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Report Dated April 28, 2016 7:46 PM
Swathed in sweat, the pale pink tattered cotton sari clung to Anila Jyothi Reddy’s slim frame.
Bent over in the rice paddy field, the 19-year-old farm labourer was painstakingly planting paddy saplings in her village in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh in southern India. She couldn’t decide what was worse – the sweltering sun, the leeches sucking the blood from her toes or the pangs of hunger because the last meal she had was a day ago.
Her misery doubled whenever she glanced at her little daughters – two-year-old Beena and six-month-old Bindu – who were crying of hunger on a patch of land near her. She knew that after toiling for over 10 hours all she would receive as wages at the end of the day would be a meagre Rs.5 – barely enough to feed her girls.
Born in a poor farmer’s family and married to a poverty-stricken farmer, hunger and desperation were not new to her. And she knew that would be her daughters’ fate too.
And then something snapped inside the young woman. Dejected with life and overcome with frustration, she moved towards a well nearby. ‘This is the end of the road,’ Jyothi told herself. Depressed and with dark thoughts clouding her mind, she peered into the 200-m-deep well, ready to jump in.
At just that moment, the sharp cry of hunger from her toddler broke her chain of thoughts.
She paused, looked at her children, then broke out in tears and ran towards them.
‘I can’t give up so easily,’ she said to herself. Instead, Jyothi decided then to work harder and give her children a good life.’
Although the incident occurred 25 years ago, Jyothi still shudders as she recalls the day, which triggered in her a desire to chart a new path and change her destiny.
Today, the 46-year-old woman is the CEO of a $15 million software recruiting company she launched in 2001 – Key Software Solutions – in Phoenix, US. Living a comfortable life with her daughters, who are both engineers, she is also doing her bit now to change the lives of poor women in India. This meteoric rise to success might read like a Hollywood script, but for Jyothi it wasn’t quite as simple.
‘It was not easy,’ admits Jyothi, a champion of children’s rights and women’s empowerment, and frequently invited to give motivational talks across the world. ‘There were a lot of hardships and challenges. But they taught me the value of life and made me think beyond the situation.’
Now Jyothi regularly meets with leaders around Asia to discuss the cause of orphan children, always updates her 33,000 Facebook followers about the several initiatives she undertakes, and makes frequent visits to India to deliver motivational talks.
‘I got more than I set out to achieve,’ Jyothi says ‘Now I want to give something back to society.’ From a young age, Jyothi harboured dreams of making it big.
Her father Venkat Reddy, a farmer, and mother Saraswatiamma struggled to raise their five children – two daughters and three sons. Jyothi was their second born.
Venkat’s monthly income of Rs.400 was barely enough to bring food to the table. ‘We’d survive on two meals a day, wear torn clothes, had no footwear and lived in a thatched hut with no electricity,’ Jyothi recalls.
When a drought worsened his financial condition, Venkat decided to admit Jyothi, then nine, and her seven-year-old sister Vijaya Lakshmi, to an orphanage – the Bala Sadanam, in Hanamkonda, Warangal.
Although Jyothi and her sister had three meals and education at the orphanage, they were extremely homesick and lonely. ‘Staying away from our family was really traumatic,’ she says.
‘Almost every night we’d cry yearning for our parents and siblings.’
Her sister Vijaya was inconsolable, and when even after several days she could not adjust to orphanage life, the authorities requested her father to take her back. Jyothi decided to continue there so she could earn a decent education. ‘I’d get three square meals plus I had the option to study, so I decided to stay back,’ she says.
‘I enjoyed school and dreamt of eventually earning a doctorate.’
But one day, just after she completed grade 10, her father arrived and said he was taking her back home. ‘I was overjoyed to see him but my happiness quickly turned to tears when I learnt the reason for his visit – to tell me that my marriage had been fixed to a poor farmer, Sammi Reddy.’
Jyothi protested and pleaded with her family that she wanted to study, ‘but they said they’d given their word’.
So, against her will in 1985 Jyothi was married to a poor farmer. ‘From dreaming of an education at 16, I was suddenly thrown into marriage, doing household chores and working in the fields.’
The work was tough. She had to be up at dawn, cook breakfast for the entire family, then work in their own fields as well as on others’ fields for paltry amounts. Her in-laws and her husband also worked on fields, but their combined income was not enough to get three proper meals.
By 18, Jyothi had two children. ‘It was really tough raising the kids and working on the fields,’ she says.
‘There were days when I didn’t have money to buy food for my kids.’
To make matters worse, her marital life was not all that rosy. ‘My husband and I quarrelled often, and I was feeling extremely frustrated and dejected in life,’ she says.
And then came the day that changed her life, in early 1989.
‘It was my lowest point, but that day something sparked inside me. Hearing my daughter’s innocent cry brought me back to my senses. I decided to try once more and change my life.’ She knocked on a few doors seeking a job and a few months later landed a government job that involved educating villagers at night. ‘Although my salary of Rs.120 was small, it made a difference in our lives. I could now buy some clothes and footwear for my kids.’
A year later, she got a promotion and a pay rise. But it involved travelling to neighbouring villages to build youth clubs and women’s associations, which her in-laws and husband frowned upon. ‘They are conservative and did not approve of my leaving the house, plus they resented caring for my kids in my absence.’
When the bickering at home worsened, Jyothi decided to move out with her daughters. ‘I wanted to carve a path for myself,’ she says.
On May 21, 1990, the mother and daughters arrived in Hanamkonda, a small town. ‘All I had was two saris, a few clothes for the kids, a bag of rice and a few pans,’ says Jyothi, who still had her job that now paid her Rs.190 a month.
Jyothi rented a room for Rs.60 per month and enrolled her daughters in a local school.
‘It was a tough life and I often wondered whether I’d taken the right decision.
‘There were times when I’d rummage through garbage bins for discarded vegetables, clean them and cook food for my kids with them,’ she recalls.
To earn more, Jyothi began stitching dresses. ‘I borrowed a sewing machine from a friend and started making dresses. This helped me earn an additional Rs.20-25 every day.’ A few months later, she got a job as a librarian and during her free hours, learnt typewriting. ‘I was determined to learn and change my life.’
Two years later Jyothi got a job as a teacher in a primary school in a nearby town. ‘I had to be up at 3 am to prepare food for my kids and then leave for school at 6,’ she says. Travelling nearly two hours by train was exhausting but Jyothi decided to make money off it. ‘I borrowed 10 saris from an acquaintance who ran a textile shop and sold them to passengers. I’d earn Rs.20 as commission from each sari sale.’
Meanwhile, she enrolled for an online graduation programme and when she completed it, got a job as a teacher in a high school. Her salary was a respectable Rs.6,000 and her lifestyle improved marginally. She also enrolled for a master’s degree and two years later was a proud master’s degree holder in sociology and public administration.
With education came promotions, and in 1998 she was made girl-child development officer. Her job involved setting up early childhood centres and village playschools.
Then a chance meeting with a cousin, Jaya Lakshmi, who lived in the US and was visiting her town, changed her life again.
‘On a whim I asked her if she would take me to the US,’ Jyothi says. ‘I did not even have a passport and could not speak English, yet I could not resist exploring the possibilities of working in the US.’
Her cousin promised to help her and with the help of a friend’s brother who ran a software company in California, she secured a visa to the US. In May 2000 Jyothi boarded a flight to San Francisco, bidding a teary farewell to her daughters, who stayed back in a residential school as Jyothi had decided she would not disrupt their lives.
In the US, Jyothi applied for programming jobs, but not finding much success started doing odd jobs – ‘helping in a cassette shop, babysitting at times and even working at a gas station.
‘I also began watching a lot of TV serials so I could pick up English as I wasn’t fluent in the language.’
After several odd jobs, she finally landed one as a recruiter in a software company in South Carolina. A year later in 2001 she visited India to see her daughters and relatives.
‘One well-wisher suggested I become an entrepreneur,’ she says.
Back in the US after the vacation, Jyothi did some research, and set up a software recruiting firm. ‘I found there was a huge market and with my savings of $40,000 I rented a small office in Phoenix, Arizona, and set up my company called Key Software Services in October 2001,’ says Jyothi. She hired two employees and ‘put my everything into it’. The hard work paid off. Today Key Software has over 200 employees and an annual turnover of $15 million.
Jyothi brought her daughters to the US and enrolled them in universities for engineering degrees.
‘I had a tough life. But I didn’t want to give my daughters the same miserable life. This thought drove me to achieve unthinkable goals and overcome the challenges that came my way,’ she reminisces.
Then Jyothi decided it was time to give back to society. Her early days in the orphanage had sensitised her about the cause of orphans living in India. ‘There are millions of orphans living in India. I want to give them an identity and enlist more support from the government for their needs,’ she says.
A champion of women empowerment, Jyothi has spoken about her inspirational journey at various schools, colleges and forums across India. ‘I tell women to be independent; they should not consider marriage as the end of their life but only a part of their life,’ says Jyothi, whose biography titled Aina Nenu Odipoledu (Yet I am not Defeated) has been published in Telugu.
Her life’s journey has also been included as a chapter in the English textbooks of Kakatiya University, Andhra Pradesh.
Jyothi’s is confident her motto – you are the creator of your own destiny – can become a life mantra for everyone.
Courtesy : Gulf News
Report Dated November 9, 2015 6:30 PM
Madhur Jaffrey is known to Americans as an author of Indian cookbooks. And with good reason: she has written more than two dozens of them.
But that’s just the start. The woman often called “the Julia Child of Indian cookery” was born in Delhi, and came to the United States in the late 1950s, eventually landing among the New York glitterati. She started her career as an actress – something she continues to do – but soon found herself deeply rooted in the world of food. She has hosted cooking shows both in the US and in Britain, and helped launch the renowned New York Indian restaurant Dawat.
Now 82, her newest book, Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking, is out in stores.
What was the impetus for Vegetarian India? Why this book and why now?
I’ve never done a book that’s all Indian and all vegetarian. There are many areas of India that I don’t know and many cuisines I don’t know, and I thought this would be a good way to learn about the cuisines I don’t know anything about.
When you came to the United States in the late 1950s, you landed first in Vermont, where you taught pantomime, correct? How did that happen?
I needed a job. I was in the theater and was very kindly employed by the Catholic University theater team. They said “Why don’t you come in the summer and work with our summer stock company,” which used to live in Winooski, Vermont. I joined the company to do odd jobs with them. And get a visa. It was a technical way of coming.
And from there you went to New York City. What were you hoping to find there?
The theater brought me to New York. (My first husband) Saeed (Jaffrey) also studied at Catholic. He graduated and came to New York and I came with him. I was working as a guide at the U.N. at the time, and doing theater in the Village. We were doing off-Broadway. The way I could stay was to have a visa by working at the U.N. Then I could do theater, for which I was earning something like $10 a week.
You and Saeed also introduced Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, the famous film duo. How did that come about?
We were the only Indian actors in town at that time. Ivory had just done his first film – it was a short film – called The Sword and the Flute, about Indian miniature paintings. And he needed someone to narrate that. He went to see (Saeed’s) play and asked him to do it. That’s how Saeed brought him home for the first time. We all became very good friends.
Around the same time, Ismail Merchant was here, studying at (New York University) business school. He met us because he had dreams of doing theater, films, anything. He just wanted to be famous. He wasn’t sure how he was going to be famous, but it was going to be in the world of film and theater. His first idea was to get an Indian dancer and have her perform at Radio City Music Hall.
His dreams were so big. And to us ridiculous. But to him, everything was achievable. He brought that spirit of great adventure and far-sightedness to our little group.
The Indian community in New York must have been very small at that time. Did everyone know each other? What was it like?
All those (Indians) who came were doctors and statisticians and engineers. America wasn’t taking people who weren’t these things because that wasn’t what was needed. We were very rare, these people in the arts. We knew all the people in the arts because that’s where our interest lay. We knew the Indians who were around and other people who were actors but weren’t Indians. It was an intellectual bookish, artish world.
Were you fully embraced by the non-Indian art scene?
As curiosities, yes. But as somebody to give work to, no. It was very hard to get work. That’s why we needed other jobs, all of us. I am in the art world; I have one daughter who’s an actress, one who is a writer. The actress daughter has the same problem I did. But she is two steps ahead. Indians now are more in shows. People are writing more parts for Indians and they can play non-Indians. In House of Cards, my daughter played a Latino. (In my time) they never thought of us as secretaries or lawyers. We were just Indians, and they were always the shieky types. They came vaguely from the Middle East.
What do you make of Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari and Indians on Pizza Hut commercials?
It’s changing. This new generation is getting much more work. My daughter’s generation and her friends – all of these people you mention – she knows all these people because they’ve all been at it together for a long time.
You once told the BBC you wanted to be the next Marlon Brando. What did that mean?
Everybody dreams of saying “Thank you so much for the Academy Award.” But I left India with dreams of being another Marlon Brando. I adored his method of acting and I adored him. I had met him in India when he was passing through. I thought, “I want to have that intensity, that depth.” That you go into a part and you really find it inside you, and it comes out in this glorious rich form that it did with Marlon Brando. But there wasn’t the opportunity. There just wasn’t.
How and why did you transition from theater to cooking?
I said, “What else could I do to make money?” (I was getting divorced.) I had three little kids. I had no future. English literature was my major in college. I could write. I started writing about any subject that they wanted. Then one day, Holiday Magazine, which was a big magazine at that time, hired me to do a story about what I ate as a child in India. I did the story.
I had just done the (Merchant-Ivory) film Shakespeare Wallah, so my name was about. Then (New York Times food editor) Craig Claiborne did an article about me. That was Ismail’s doing. He had the ability to get to know anybody he wanted. He must have walked up to him at some point and said, “You must do an article about this woman who appears in my wonderful film.” After that story things took off.
You’ve published roughly 30 cookbooks. But you’ve never really stopped acting. You’ve appeared in film, television, on stage, and you’re still acting today. Are you an actor who cooks, or a cook who acts?
I always say, “I’m an actress who cooks.” I see myself as an actress.
How do you think others see you?
Totally differently. Some people say, “Oh you still act?” They’re not aware of that aspect of my life.
Courtesy : AP
Report Dated November 2, 2015 3:43 PM
In July 2014, internationally renowned stand-up comic Vasu Primlani found the walls closing in on her. Karnataka’s ‘tree woman’ Thimmakka had filed a complaint that her name was being misused by Primlani to raise funds and set up an environmental trust in the US called ‘Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education.’ She accused Primlani of cheating and forgery. Primlani was charged and taken into custody in new Delhi after being apprehended from the airport there. This month, The Karnataka High Court quashed the case after Primlani contended that her NGO was closed back in 2010 itself and donations given to the NGO were used for activities related to environmental protection. The High Court accepted her contention and quashed the case. She speaks to us about the fallout of the case and her plans now.
What impact has the case had on you?
I lost 10 kg in seven days while I was put in police custody and prison. I went through severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder subsequently. My life and liberty were taken from me. To date, I don’t know what liberty feels like. This carefully orchestrated plan with extortion demands, threats, official prosecution, derision and judgment from the press, proclaiming me guilty before the trial ever began, went a long way toward taking away my basic freedoms and damaging my personal and professional well-being. It was very difficult in jail, as it is for any innocent person who is prosecuted unjustly.
I wasn’t able to string a thought in my head for months afterward, my ability to earn a living was severely impacted with the smear campaign as well. I was not able to provide for my aged parents. My parents and family went through incredible trauma at the hands of a state that has proven that they will hold me guilty until proven innocent. After this torture of one year and five months, I have finally been exonerated by the Karnataka High Court.
How are you coping now?
I am trying to patch my life back again; I was also denied the liberty to do my first Ironman triathlon – a race I had been training for eight months, 16 hours a week. All that blood, toil, tears and sweat were also laid to waste. I am trying to get back on my feet.
What do you have to say about Thimmakka?
I don’t think that is the question for me. I think that is a question for the state of Karnataka.
What do YOU think of state machinery which harnessed its press, lawyers, judges, and police, to conduct a witchhunt on a single woman they all knew was innocent? What do YOU think of the extortion threats this lone woman received from these factions, that the beating would stop as soon as she bowed down and gave them money? You had decided Thimmakka is right because she is Dalit, and the NRI is wrong because she is American. This NRI who has been decorated in the US, UK and India for her honesty, integrity, and fearlessness. A judge in your own state completely exonerated me after reviewing all documents and falsified ‘evidence’ against me.
Even after one year and five months of grave torture and human rights violations at the hands of the state, they were still trying to desperately prove wrongdoing when there was none. Karnataka, never mind what I think of Thimmakka; what do YOU think of her, and equally importantly, of yourselves?
As a gay comic in India, how do you feel about India currently?
I have seen prosecution at the institutional level, and yes, it has affected me personally. I feel India is being torn in two different directions – one toward the 21st century, democratic values and recognition of human rights, and the other toward the dark ages and the Wild West where anything goes, and there is no accountability or citizen rights.
Does stand-up comedy offer an effective response to the current climate of masochism and patriarchy?
I get wonderful responses to my comedy, including men coming up and admitting they behave this way toward women, and they won’t anymore. The job of the comedian, as I see it, is to provide a mirror in front of society for it to improve. In that, I see myself as a change agent; as I always have been. Men realise very quickly there can be no peace and love in the house without equality with their partners. I have met true patriarchs – these are men who head households and nations by bowing before their wives and daughters and holding them in love and honour.
Report Dated August 19, 2015 7:20 PM
Founded in 1994 by Sheela Murthy, an Indian immigrant, the firm introduced a site that provided legal information that same year. “So few law firms were even on the Internet, it was considered weird,” Ms. Murthy said.
From the beginning, her strategy was to post lots of information about immigration. And today, by at least one ranking, murthy.com is the world’s most visited law firm site.
Based in Owings Mills, Md., USA, the firm has managed this despite its modest size — more than $10 million in annual revenue and about 110 employees, 20 of whom are in India and 27 of whom are lawyers, including five nonequity partners. Ms. Murthy, 51, is the sole owner.
In a recent conversation that has been edited and condensed, Ms. Murthy discussed why she decided to give away legal information online, how she discovered that she was a terrible boss, and what she thinks immigration reform would mean for businesses.
Q. How did you end up in Maryland?
A. I was born in Baroda, India, and attended University Law College in Bangalore. There, I met my husband, Vasant Nayak, a photographer and digital artist. He was studying in the United States and encouraged me to apply to law school here. I graduated from Harvard Law in 1987, worked for big firms in New York and Baltimore and started my own firm in 1994.
Q. What got you interested in immigration law?
A. I went through hell to get my green card. The process of becoming a citizen was painful, stressful and took 12 years. I’d wake up in a cold sweat panicking about my life. I was struck by my attorney’s lack of sensitivity and how little he cared. He only called when he wanted to tell me he was raising his fees.
Q. What led you to create a Web site back in 1994?
A. My husband, who built our site and today serves as a technology, marketing and operations consultant to the firm, insisted the Internet was the wave of the future. He suggested I grow the business by offering free legal information online. I thought, “If I didn’t love this man, I’d think he wants to bankrupt me.” But I was so frustrated by my own immigrant experience that I decided to start a Web site partly to make people feel empowered and respected.
Q. How did your early site do that?
A. Each day, I answered about 100 questions from immigrants. It helped familiarize me with real-life issues. I also started the weekly Murthy Bulletin soon after starting the firm. It’s an e-mail newsletter, which lawyers weren’t really doing then. Today, it has about 43,000 subscribers. Around 1995, we started accepting credit card payments — another thing almost no law firms were doing. But it was the only way I could help a client in California. There was no time to wait for a check in the mail.
Q. What type of reception did the Web site get?
A. It was like, build it and they will come — it caught on like wildfire.
Q. What resources are available on your current site?
A. It’s aimed at building an online immigrant community. There’s no hard sell — its priority is not to bring in clients but to help and show we care and know our stuff. We clarify the most complicated laws, using tools like teleconferences, podcasts and blogging.
Our moderated bulletin board has over 165,000 members who share information and knowledge about visa processing trends and related matters. On Monday nights, we have a real-time chat where one of our senior attorneys explains immigration law and processes. Every two or three years, we redo the site from scratch, working with a Web development firm.
Q. How’s business?
A. Clients are banging down the door. They throw themselves at our feet asking us to take them on. The feeling is, “If they give this much away for free, what must it be like if you pay them?”
Q. Given your site’s popularity, have you tried to generate income from its visitors?
A. No. We’ve kept it very pristine. We’ve been approached by insurance companies, travel agencies and airlines about doing ads. While we like the idea of getting $5,000 a month with no effort, we don’t want clients wasting time looking at a bunch of ads before they get the information they need.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner?
A. I’m intense. I work 12 to 18 hours a day, no lunch break, bathroom breaks of less than 30 seconds. In the beginning, I assumed my staff shared my vision and passion and expected them to be excited just because I was. I worried about overpaying people, and worked them to death. I expected them to be my slaves, whipping limping horses. I was such a moron, I don’t think I even knew the Department of Labor laws.
Q. How did your staff respond?
A. Around 1997, three out of four of my paralegals walked off the job within a week of each other. It was like a bucket of water thrown at my face. I hired new paralegals, and my husband started coming into the office. The new paralegals started taking their problems to him. I’d be on the phone all day. I had a don’t-waste-my-time-with-this attitude. I’m not touchy-feely and sensitive like my husband. But I knew I had to reinvent myself.
Q. Did you?
A. I’ve come a long way, but I’m a slow learner. I still expect a lot from people, but I’ve had a reality check. I understand how important it is that they understand my vision and feel like partners. Now, all new employees meet with me for an hour. I share my background, and my experience with an uncaring lawyer. I explain that, as a client, I don’t care how much you know, I care how much you care. Today, 50 percent of my employees have been with the firm for more than five years.
Q. Why do you think they stay?
A. During interviews, I ask how I can create their dream job. If someone says they would rather write all day instead of talk to clients, I work it so they can — and vice versa. I try to capitalize on my attorneys’ strengths. If I can create that ideal job, you’ll stay until you’re dead or retired.
Q. How do you think immigration reform would affect businesses?
A. Reform would just offer a faster track for certain people — like immigrants with science, technology and math skills. This is good for employers because we’re not producing enough of these employees in the United States. Ultimately, talented immigrants would be encouraged to stay, jobs would be created, and the United States would continue to lead the world in innovation.
Q. How would it affect your business?
A. It wouldn’t make much difference for us — though we’d be busier because more of our clients would be eligible for a visa under the newly created EB-6, or start-up, visa category.
Q. What’s next for the firm?
A. We’re torn between maintaining our size and growing. Growth means more stress — more employees, more cases and more work. But we struggle with this.
Courtesy : New York Times, News Service
Report Dated May 27, 2015 7:46 PM
Perhaps the future of media lies in a retreat to the past. Many might not agree that radio is an integral part of our daily lives and how it affects us, but BBC political journalist and broadcaster Anita Anand vouches for the medium as it provides the intimacy to suit listeners’ need at any given moment.
“I have been lucky enough to work in television and radio, and both have their strengths. But I’m fond of radio as you are with listeners when they wake up in the morning, when they are driving their children to school, when they are preparing a meal. Also, radio affords you more time to do journalism – slots are longer and interviews don’t have to be conducted in soundbyte,” says Anand, who took over the BBC Radio 4 show “Any Answers?” after long-standing host Jonathan Dimbleby stepped down in 2012.
Anand first caught the attention of the BBC, she reckons, because as a rare Asian face on the small screen she would be asked on programmes to comment on any Asian issue – “from reincarnation to nuclear proliferation in the subcontinent to arranged marriages”.
One of the stars of the recently held Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, 42-year-old Anand, who also presented “The Daily Politics” on BBC 2 and BBC Radio 5 live programme “Double Take”, likens coming to Dubai to a homecoming – looking forward to stay with a friend with whom she shared a house in West London, over a decade ago.
One of the youngest TV news editors in the UK, taking over the reins as the European head of news and current affairs for Zee TV at the age of 25, now after two decades in broadcasting, Anand is an author in her own right.
All set to release her first book Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, a biography of the suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, the daughter of the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Anand, who calls herself a feminist, says it is about one of her own heroines.
“I applaud bravery and nobility in all its forms and Sophia had it by the sackful.” She scaled her presenting duties down to the weekly Radio 4 show to have more time for research – which was just as well, given the scope of the story she was unearthing.
Her book takes in a broad and turbulent sweep of history: the Anglo-Sikh wars, the British Raj and the early years of the fight for Indian independence, the rise of the Labour Party and trade unions, and the campaign for women’s suffrage.
Excerpts from the interview:
My parents are …
My father was a family doctor, who passed away in 1995, and my mother still teaches at an infants’ school in East London.
The household I grew up in …
Was noisy and busy. Both my parents worked and my two younger brothers and I had a very close and loving relationship, (despite what the volume of the sibling squabbles might have suggested at the time). They remain my best friends to this day.
When I was a child I wanted to be …
At first I wanted to be a dragon tamer – I was convinced there was a dragon living in the disused bomb shelter at the bottom of our garden. I also wanted to be a doctor like my father and a teacher like my mother. I remember being obsessed with a book about the planets and for a time wanted to be the first astronaut to reach a horse-head nebula, just because I thought it must be even more beautiful up close. But when I was older and less prone to fantasy, I wanted to be a journalist – travelling the world, meeting interesting people and telling their stories.
Coming to Dubai means …
Visiting my best friend who has lived here for almost a decade. We used to share a house together in West London when we both started our careers – so coming to Dubai and staying with her is a little like coming home.
I was compelled to write about Princess Sophia Duleep Singh…
Because I am drawn to stories about people beating the odds, overcoming expectations and defying convention. Sophia was never born to be a militant campaigner. As a part of the royal court, and god daughter of Queen Victoria, she was set for the most comfortable life. She need not have bothered herself with the plight of common working class women – most of her peers never did. But not only did she care enough to join the suffragettes, she threw herself into riots, goading the police to arrest her – launched herself at the prime minister’s car, daring the prisons to take her in. She was fighting for women’s rights – a cause I have always believed in.
Radio is better than TV because…
Of its immediacy and honesty (there is no editing in live radio). Listeners don’t have to stop what they are doing to sit before you as you transmit, and they are less likely to flick between channels while you are on. If you are lucky enough to do a daily show, as I have, you become a member of the household.
If I could change one thing about myself …
I would be much more disciplined and organised. Even when writing this book, I found myself behaving as I did at school – distracted by everything for much of the day; I did my best writing when everybody else had gone to sleep.
You wouldn’t know it but I am very good at …
Tongue twisters. I can Peter Piper/She sells sea shells – you under the table.
You may not know it but I’m no good at …
Directions. Dreadful, in fact. If you spin me around three times in my bathroom I am likely to get lost.
The thing I like most about my work …
Is uncovering secrets, exposing lies, speaking truth to power and bringing heroes to public attention.
My inspiration is…
Princess Sophia, a brave and honourable woman. I would like to be a bit more like her.
At night I dream of …
My son mostly. Also, impossible houses on cliff tops, or trains going to faraway places, which we have to run to catch. I wake up and tell him the adventures we have been on in the night. He is four.
I wish I had never worn …
Horrible ill-fitting jackets I bought when I first started reporting on TV in the 1990s. I thought they made me look grown up. Actually, they made me look like my head was poking out of a box.
When I look in the mirror I see …
A happy woman, a very lucky woman.
My house is …
Open to everyone I love. All the time.
My favourite work of art …
Is the latest drawing done by my son.
My favourite building …
Is St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It’s where my husband and I first kissed, and where he proposed to me years later.
My favourite TV show is…
Don’t have a favourite. I just watched the whole series of the West Wing again…
A book that changed me …
Is Gita Sereny’s Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. It is a probing and patient writing uncovering the most important truth – what makes good men do unspeakable evil. It made me aspire to write.
My career highlight…
Too many to mention. I have been very lucky.
Movie heaven …
An absurd screwball comedy if I am watching with my husband, and sci-fi if it’s just me (I am a bit of a nerd).
The last album I bought …
I don’t buy albums these days. I buy singles mostly. Just listening to my latest acquisition Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” ft. Bruno Mars.
The last book I read…
“Plain Tales from the Raj” by Charles Allen about the experience of British sahibs during the Raj. He writes brilliantly.
My greatest regret …
My father died before he could see that journalism was going to work out for me. He would have got a kick out of what I do.
My secret crush …
Commander Adama as played by Edward James Olmos in “Battlestar Galactica”.
My real-life villains …
People who form lazy opinions and don’t have any appetite to test them against rigorous argument – all the worlds ills are down to them.
My five-year plan …
I don’t even have a plan for the next five days.
When I write book, I have in mind…
Only the story. If I thought about readers and what they might enjoy/hate I wouldn’t write a word.
My life in six words…
Ha Ha Ha. How? Really? Yay!
One thing I love most about husband (author Simon Singh)…
He is the funniest man I know, and the only one who can crowbar me out of a bad mood.
Gaffes don’t faze me …
I revel in them. Let me share one with you right now. I was once doing a live radio programme, interviewing a man in America who had miraculously survived falling from a fourth floor, and having his head impaled on a spike. Neurosurgeons and incredible good fortune meant that he was not seriously impaired, which was why we were doing the interview. My first question to him was: “So what was going through your mind that the time?” There was a tsunami for response from listeners… “A spike you idiot!”
What’s next …
No idea. But it will be fabulous.