I have always been very ambitious. Since I was in school, I took part in every competition, stood for all elections and crammed hard for all exams. As I entered college I became a fierce believer of women’s rights which then transformed into a respect for ‘human duties’, that is, if you were lucky enough to have got a good education and intelligent enough to have done well at it, it would be a shame to use it just as a passport to finding a good husband. You had to do something with your life, it wasn’t just a right or a prerogative, but a duty, a responsibility to society, I believed.
As soon as I went to Australia to complete my post grad, I took up a job. In fact at one time, I was working 3 part-time jobs whilst also studying in Melbourne. I just believed that at 21 I should be able to support myself financially. I completed my post-grad in Australia and returned to marry my college sweetheart and begin my retail career here in India in 1997. For the next 12 years, I slogged my butt off. I worked fulltime in various organisations–Sony Music, Crossword, Globus, Future Group. When I was 26 I even set up my own retail store (a children’s bookstore called Kidztown). I enjoyed all of this, travelled, earned money, managed an independent business with a large team of people, felt strong and independent and important.
And then in 2008 after being married for 10 years, I got pregnant, consciously. I just felt it was time. I was 34 and realised that the corporate ladder was never ending and I so badly wanted a child. I’ve always wanted to me a mom, since I was a kid! But I took a long leave of absence from work, because I was just not sure when/whether I would return to work.
Neel was born in Mar 2009 and every single cliché about a child turning your world upside down came true. I was smitten, in love, giddy headed just looking at him, even enjoyed being woken up in the middle of the night when he was a baby. It was the most amazing feeling. And then it hit me, I was not the same person anymore. I just could not imagine going back to my old life. To working 12 hour days, waking up on a flight and not knowing whether I was going away from or returning to Mumbai. We live alone so there was no joint family support system at home. And I just could not imagine leaving Neel with a maid at home while I battled it out in the office, through traffic, navigating politics and pushing my team to achieve targets. All I really wanted was to be with him. So, I quit. The decision to stay home full time was not one of sacrifice, but one of greed. When he was 4 months old, I got offered a job in Singapore with Asia-Pacific responsibility handling 10 Asian markets. Again, the answer was an immediate no, much to the surprise of people who’d known me all my life to be a go-getter.
I don’t think anyone but a mother can truly relate to what I am sharing. The deep sense of happiness, satisfaction and love that a child brings is really unparalleled and it was just me wanting more and more of that.
When Neel was 6 months old, I decided that I wanted to start something of my own again. But this time around, I would work on my own terms, on my own time and choose something I was really passionate about. The idea of FunOKPlease, struck me one morning when I heard my Australian sis-in-law complain about how she could not find any local content in books, which spoke of modern, current day themes. I decided to create contemporary Indian content for young children. There’s a lot of ‘imported’ content that comes in – books from Disney, BBC etc and there’s heaps of Indian mythology. Every possible story of Krishna, Ganeshaetc is available in so many avtaars. But where is the contemporary stuff? Stories, characters, settings, a context which is Indian, yet modern, urban. A context that kids can relate to, see around them. Its easier to locate a book about London or Paris for children in our bookstores than one about our own city. This is the gap that we are trying to fill
Over the last 3 years we have published 14 books including the popular “Adventures of Toto the Auto”, “366 words in Mumbai/Delhi/Kolkata/Bengaluru”. “Your Turn Now”, Alphabet Dress-Up, Number March etc. 9 of these 14 books have either won an award, been on a bestseller list or been in a list such as “Top 50 books that every Indian parent much read to their child” etc. Our books, most of which are in their 2nd or 3rd edition have been adapted to award winning apps and also puzzles. We also publish book exclusively for certain schools and organisations. All in all, it’s been an extremely satisfying journey as an entrepreneur. There is a lot of struggle especially with marketing and distribution, given that we are competing with publishers who have been around for decades and have catalogues with over 500 titles!. So it’s a real challenge to stand out and create a niche for ourselves. Another satisfying element of FunOKPlease along with all the really sweet and loving messages we get from kids and parents across India, has been our book launch events. At each launch event since 2013 we have tied up with an NGO that supports underprivileged kids and designed the event as a fundraiser. Through our last 3 titles we have raised nearly 8 lacs for NGOs such as the Vatsalya Foundation, Bal Asha Trust, Cuddles for Cancer Babies. Also a tiny percentage of sales from each copy sold goes back to these NGOs something which if of immense satisfaction to my team, authors, illustrators and me.
Personally, being the wife of a famous author (my husband Amish wrote the popular Shiva Trilogy) is also a two sided coin. While I am extremely proud of his success and play an integral role as part of his marketing and editorial team, it’s also a challenge to carve out my own identity and place in the sun. Thankfully, I didn’t change my surname after marriage, a decision which has proven to be a real blessing at this juncture of my life as I get to go about my life and do my own business without being known simply as ‘someone’s wife’. As a parent too I am lucky that I got guided to choose this industry and business as Neel is growing up with a love for reading, is able to accompany me to many events, even helps me in the office although he is just 5. I run a lot of ideas past him, take his views on fonts, illustration styles, marketing ideas and its just amazing to share my passion with him.
So at the end of the day, I have found something I love doing. FunOKPlease gives me the creative, intellectual and social stimulation that I seek along with the biggest bonus which is getting to work on my own terms. Money? That’s a compromise for now, as the business is yet to earn me the kind of money I earned as my corporate salary. But I am not complaining, as it is growing and standing on its own feet. Not having the fat paycheque at the end of the day is a small price to pay for my freedom, for my peace of mind, for my feeling of ‘doing something worthwhile’ and most importantly for the privilege of watching my son Neel grow each day before my eyes. For this I feel truly blessed.