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Ex SBI CEO Arundhati Bhattacharya On How She Had Dared To Dream The Unthinkable, And Achieved It

In her recently published memoir Indomitable, ex SBI CEO Arundhati Bhattacharya reveals the secret of her success as a woman in banking.

Memoirs are not something that usually excite me. But when I got an opportunity to review the book Indomitable by the former SBI chief Arundhati Bhattacharya I grabbed it immediately.

The first thing that drew my attention was the description on the cover. “A working woman’s notes on life, work and leadership.” Being a working woman and a mother I know the struggle of work-life balance. And here was this brilliant woman, a champion in her field sharing her experience.

Another point that got me curious was that every year thousands of Probationary Officers join the banking industry with dreams in their eyes. But, only one in a million achieves the height she had reached. I was no different. Having completed my BTech I found myself joining ICICI Bank as a PO ten years back. Currently, I am working in another leading bank as a department head. As a banker, I was interested to know what qualities had set her apart.

At many levels, these words by Arundhati Bhattacharya, a woman in a cut-throat workspace, were personally speaking to me – hailing from a humble background, attending the entrance exam of SBI PO, the quirks in the life of a banker, I could relate all so well.

Arundhati Bhattacharya began life in small town India

The autobiography tries to encapsulate a fabulous journey that starts from the small towns of Bokaro and Bhilai, through the bylanes of Kolkata, reaching New York on the way and back to India, ultimately leading to the post of the first woman chairman of the oldest bank of the country. In the process, the readers get a clear view of how a PSU bank works – the challenges, the humdrum and the hard work that ensues every day. The language of the book is easy on the readers and avoid unnecessary ornamentation.

The early chapters show the readers a young independent India through a child’s eyes. The nascent cities, industrial aspirations and hope find a beautiful expression in her writing. The description of the banker’s childhood, teen days, and early college life gives us a clear picture of the values and ethos she grew up with and also shows us a glimpse of a determined, ambitious girl who will do wonders in future.

The book starts getting really interesting as we enter the banking arena.

While discussing this part I can’t help but remember what she wrote about a particular session during her PO training program. When their course coordinator narrated how this was the beginning and one of them could be a chairman of the bank someday, she had thought, “Maybe, just maybe, it could be me.” She dared to dream the unthinkable and achieved it.

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Then again her recalling the difficulty faced in holding on to huge ledgers that weighed up to 7 kg, or the tension of counting the cash correctly with a hint of humour, showcased the lighter side of her personality.

A lesson on how to not bow down to societal pressure

Coming back to the initial quest that led me to this book – how a PO ended up being the chairman of the largest bank of India and a working mother balanced the best of both lives.

On completing the book I found the answer which can be best described by lending Dumbledore’s famous words – It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. The tough choices that she took was what set her apart. Setting off for foreign posting with a year old baby, without the company of a husband, or rather appearing for the opportunity just after the maternity leave was in itself a commendable decision. Being a working mother myself, I know how we cocoon ourselves within our comfort zone in that phase. It’s a lesson on how to not bow down to societal pressure and give equal importance to the career while intelligently managing the family front.

I was particularly intrigued by the part where the author did contemplate once leaving the job when she was transferred to Lucknow as she was anxious about her daughter’s education. The life of a woman banker with a family in a frequently transferrable job isn’t easy. But, she braved her way through the dilemma and followed the excellent guidance of her mentor who wisely advised – “Giving up takes a few seconds.”

Here again, Arundhati’s intrepid choice had played a critical role. This was such a realistic portrayal of life. I have seen many a friend who had given up their career for the sake of their child and later regretted it. This book can well be treated as one of the most practical guides in that regard.

A matter of fact approach to reality

Another thing that impressed me about the book was that even the biggest challenges and it’s overcoming were written without a shade of drama. This matter of fact approach to the words and in turn to the reality was a point to be noted.

Although in the book Arundhati Bhattacharya has focussed on her working woman experiences, her sense of gratitude towards her family for being the unofficial cheerleaders in her life reflects between the lines. This is another glowing point of the book that subtly demonstrates what a woman can achieve when they have a supportive family.Indomitable

The book can be a little intimidating for a reader not familiar with the nitty-gritty of the banking sector. But for a banker each of the events she narrated and the decisions she discussed is of utmost importance. She described the journey towards digitization, introduction of CBS from her first hand experience. Her efforts at convincing the government to give two full Saturdays off each month was a relief for us. And the importance of the recommendation for a two-year sabbatical for women employees with children and the elderly that in turn saved the career of several women cannot be explained in words.

In the book she also leaks her secret to become one of the most respected bankers in India, “getting the right people in the right place, obtaining their buy-in, empowering them and then backing them up when they took courageous calls with the right intent.”

Candid, lucid and humble, Indomitable is a story of small towns, big dreams and greater achievements. The book will galvanize one to embrace challenges, break barriers, push forward and achieve success.

Want a copy of this book?

If you’d like to pick up Indomitable by Arundhati Bhattacharya, use our affiliate links at Amazon Indiaand at Amazon US.

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Image source: YouTube and book cover Amazon

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About the Author

Sreeparna Sen

Sreeparna Sen, Banker by profession, finds her solace in writing. A Computer Engineer by education, she is a voracious reader. When she is not dealing with the loan documents, you can mostly find her nose read more...

21 Posts | 52,326 Views

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