No one thought I could run a family business: Anu Aga

Anu Aga

Two women, both strong, articulate and adored. A roomful of women raring to hear them share their views at a function organised by platform set up for women to voice their stories and opinions. There could not have been a better recipe for a sizzling afternoon full of food for thought at the Women Writers Fest Pune says author Sudha Menon

Pune’s favorite women, former Thermax chairperson and social change activist, Anu Aga, and Commissioner of Police, Rashmi Shukla , joined me in speaking about ‘The Legacy we can leave for our daughters’ and needless to say, it was a thought-provoking discussion on everything from gender stereotypes, workplace  politics, the qualities and best practices that women can cultivate to lead fulfilled, meaningful lives.

Growing up in a conservative Parsi household where, Anu was told at every step that her only job was to find a boy, get married and have children. “No one thought I could run the family business or have a career of my own,” she said adding that thankfully , her husband, Thermax chairperson Rohinton Aga, encouraged her to find meaningful occupation in the company’s human resources department where she eventually discovered her latent talent for people management.

Aga raised her own children, son Kurush and daughter Meher-the latter is now non-executive chairperson of Thermax- in a gender- neutral home where each was encouraged to follow their individual passion. “I never told Meher to be ladylike and not to have boyfriends. Neither did I tell my Kurush that he could not play with dolls or that he could not cry because he was a boy. (Kurush was killed in a car accident when he was in his early twenties.)

Anu, a strong proponent for empowering women, cautioned the gathering of women against raising charges of sexual harassment at work in a flippant manner and said that women at the workplace need to first firmly object to any such unwelcome overtures. Only if it does not stop despite her objection should the woman employee escalate it to the higher ups, she said pointing out that needlessly raising the bogey time and again could lead to it being not taken seriously when a genuine case of harassment occurred with other women.

Asked about the legacy she would like to leave for her granddaughter, Anu said it would be the freedom to lead the life of her choosing. “The freedom to make her own life choices can be a very empowering thing for every woman,” she said.

Pune’s Commissioner of Police, Rashmi Shukla appealed to parents to forge a relationship of trust and transparency with their daughters. “Tell them they can reach out to you for anything, anytime,” she said adding that her own daughter and her son too, shared every part of their lives with her.

Shukla, who said she was raised in a gender neutral household by her liberal grandmother, spoke about getting married into a conservative household where she forged bonds based on mutual respect. “The first time I visited their hometown I knew I was expected to cover my head with my saree. I could have stridently objected saying that as a police officer I did not believe in these practices. But I was there for only a day and I did not want to hurt their feelings and so I covered by head and won their hearts. Wearing short dresses doesn’t make us modern and neither does wearing a saree make us conservative. We need is to change our mindsets, not our dresses,” she said, to much applause.

Shukla also urged women who find themselves in uncomfortable situations with men, be they colleagues, friends or relatives, to express their objection loudly and clearly just as soon as they sense trouble. “While parents and the police will always be there to help out, we must teach our girls to sense and nip trouble in the bud immediately. We have to make our women physically and mentally strong to protect themselves in threatening situations,” she said.