When you grow up and live your life surrounded by remarkable women, you develop a special strength that can only come from being around these unique forces of nature
I would certainly not be where I am in my life without the various women who have shaped and molded me in so many different ways. They have influenced me consciously and subconsciously, intrinsically and cosmetically; they have shaped my inner-self and how I am viewed by the world.
Many of us are fortunate to have not just one, but several such women in our lives throughout the various milestones we experience, and I am blessed that I have had so many of them in my life.
There is a certain special type of strength that comes from being around women who are strong, yet gentle, and in many ways haughty but humble. I have learnt the art of being like water, to shape and adapt myself to meet life's many challenges only because of the feminine presence in my life. They always leave you with an impact one way or another.
While there have been countless women who have taught me things both big and small throughout my life, here are the five that I consider my strongest influences.
Paatti — My Grandmother
My clearest memory of my paternal grandmother, who I fondly called Paatti (Grandma), is that she was a constant ball of energy.
She raised nine birth children and adopted two more. And she even took in a maid or two who she raised as her own children. Including my grandfather, there were 13 people in the house at any given time. This obviously kept her on her toes at all times, and yet I never saw her frazzled. She was always warm, loving, and full of kindness to all that she met.
Paatti was a diminutive little woman but fiery when crossed. She managed to feed everyone and raise an incredible number of children on the single paycheck that my grandfather brought home. She was the true representation of the iron hand in a velvet glove and very clearly wielded the power in that household.
And she wasn't just the Queen of her household, she was also quite a well-respected personality within the community. People came to her with their troubles all the time. Whether it was a family dispute or problem in a marriage, they came to her for advice.
Paatti taught me the importance of making decisions, to never leave anything hanging in the air. To be definitive, to be clear and concise, and above all, to do it with a warm smile. Even today, in my mind's eye, I can see her with that enigmatic smile as she goes bustling about in the house.
Amma — My Mother
Amma is an incredible woman who taught me the true meaning of independence. In the 1960s, when women still largely played traditional roles and were homebound, especially in Malaysia where she grew up, she was already driving a car, working, and running the household all by herself since my father had to go abroad to study for an extended period of time.
As a working mother raising two kids by herself, she was always strong, independent, and resourceful. She gave me the confidence and ability to believe in myself regardless of whatever challenges I faced. She also taught me my culture, traditions, and to a great extent spirituality. She gave me an unshakeable belief in the Lord which sustained me through so many trials and travails. She remains the bedrock of my rational thought and behavior and is an intrinsic part of who I am today.
Mrs. Sena — My Teacher
Mrs. Padmavathy Senathirajah was my teacher in primary school and remained a teacher to me throughout my life — even today after she has passed on. She faced challenges undaunted, unbowed, and unabashed, and she took it all in her stride while juggling work and raising 3 young children on her own, at a very young age.
She taught me the meaning of resilience, and that responsibility comes with power and authority. I was a prefect and monitor in school, and she taught me how important it was to take my duties seriously.
She was a rigid counselor, teaching me to be so to others. I've never seen her without a smile and a kindly glint in her eye. She was full of compassion and her love sustains me till today.
Velma Jean — My Boss
Velma Jean Caulder was my first employer after I graduated college. She was a relentless boss, and a hard worker who taught me diligence and perseverance. She was a stickler for principles who did everything on time and in time. She taught me about the principles of planning, preparation, and projection. She taught me to research and analyze. Her greatest strength was that she did all of this in a cool, calm, and efficient manner. I learnt that from her and it has become a part of my personality today. Thank you, Velma Jean for that important lesson.
Umayal — My Wife, My Partner, My Soulmate
Umayal is a remarkable woman whose quiet strength has been unwavering over the years. She has been the balustrade I lean upon. She is my hook, my rope, and my ladder. She taught me not to give up on myself and my dreams. She put my dreams, passions, and vision ahead of her own. It took me years to be able to repay her in kind.
She put aside her passion for classical dance and put on hold her dreams of teaching dance while we focused on building our future together. It filled my heart with joy that I was able to sit in the audience years later and watch her perform on stage for a dream that she has always been so passionate about.
She is still, today, the one who prods and pulls and pushes me along to be the person that I need to be on a daily basis. She is my friend and guide, guardian, and sometimes somewhat like a Goddess!
From Paatti who taught me gentility, to Umayal, my life partner who taught me grace, to all the remarkable women who raised me and raised within me an innate strength to learn, to bend and bow, to learn to break and yet be unbroken; the strength of a woman is interwoven in me.
With you all in my life, every day is International Women's Day!
WRITTEN BYVijay Eswaran