By Sujatha Jain:
A shiver ran down my spine as a rogue bead of sweat trickled down my forehead and stood poised to fall off my brow. This was my Ethan Hunt moment. I was on course to accomplish a mission that I had hitherto pretty much written off as impossible. “Who am I kidding? I’m forty years old. I’m a mommy,” I said to myself, as I saw how white my knuckles looked as my fingers clutched the steering wheel of my car. It was my first driving lesson. Yes, it’s true. I had never driven a car before!
I glanced furtively at Sneha, my driving instructor and her rock solid presence restored my confidence. “You cannot drive unless you put the key in the ignition, Sujatha,” she reminded me. I smiled sheepishly at my forgetfulness and dutifully followed her instructions. This was nothing like ‘Need For Speed’ that I had aced years ago. As the engine revved up, panic struck again and images from my life flashed in front of my eyes. I saw myself at my MBA graduation ceremony, then on my first day of work in human resources, the day I fell head over heels in love, the day I got married to the love of my life, the day I became a mother, the day I quit my job and started my first business.
As a mom-trepreneur, life seemed quite crazy at times. I juggled power point presentations, phone calls and video conferencing with nappy changes and dairy production (read feed) schedules – everything neatly finding its space and time on carefully prepared excel sheets. Though I must admit that sometimes I felt a little overwhelmed and wondered if my dreams of being a big-shot human resource professional working from a cushy office in a big corporate house had slowly drowned under the cries of my ‘beautiful’ (read awfully cranky and colicky) baby. You’ve got to admit, there is a certain job security when you work for a big organisation. But being my own woman had its own perks and my freedom was addictive. It was around this time that I chanced upon something Oprah Winfrey said, “Be thankful for what you have, you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
This made me realise that I could be more than just a part-time mom (in my parlance, someone who does not spend 8 hours in an office). I started focusing on my other talents, things I was very good at – for instance, public speaking. I saw a newspaper ad for a radio jockeying course one day and decided to try my hand at the training course. My teacher/mentor, as I was to discover was also an established RJ with one of the more popular radio stations in Mumbai. I had hit pay dirt! So not only did I get a lowdown on the intricacies of a Radio Jockey’s job, but also a step by step prep session for the role, which I did bag eventually. So as it turned out, I had managed to get the cake and could stuff my face with it too, as it was a flexible part-time role allowing me ample time for baby banter and HR Skype calls too.
While I reveled in the love of my listeners and worked hard to impress them with my playlists and scripts, I also had to make sure my sonny boy was eating his daal-khichdi, wearing extremely clean diapers and not hanging upside down from the window grill – while enjoying the company of a cellphone-toting helper who was spicing up her life with the latest twist in the ‘K’ series. The icing on this extremely busy and colourful cake was the arrival of my pretty princess, exactly when my son was three and a half years old. But don’t forget, I was a pro-Mom by then. Apart from a short 2-month break to recoup my energy, I was raring to get back into the big world that had the promise of fulfilling all my dreams – as I realised that you can be a good mother and still do all that you aspire to, with the right kind of support from family (and a well-paid help). I had also realised by then, that there’s no one perfect way to be this great mom – because each situation is unique, each mom has different skill sets and challenges and most certainly different children!
While my life experiences had been varied and exciting none of this had prepared me for what lay ahead – a narrow Bandra bylane covered by a canopy of interconnected branches of trees that grew on both sides of the road – a road I was supposed to drive on. “Take a deep breath,” said Sneha gently. I think she sensed my fear. “This car is also your baby,” she said. That flicked a switch somewhere. Suddenly my mommy instincts kicked in. The tigress inside woke up as I felt determined to protect my baby from reckless drivers, lane-cutting rickshaw-wallahs, potholes and road bumps. Determined, I put the key in the ignition again making the car purr like a loving kitten. As Sneha gave instructions, I put the car in gear and finally moved forward.
In the next few days, as I slowly began to drive in the lanes near my house, the inner child inside me couldn’t stop jumping up and down with joy. I was brimming with youthful energy and hope and I had never felt younger! I realised that, yeah, age was just a number. I had always been independent but had never felt so untethered. The proudest moment for me was when I took my entire family for a drive to Chowpatty to have some lip-smacking ice-cream.
On another occasion, I learnt a great life lesson when I made a wrong turn and drove on for more than 2 kilometres just to realise that I was lost. Well, all I did then was to drive back to where I began and reassessed where I was headed, and bingo, I reached my destination in less than 3 minutes. Well, since we don’t have a GPS for wherever we are headed out to in life, remembering where you came from, can help you find where you’re going!
When I learnt how to drive, I felt empowered. It wasn’t as though I disliked my drivers, but I always wanted to do things on my own. A bit like how I didn’t dislike my job but wanted to run my own business. That’ when I felt inspired once again to give entrepreneurship a chance. As I executed a perfect U-turn near ‘shirtless wonder’ Salman Khan’s home (sorry patidev), I realised I was ready for a U-turn in my life – that I was ready to be a mom-trepreneur again. My experience learning how to drive encouraged me to get behind the steering wheel of my second entrepreneurial adventure, a collaborative workspace in Santacruz. As I welcome creative freelancers, funded start-ups and agencies to set their offices at Workbay, I say a little prayer and silently thank the universe.