When you hail from a conservative Marwari family from small town Bhopal, your life is pretty much laid out for you. Marriage by the age of 23, children by 25 and you are thereafter expected to devote the rest of your life taking care of the home and hearth. This is exactly what Kanika Tekriwal grew up hearing throughout her impressionable years. Nothing, however, could rein in her spirit. Determined to follow her dreams, she began by pursuing a corporate career, wanting to eventually turn to entrepreneurship. Till fate intervened in the form of a dreaded disease!

Defying the doctor’s prognosis she managed to rid her body of cancer cells, in the process emerging stronger and more determined than ever before to achieve her entrepreneurial dreams. Today her venture JetSetGo, popularly referred to as the Uber of the skies, is redefining aviation. Hailed as one of the 100 most inspirational women of the world by a BBC Survey, 2015, hers is a heart-warming story of the relentless pursuit of hope!

Before she embarked on her entrepreneurial journey, however, her parents convinced her to come home to Bhopal for at least 15 days with the promise of paying serious attention to her business plans. It is at this time that fate intervened to upturn all their plans.

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She remembers visiting the doctor for a nagging pain in her arm, all the while preparing herself mentally for the lineup of boys that her parents had arranged for her to meet in the hope of getting her married off within the year. The doctor, a family friend, was unable to figure out the source of pain but suggested the name of a clinic for further testing without giving away any signs of his medical suspicions. She recalls how the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that affects the lymphatic system, caught her completely off guard. From here began her journey of rediscovery, of strength and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds.

Kanika Tekriwal
Kanika Tekriwal

I get a glimpse into her never-say-die attitude as she describes her brush with cancer. “The first doctor I met told me you have very little time. I was 22 at that time and I said, I am going to come and see you here after 40 years, not for treatment, but to prove that I am alive and kicking,” she says determination writ large over her face. The journey to battle cancer took her to the doorsteps of numerous doctors till she eventually found one whom she could trust completely and who in turn had faith in her ability to survive the deadly disease. The search for the right doctor, she explains, ended up teaching her an important life lesson. “The first major lesson I learned here was that choosing your people right is very important; keep looking till you find them, and believe in them completely.” Cancer, she believes has molded her into the person she is today. In her own words “Cancer made me a strong person ready to face any challenge; and most importantly, to never give in. So when we began work on JetSetGo and things didn’t go my way – I didn’t get upset, but just focused on what we could do next,” she adds.

The first doctor I met told me you have very little time. I was 22 at that time and I said, I am going to come and see you here after 40 years, not for treatment, but to prove that I am alive and kicking.

She regards cancer as a blessing for not only did it gave her the much needed reprieve from parental pressure but also gave her time to introspect and give shape to her business plans. As she describes it “‘Cancer happened and everything else fell aside. It gave me time to think of a lot of stuff and most importantly, it gave me a lot of courage.”

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Nine months into her fight against cancer, and numerous chemotherapies later, she got a clean chit from her doctor. The memory of that day remains fresh in her mind. “The day I recovered, I packed my bags and moved to Delhi because I knew that sitting in Bhopal, I was not going to be able to do anything.” Plus there was this burning desire to get away from well-meaning relatives who mourned her lack of marriageability as a survivor of a deadly disease.

Dare to Be, a series by Rinku Paul and Puja Singhal brings us fearless women who gave wings to their dreams.

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