The year was 2016 and Varsha Adusumilli was attending her best friend’s wedding in Jaipur. During the course of her stay in the Pink City, she met and held conversations with many of the bride’s cousins and relatives from nearby towns. The girls, in particular, were curious about Varsha. Hailing from Bangalore, Adusumilli looked different and dressed unlike the local people present at the wedding. The 29-year-old, who was then working at a venture capital firm, was met with myriad questions which seemed to follow a standard pattern: Didi, how old are you? Are you married – are your parents worried that you are not? How much money do you make? You travelled all the way from Bangalore to here, all by yourself, on a flight? You’ve been abroad?

Varsha was fascinated by the girls’ initial set of questions. And as the young ladies became more comfortable with her presence, they began to ask her questions that mattered to and bore deep relevance to them: Didi, I really want to become a dentist but my parents want me to marry next year – how should I speak to them about this? Didi, I want an internship in Delhi or Mumbai – how should I go about that and where should I apply?

Image Credit: Shravya Kag

For Adusumilli, this transition in the pattern of questions was a moment of epiphany. She realised, “when young women see others who are slightly unconventional from their frame of reference, yet relatable, they too want to pursue their own unique dreams.”  She stresses the aspect of relatability here. “If you show them, let’s say, a Vani Kola or a Chanda Kochhar – they are far too out and ahead from their journeys and are intimidating from their frame of reference. But if you show them someone who is one or two steps away, then they too want to follow their own career paths. The relatability aspect is supremely important to make aspirations more accessible,” observes Varsha.

“When young women see others who are slightly unconventional from their frame of reference, yet relatable, they too want to pursue their own unique dreams.” -Varsha Adusumilli

This is why Varsha Adusumilli sought to bring the journeys of 15 incredible millennial women to the forefront of public vision. SheThePeople.TV converses with the author about her book Wonder Girls: Success Stories of Millennials Who Fought to Do it Their Way and what the future of India looks like with millennials paving the way.  

Image Credit: Juggernaut

If she can see it, she can be it

“Since my goal was to showcase relatable role models for young girls and women in India, I naturally picked young women who have an average age of about 28 to feature in the book. That they were millennials was accidental,” says the author about finding the real-life stories featured in Wonder Girls. Young women, today, want to see role models who could be their next-door neighbours, someone who speaks their language, looks and dresses like them and is relatable. Varsha emphasises that the millennials she knows work, “insanely hard and are driven single-mindedly by their sense of purpose” as are the women featured in her book. She wanted to highlight the idea – if she can see it, she can be it, but whom she sees has to be a person that is relatable and not a far off object.

The trailblazing women featured in Wonder Girls are not just from big cities but also from the hinterlands of India. The book chronicles the journeys of an Indian Rugby Team Captain from Pune, a Scientist from a small village in Sikkim, a Fitness Coach from Surat, a Flight Commander from Mumbai, a Photographer from Vijayawada, a Neurosurgeon, an Artist from Bangalore raised by a single mother, Jaipur and Delhi raised Particle Physicist at the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), a Brand Marketer from Saligoan, a Jabalpur raised Casting Director, a successful Radio Jockey whose childhood was spent struggling to learn English, the first Indian woman to rock climb on the 7.2b+ scale, a Lawyer turned classical dancer and a self-made Visual Artist. “My goal was to keep the professions and geographical backgrounds as diverse as I could while being as comprehensive as possible,” reveals Adusumilli.

The women featured in the book give me camaraderie.

“The women featured in the book give me camaraderie. They give me a sense of sisterhood and friendship. I love how each one of them focuses on creating a life of passion. They work very hard. They are ambitious. They are smart. They are purposeful. They are all things I admire and respect in people,” expresses Varsha.

The author first began writing Wonder Girls by reaching out to friends. “To be honest I never set out to write this book,” admits Adusumilli, “I wanted it to be a medium publication where a bunch of us could post our own journeys. But that idea bombed miserably for many reasons.” She had a clear agenda and made a list of professions and geographies that she wished to include. She wanted to keep the outreach focused and her network was “kind enough to make a ton of introductions.”

The narratives speak of the truth in each woman’s trials

The stories in Wonder Girls are not “high-level gyan” but narratives that speak of the truth in each woman’s trials, triumphs, backstories and journeys. “Young girls and women need the affirmation that great careers are possible for them,” asserts Varsha Adusumilli. She focuses on in-depth, practical stories of the role models right next-door – your didis, if you will. The chapters are detailed, revealing how each of the women got from point A to point B. Many of the author’s own mentors read early chapters and wrote advance testimonials for the book and she is thankful to them for championing her work.

“Young girls and women need the affirmation that great careers are possible for them”

The Writing Process

Each of the women featured in Wonder Girls instantly connected with the cause of the book and came onboard. “I had an extensive questionnaire for each one, which means I spent a few hours, prior to the interview, studying about each person and each profession in order to ask relevant questions. Keeping the conversations personal yet not intimidating was very important,” she shares about the process of recording the stories. Her friend, Sonal Biyani, helped the author find volunteer transcribers. “I did one first draft, followed by one rewrite, followed by a review with the publisher. Each of the women have been fantastic and highly supportive,” relates Adusumilli about her writing process.

Image Credit: Varsha Adusumilli

Varsha draws on the themes that emerged out of conversations with the wonder girls featured in the book, while suggesting what one can keep in mind when working in the professional space:

  • Remember that there are many role models out there to seek inspiration and get practical inputs from
  • Create a tribe of like-minded people around you who not only inspire but also guide and help you to achieve greater things – do things and projects with them, do something for India.
  • Learn to ask good questions
  • Learn to ask for help
  • Constantly learn
  • Have a sense of self.
  • Exercise. Be active.
  • Eat well.
  • Read a lot.

For young women, Wonder Girls is about discovering a sense of camaraderie and finding relatable role models in the people around them. Young women can derive a ton of confidence from reading this book. “At least all my early readers attest to that,” inserts Adusumilli cheekily. For parents, this book gives them access to the voice of a younger generation of women. “It’s important to gauge the pulse and dreams of younger women in India. Men have to be a part of this conversation too, and they will benefit a lot by reading female storytelling and the viewpoint of women,” notes Varsha. She also underlines the media’s role of import in shaping the world, “They must make it a point to feature as many women as men wherever possible, and make more and more role models accessible for men and women that are balanced.”

“It’s important to gauge the pulse and dreams of younger women in India. Men have to be a part of this conversation too, and they will benefit a lot by reading female storytelling and the viewpoint of women.”

“It has been a great privilege to know each one of the women in Wonder Girls and to call some of them my dear friends today. They give you the perspective of young women in India and represent a new age in India. 

Feature Image Credit: Shravya Kag (one of the amazing women whose story is featured in Wonder Girls), Juggernaut.

Wonder Girls: Success Stories of Millennials Who Fought to Do it Their Way, by Varsha Adusumilli, has been published by Juggernaut. It is priced at Rs. 299, and is available online and in bookstores.

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