If the woman in your life decides to spend some time with her women friends, understand that it is the best sort of therapy she can ever get! Yesterday I treated myself to five uplifting hours of the same at Narika’s first annual South Asian Women’s Conference appropriately titled “Rejuvenate: Mind, Body, Spirit.”
The Lotus Room at the India Community Center in Milpitas was packed to bursting when I entered at 10:30, just in time to catch the tail end of the opening speech by Susmita G. Thomas, the Indian Consul General based in San Francisco. A career diplomat, Ms. Thomas is a remarkable role-model for women seeking to balance the challenging demands of a career that involves lots of travel, and caring for the home and family. She admitted that she had a lot of help and support in the latter part of her duties and that finding the balance was an intensely personal choice that did not have any easy templates.
Ms. Thomas was peppered with questions regarding the Domestic Violence Act in India, which came into effect in 2006. Given the interest in the topic in the room, it would not be remiss to infer that despite the presence and untiring efforts of domestic violence advocacy groups like Narika, the issue is still of burning interest to families in the area.
After the excellent speech and Q and A session, the first of the three workshops for the day began. Anchored by Saadia Ahmed, a financial planner and Christine Parlour, an Associate Professor of Finance at Berkeley, the workshop provided a basic undertanding of finance and financial planning issues. The session revealed, not surprisingly, that most women, even those highly educated and in high-paying careers, prefer to leave financial matters to their spouses. If the aim of the workshop was to communicate to women that they needed to take charge of their financial future, it was very successful as attendees crowded around Ms. Ahmed after the talk asking her for more details.
The workshop after lunch was termed “Dil Chahta Hai” – Following Your Bliss, where yours truly joined a panel of speakers who had chosen to forge alternative careers that suited their deepest interests and desires. Painter Tanya Momi and World of Good’s Jagadha Sivan’s stories were familiar to me, but Sukhi Singh of Sukhi’s Foods served up the tastiest morsel of information when she revealed that the excellent lunch we had had moments ago was made up of her own frozen food products! The story of her 16 year old company was inspirational and I hope to bring it to WNI readers one of these days.
The Narika team saved the most entertaining workshop fo the day for the last. This one, titled “Sundar Hoon Aisi Mein ” focussed on self worth and self respect. Priya Kasturi, who along with a demanding career manages to find time to teach a variety of aerobics classes at ICC, led the group in a short but fun exercise session, followed by some simple rules of physical fitness. After counselor Naheed Shaikh led an interactive session on the importance of paying attention to mental health issues, Catherine Toyooka of Good Vibrations had the audience in splits with an entertaining talk about sexual well being- with plenty of visual aids!
Fremont City Council member Anu Natarajan closed the session with some ideas on community participation. She emphasized that most cities in the Bay Area have commissions and boards that are staffed by volunteers and it is the easiest thing in the world to find a way to participate in your city’s development.
Put together on a stringent budget but with an abundance of willing hands, Narika’s Rejuvenate conference was a delight to attend. I came away refreshed by the honest interactions with the talented speakers and a reinforced respect for the hard-working, high achieving women who shared the room with me. I was reminded of Charlotte Whitton’s quote, “Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”