-independence one of corruption.”
- Malavika Velayanikal

Rollin’ on
Yamuna Pawar PMC road roller driver

If you want to dispel the notion that women drive small cars, watch Yamuna Pawar at the wheel. At 50-years of age, this Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) employee drives a road roller in Tulshibaug — the busiest market place in the city known for its slapdash traffic and narrow roads. According to PMC authorities, she is the only woman road roller driver in the state.

Having lost her husband two decades ago, she was offered his position and started doing odd jobs like making tea for officers and carrying files. “I was supporting my three daughters and a son. But all through, I wanted to do something more for
myself,” says Yamuna

So when Yamuna was asked to work as a labourer in the road construction department five years ago, the idea of washing and oiling road rollers didn’t appeal to her much. “So I requested the road roller driver to teach me how to drive it.

Learning was difficult. But it was encouraging when the PMC authorities gave me a chance to drive the vehicle without doubting my capability,” she says.

How does her family respond to her profession? “Well, my daughters’ husbands call me their father-in-law,” she says.
- Anuradha Mane Wadhwani

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