LET US MEET A POWER PACKED PERSONALITY, MS. NIDHI ARORA
FAMOUS PARENTING TEAM INTERVIEWED THIS EXTREMELY ENERGETIC AND PASSIONATE WOMAN from ESHA, WHO IS A RARE MIX OF BEING A LAUDABLE MOM AND SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR. HER LIFE STORY HAS INSPIRED MILLIONS AND TOUCHED SO MANY LIVES.
Nidhi Arora is a mother, social entrepreneur and an erstwhile corporate leader. She believes in children more than adults, the Universe more than the books, and is happy to be an eternal learner-dreamer. Esha, her NGO, was responsible for bringing braille visiting cards to India in 2005. Today, Esha runs India’s biggest online audio library in Indian languages – www.braillecards.org/audio.php. This is the only library of its kind in the world. All content is free to download without even signing in. She truly believes in universal access to knowledge resources. Her work has been covered in The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Zee News, Times Now, The Better India, The Indian Express, Live Mint, The Oman Tribune and a host of other publications. She lives in Gurgaon with her family, and dreams of a day where society is so inclusive that organisations like Esha are no longer required.
1. Please connect the dots of your childhood that made you the person you are.
Oh! Every single day, minute, hour and year. The moment when I broke one glass tumbler a day every single day for a week, and on the 8th day, my aunt still gave me a glass tumbler to carry. The year when I moved to a new city and school, the mandatory visits to the Gurudwara, which we resented at the time, but later formed the basis of our strong spiritual foundation, the teacher who believed in me in her quiet way for 4 years, until finally, I was forced to respond to her faith and excel in her subject. Every single moment has made this person. Every stranger – including the one who sat next to me on a DTC bus and taught me how to say “Om” correctly (a practice I follow to this day in my meditation and have also taught my son) and family member, has contributed to being this person.
There is only one thing I have learnt from that growing up – when you touch someone’s life, make it a positive touch. You have no idea what that might mean, or do to them. I have the kindness of so many people to thank! And a lot of debt to pay forward.
2. How has your formal education shaped your life?
In 2 ways – one, it provided financial security that girls from my background cannot dream of. But secondly and more importantly, that formal education created the terra firma upon which I was able to create and operate organisations like Esha later on. Because I knew the concepts very clearly, it was possible to understand the practices. The converse is not always true – you cannot understand the precept just because you know the practices. Today, I can comfortably understand and even contribute to most aspects of business only because we got a good 2 year grinding on all aspects of business management. I can talk about citizenship because we spent 2 years studying Civics. And i am not scared of Legalese because we studied Law for 3 years. Accounts make most people sweat but after 5 years of hard work, it really makes me smile. I can understand economics and agriculture because we spent one year on India’s macro economy. A lot of people find my analysis insightful. But the roots of that analysis are in a text book that taught 16 year olds everything about the economy that is India – 23 years ago.
Unlike a lot of modern thought, I am a big fan of good formal education that explains the fundamentals of our world to our children. And Indian education is great at that. We don’t value what we have. But it’s really nice.
3. How did you discover your passions? What gave you the courage to take the road less travelled?
How did I discover my passions? One day, I saw a movie called “Sparsh”, and I knew, that night, that one day, I will grow up and make books in Braille.
What gave one the courage? You see, I could not have lived any other way. There was only one way to live. Living the way we wanted was not the brave path. It was the default path. The only path. It didn’t even cross my mind that there was another way to live. For anyone.
4. “Technology can enable women to find their true voice. Technology, if used for self-growth, can offer avenues to women which were unavailable earlier”. Your comments.
This statement is true for everyone, not just for women. Today, almost on a daily basis, we hear of technology advancements that make life easier for the specially abled. Through CLABIL, we make a reference and literary library available to every child and print disabled adult. Technology, if used the right way, has the potential to empower everyone – and especially everyone who is in some way marginalised.
5. How has your motherhood contributed to you as an individual and as a leader?
Oh wow!! Being a mother has been the greatest blessing yet. When you are a child, you think only of yourself. When you are a mother, you think of everyone. That becomes your default state.
You allow for mistakes a lot more after becoming a parent. You don’t judge -yourself or the world. Because you know that parenting is like mountaineering. Sometimes, the outcome is not related to your skill at all. Sometimes, it’s just not your day.
You also learn that bad days don’t make bad relationships. Inability to work on the bad days makes bad relationships. The child and you will fight about 50 times a day. But the 51st time, you will still smile at each other. It’s like that with teams too. You will disagree. You will worry about how it slows down operations. But you will begin everyday feeling a part of the whole, and you will take care of everyone. Every single one.
You learn that people may forget who you are, what you do, but they will never forget how you made them feel. You read that at the age of 14 of course, but you only understand it when you see the face of a toddler after you have said something insensitive to them. Children are very transparent with their emotions. And that learning helps you to understand better the adults who may not be so communicative about their own emotions. Children open up a huge part of the “I don’t know and others know” quadrant of the Jo Hari window for you. They tell you what you didn’t know and never would have if it wasn’t for them. It is upto you to take that lesson and apply it to the rest of your life and reap the benefits of that lesson. While you are at it, do thank the child for the priceless lessons.
6. Talk about three people who have had the most profound influence on you.
My parents, and both my grandparents. The thing is, we only saw them as a package – so i can’t say “Dad” without also saying “Mom”. In the strength of my grandmother was also the security of a grandfather who was comfortable with her practising her views. In the pampering of my grandfather was also the discipline of the grandmother. In mom’s love was dad’s support, and in dad’s support was mom’s strength.
I can never really outline everything that i have learnt from all these wonderful people. But if I can live a life half as special as any one of them, it will have been a life well lived.
7. Please share ESHA & CLABIL with our readers.
Esha (www.braillecards.org) is an initiative that works on 3 verticals – employment for the visually challenged – under which we do Braille enabled visiting cards and a theatre workshop which is run by a VI professional for the sighted participants. The workshop is run at schools, colleges and offices. It’s a laugh riot and an incredible sensitisation/ team building tool.
The second vertical is general public sensitisation to the needs of disability. Under this, we have an annual cycling event (www.tourdevision.org), Blind Walks, Open Braille sessions, Braille gift tags and other initiatives.
The third, and currently the most important vertical for us is CLABIL – Central library of audio books in Indian languages (www.braillecards.org/audio.php). This is a very simple and powerful way to make knowledge and literary resources available to about 70% of India’s population. The library can be used by anyone who needs it – rural children who don’t have access to a library, urban children from underprivileged backgrounds, adults who cannot read and write and therefore don’t have access to knowledge resources, girl children and women who are not sent to schools and therefore their window to knowledge is shut, people who lose sight with age and are not able to deal with the change, and of course – the VI population. It will even benefit Indian children who don’t know the Indian script, and therefore the literature is also lost to them. Please do see the library at www.braillecards.org and do spread the word. The library is completely free, and requires no signup even.
In 2016, we are taking CLABIL directly to people who will benefit from it – all the groups mentioned above. We will familiarise them with the content, teach them how to use it independently. And we will take that feedback to improve the design and add appropriate content.
8. How did you manage ESHA along with a demanding career?
A very supportive family – especially my husband.
No phone conversations.
My mother – do it right the first time. You cannot revisit something once it’s over.
In the morning, after sending my child to school, I would work at office. During this time, there were no personal calls and no Esha calls. All Esha work was done at night, and through email. We had to let a lot of opportunities go because I simply could not talk on the phone or go and meet people. After office was mommy shift. There would be no phone calls at all during mommy shift. After putting my child to sleep, I would work on Esha. That compartmentalisation was water tight. Raising a child, a corporate career and an NGO are all full time jobs. You can’t do them unless you are exceptionally disciplined about compartmentalisation.
You know those understanding parents who encourage you in spite of your mistakes and tell you that there is always a second chance to correct your mistakes? Well, I didn’t have them. My mother insisted that we do everything right the first time. There would be no retakes in my house. If we didn’t do something well, we lived with the consequences. The result of that was that we learnt to get things right the first time. I can never thank my mother enough for driving us hard in those early years. Today, without exaggeration, I hear at least 5 times a day how quick and efficient I am. And each one of those 5 times, my heart sends a Thank you message to my mom’s heart.
9. Your philosophy of life in a sentence.
This, too, shall pass.
10 .Tell us about your future plans.
We are very focused on CLABIL in 2016. We want every underprivileged child and adult in India to know about and use this content. And through Satyavrat we hope to connect with like-minded parents and change the way we raise adults.
11. What would you like to convey to those moms who have dreams and ideas but they feel bogged down by family and social responsibilities.
You know, all of us are living the lives that we want to live. I would like to say, “Please pursue your dream” but that would be too simplistic. We are all in the right place, we are where we want to be. If you feel that you have dreams but not the avenues, take just one small step a day. Only that. And that’s all it takes. It doesn’t take a lot to realise dreams. One small step a day. In the right direction.