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These women entrepreneurs of Bangalore have redefined the way art and culture is celebrated in this vibrant city, by creating spaces where it can be showcased.
Bangalore was alien to me when I joined university here. In Assam, where I grew up, events meant Bihu, New Year, etc. Fests in schools and colleges were unheard of. Once, observing my seniors at college plan for an upcoming college fest left me astounded. Unknowingly, I was ushered into the world of music jams, concerts, film screenings, in college.
Plays, Freedom Jams, and concerts that I attended outside made me realise that Bangalore had events beyond college fests. There were people who had lived outside the country, getting back with them an ocean of ideas. Spaces like galleries, cafes and bookstores – big and small, organized never-before-heard-of events.
While most of them are connoisseurs of art, there are some spaces with one common quality – they are run by women who believe in what they do. The vibe in these spaces speak of the love that these ladies pour in their work.
Vincent Van Gogh has said, “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.” So are these women entrepreneurs of Bangalore in it – with all their heart.
Hangout Library, a perfect place to hangout, does not display a ‘Maintain Silence’ sign anywhere despite being a library, and is bustling with activities, games, and books.
Aanchal Agarwal is a practicing psychotherapist, passionate about books and children. She always knew that she wanted to do something in the field of psychology. She says, “The small town from where I come, women working is a new idea. And women working in the field of psychology is a mad idea.”
But she had done enough (guitar and aroma therapy course included) to realise her passion for psychology. She had almost lost her way in life, when her parents asked her to follow her heart at the cost of wasting one year (considered a ‘precious marriageable year’ in her town).
During her break for five years after childbirth, Aanchal updated her skills set to enable her to work better. She says, “Odd reasons will always be there. One must work. Apart from financial independence, personal development is a must for every woman.”
Having keenly observed children, Aanchal understood the reason behind the dwindling interest in reading. The library helps inculcate the reading habit starting from toys to interactive books and finally stories, novels, etc. Aanchal is around for those adults and children who need suggestions with books. Maintaining a routine, commitment to her work, loving what she does, and taking ample rest is Aanchal’s mantra.
Her advice to parents: “Use a pen and paper for writing something instead of typing on smart phones to help children realise the importance of reading and writing.”
Walk into Atta Galatta – the heady smell of books and coffee will exhilarate your senses. Add to it the charm of bricked pillars and wooden chairs – it feels like a cozy home where every book lover and event junkie would want to be – thanks to the duo, Lakshmi Sankar and Subodh Sankar.
From being a literature student, a copywriter, and writing for newspapers to someone selling insurance, Lakshmi had an interesting journey. The idea of a bookstore was hers, but as an introvert, she was a bit wary of beginning a social space, taking the plunge only after her husband, Subodh, decided to join her and encouraged her.
Always wanting to be independent, Lakshmi started working after her graduation. She says it is not just independence; what women need is freedom for making choices in life without any pressure from people with a judgemental mentality. Having gone through it herself, she says, “I had files of matrimonial ads. I was considered as a non-saleable commodity – my height was reduced in the ads. I was considered a domesticated thing. But I wasn’t. It was difficult. I had to fight for this a lot of times. As a copywriter too, only things like jewellery and fashion ads would come to me. Not the techie things.”
Her advice to women wanting to take the plunge is to develop courage and pride by doing accomplishable things. She says, “Make a list. Put in big capital letters. Paste on your wall. Strike one thing out everyday. It works. Not letting yourself become narrow minded and getting stuck – keep evolving – that is work.”
Mansee Shah Thard, an event junkie, would travel from one end of the city to another to attend events. Though the space is her husband Nikhil’s dream, given her vast work experience and interest, she took the plunge and they launched Lahe Lahe earlier this year when their first born was six months old.
“Being a working mother is tough and requires balance. Though working post motherhood is a personal choice, there is always some amount of guilt of not giving best either at home or at work,” says Mansee. She adds, “A happy mother would make for a happy child,” and hence, one’s choice should be honoured.
Mansee believes, “Each person has some talent – academic, administration, anything. If you have come to this world with a gift, a talent, you should share it with others.”
She wishes to see Lahe Lahe, which celebrates all forms of expression, grow to be a space where people can come and follow their passion without being judged.
Prateeti Shukla, a techie who loved cafes, cooking and eating always wanted to start something with food where families can spend time doing something. One day, bored, she took an off and called up a real estate broker to explore properties on rent.
When she came across the house (where they are currently located), she knew she had to start something. Her husband, unaware of her café dream, was startled when she revealed to him about the house she had shortlisted, but was completely supportive. Thus was born, Art Blend Café.
Prateeti continued with her job alongside for six months to pump in funds into the cafe. Running a business is no child’s play – one has to manage the highs and the lows but her supportive husband and appreciation from people makes up for everything.
Prateeti maintains her own accounts and believes that women can handle their own finances. “As an entrepreneur we have to keep learning,” she says. Prateeti has a deep sense of gratitude for her staff – she owes it to them and hence, for her, there is no looking back.
“Someone told me that if I do something I am passionate about, with discipline, I am likely to succeed,” says Savitha Shenoy Ranga, whose passion is etched in every corner of The Hobby Place (THP), Mysore.
Aiming to become an ethical entrepreneur, Savitha has donned many hats – from a software engineer, to a teacher, volunteer and consultant. She chose to put down roots in Mysore, and started THP when she was 7 months pregnant. “In a society where pregnancy is almost considered a disease, it was quite a challenge. The most difficult aspect of managing work and family is contending with the cultural expectations about being a woman, a wife, mother, daughter. The double standards about gender roles makes it daunting for women,” she says.
Savitha wishes that women were more supportive of each other. She says, “Some women have been scared for me, have doubted me, have blamed me for anything that went wrong, and have also waited for me to fail.” Her advice to other women is, “Support each other, be kinder and understanding towards other women, whether it is at work or at home.”
Being an entrepreneur is an ongoing challenge. To Savitha work-life balance means making right choices based on time and circumstances of one’s life.
She adds, “Whatever you do, do it out of love. Have a mentor, go to them when you need direction.” As for Savitha, her husband is her mentor and critic who urges her to take business risks.
Saluting women who are breaking stereotypes, Savitha says, “Respect! If anyone can do it all, it’s women.”
Although this is in Mysore, we’re including The Hobby Place, since its an interesting space and can work for weekend visitors from Bangalore as well.
Let us all cheer for all of them, and hope that we see more women breaking stereotypes and following their hearts. Do you want to take the plunge? “When your heart speaks, take good notes.” – Judith Campbell.
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Images: All pictures have either been sourced by the author from the entrepreneurs, or have been sourced from their websites/FB pages.
Traveller, Author, Dreamer. Storyteller at Storywallahs.
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