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Deepa is one of Prayaana’s talented mentors. Here is a conversation with her on  her life and  experiences.

Deepa what defines your aspirations?

For me, Happiness, is being a part of someone’s growth and transformation. Because I believe that Big or Small, there is a difference only YOU can make!

I want to create an impact in the lives of people; to make a change in the world however small it may be; to leave a legacy of smiles behind. I am passionate about women-centric issues, which is what attracted me to Prayaana. I hope to touch more hearts and see more girls standing up for themselves and carving niches for themselves in tomorrow’s world.

A little about your  strengths and passions

Willingness to learn new things, taking up challenges and explore new opportunities.

Keeping myself busy with my numerous hobbies and passions and activities.

Refusal to quit/run away from adverse situations.

Taking each day as it comes, living in the moment and enjoying it.

Being independent – financially as well as in handling my responsibilities. (except for driving a car lol)

My passions

1. Writing / Blogging – It started out 1.5 years ago when I started helping a friend with some editing work, but I soon realized the happiness I felt when I could pen down my thoughts or research an untold story and bring it to the world. Today I am an avid blogger and social media content creator; I manage a couple of FB pages on Kerala History and other topics and I regularly submit articles for SheSight.

2. Travelling & Photography – I love learning about cultures/cuisines/places and I capture moments, memories and experiences; for which I have won an award.

3. Being the “nurturer” – being the reason for someone’s smile, the support behind someone’s growth. The adrenaline rush that you get, when someone looks up to you as a role model or gets inspired by your words, cannot be matched by any alcohol or drug. I was the unofficial motivator a.k.a “Deepamma” for a dance troupe called “Queen’s Crew” formed by college kids. 

4. Food – I love eating and cooking. I experiment with various cuisines and love to surprise people with delicacies that I prepare with love.

5. Fashion Designing- what I wanted to become in life, but fate had other plans; so now I use it to channel my creativity and imagination. Being unique is important to me, so I put in a lot of effort to design my outfits. The satisfaction of seeing your drawings come alive is exhilarating. I love designing outfits for my loved ones too.

6. Zumba & dancing – As a kindergartener, I ran away from the stage, crying, too afraid to dance, and that was the end of my dancing career. Until I found Zumba at 35 and I took to it like fish to water! I did my “arangettam” (first stage performance) at the age of 38 with some friends, and was featured in the newspapers the next day! Age is never a limit to achieving anything you want!

Any Role Models ?

Empowerment was always in my genes. My mother was from a conservative, low-income family. But she was a pioneer who defied odds to become an engineer in the ’60s; one of the first few women engineers in Kerala. She used to tell me there were only 2 girls in her class! My father was the pillar who supported her career and shared all the household responsibilities equally. From a very early age, I saw my father defying gender roles and equipping me and my sister with life skills – be it making perfectly round chappathis or fixing a light bulb!

Your support system

Both my families have been extremely supportive of me in all my endeavours. Right from the “pennu kaanal” (the day the groom meets his prospective bride) my husband has supported my passion for working and need for independence. My daughter is my biggest cheerleader, the driving force that pushes me ahead.

Education and career

I was born and brought up and did my studies in Trivandrum, Kerala. After graduating in Computer Science Engineering, I got campus placement in my dream company UST Global. But I was among those unlucky engineers who “became jobless” even before they started working !! As the graduating batch of 2001, we were pushed into IT recession (thanks to the 9/11 WTC attacks) right when we were getting ready to take on the world and kickstart our careers. Being an average student with absolutely no extracurricular activities or self-confidence, I was scared to look for other options. Out of sheer frustration of staying at home, I joined my alma mater as Guest Lecturer. That was a turning point in my life. I hated teaching and thought it was not my cup of tea, but the 6 months I spent as a teacher transformed me. I was happy to see the impact I could create on young minds, and humbled by the respect when they look up to me as a role model. Their enthusiasm was so contagious and their views so refreshing. My students taught me responsibility and being accountable for my tasks, time & resource management among other skills – emphasizing my belief that teaching is always a two-way process!

I worked in UST Global for 4 years happily and took up challenging tasks in multiple technologies, while most others were focussed on specializing in a single technology. My friends kept teasing me as “master of all trades; jack of none” but I believed that being an all-rounder and having a wider knowledge would help in the long run. I was more enthusiastic about my job satisfaction and experience than monetary aspects or promotion. My belief was proved right when our client handpicked me for promoting a new Quality Control Process; and I was assigned to train all the staff in the Client Account including senior, top-level managers. 

My Life abroad

I was a very protected child and was always dependent on my family even after marriage and childbirth; until I decided to end that cycle and take charge of my life. I moved to Ethiopia with my husband and toddler, and that is when I finally learnt how to manage things on my own and “stand on my two feet”. I did not want to be another drop in the ocean by working in MNCs, so I decided to pursue other streams and work in small startups only, where I will get more chances to actually make a difference and be a part of their growth. I joined a Construction Consultancy firm as Communications Specialist. Civil Engineering was a completely new area for me, so I went out of my way to learn things that I needed to fulfil my job duties as Business Development & HR Executive (like technical jargons, industry trends, equipment details etc). As Exec Asst to the CEO, I managed the staff in 7 international offices around Africa and the US and I was in charge of all Indian staff working on various projects in the company, including recruiting people from India. Every day was a new learning opportunity and I embraced the challenges happily.

I am also a failed entrepreneur! I and my husband started a consultancy firm & distance education centre in Ethiopia, with no prior experience in running a business. It was our second “baby” that we conceived together, nurtured and watched it grow. Initially, things were going well, but slowly we fell into financial & legal troubles. I had to work two jobs to make ends meet. I have seen days with zero money in my wallet, walked 5-6kms after a day’s work to save taxi expenses, bought grocery on credit from shops. But one thing I never compromised was to ensure that my daughter got the best education in an international school. We sold many of my gold ornaments, our savings, and our property to settle debts which even threatened our marriage at one point. But this failure taught me much more lessons than success ever could have – lessons about life, true friendships, the value of money and above all, the importance of perseverance and passion to make your dreams come true. I do not regret any of the decisions we took or any of the hardships I endured, because all those experiences have made me the resilient woman that I am today. Being an entrepreneur in an innovative field remains a dream, which I hope to achieve one day.

Currently, I am working for an Ethiopian IT company as QA & VAS Manager for the last 10 years and was lucky enough to dabble in various job roles and meet amazing people. When I moved back to India, we agreed that I will work remotely and I have successfully managed to pull off that arrangement since 2012. I am proud to be a trailblazer in the Work-From-Home option, 8 years before Covid-19 forced everyone into WFH mode. One of my triumphs!

An incident very close to my heart

I always say “You may not know it now, but you are much much stronger than you think !” I feel proud that I was able to find that inner strength when I was going through hard times myself and thought there was no way out…I was in my late 20s; in a foreign country, trying to save our sinking business practically all by myself…Caught between debtors, unpaid staff, disgruntled students, legal complications, pending tax commitments, family pressure and what not! On one occasion when I had to inform the Indian Embassy about a deportation possibility, I got to speak to the First Secretary to the Indian Ambassador. After patiently listening to my issues for an hour he told me the words that I would never forget in my life – “In spite of all that you are facing, you are so calm and brave. You are a true daughter of Jhansi Rani and I feel proud to have known you”. Coming from a senior IFS official who has travelled the world and met thousands of people from all classes of life, it meant a lot to me and is still my biggest motivation to go on and face anything that life throws at me.

I may not have won many trophies or accolades; all the small things I have achieved in my life may not seem big to the world, but they are huge accomplishments for me. I am proud of my scars because they are proof that I am stronger than what caused them. I am proud of my feats because they are proof that I ventured out of my comfort zone and trod unknown paths to attain them. I have a long journey ahead and many things to do… The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep!

Deepa Perumal

QA & Management Professional

Mentor @ C2C Mission 2021 Mentors B