ME POWAIKAR August 2019

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Most Indian women lead miserable existences, marginally better than a beast of burden. Others are among the most formidable people I’ve ever met or read about. But almost all of them are inspiring. The story of Indian women is ancient but it is also the story of the profound change and contradictions of the present day. India has a scattered though vigorous women’s movement today with the growing power to bring about some measure of reform. They’ve become doctors, lawyers, scientists, business executives and airline pilots. Many married women with children have consuming careers; their lives are not radically different from their counterparts anywhere in the world. They are professionals with degrees, work in offices and worry about getting their children into the right schools. They go to the beauty parlor, follow nay participate in national politics. Our constitution guarantees them complete equality under the law.

A poster woman for the modern Indian woman is my Powaikar of August. Born into a defence family, Pamela Cheema spent her formative years in naval stations like Bombay, Cochin and Delhi. A good education studying in the best of schools and colleges gave her the best foundation for life. Her father, the illustrious Vice Admiral S L Sethi commanded INS Khukhri before handing her over to Capt Mulla, to command the glorious INS Vikrant and later went on to be the Vice Chief of Naval Staff.

Pamela completed her graduation in English Literature (Hons) from Delhi University, followed by a Diploma in Journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and embarked on her career as a lifestyle journalist with Times of India. She met a naval doctor through friends and love knocked at their hearts. They got married and promptly Dr. Cheema got posted to Ladakh. Pamela continued nursing her writing and her career took off as she wrote extensively about many issues.

Pamela followed her husband as his job transferred him around but continued her pursuit of knowledge and addition of credentials. She did a Diploma in Business Management from Narsee Monjee, Mumbai followed by two Conservation courses from Bombay Natural History Society. She even taught journalism for 5 ½ years in 3 colleges; Xavier’s, Sophia’s and K C College before returning to the corporate world and B2B journalism. She launched Élan in 1999 and was the Deputy Editor of Projects Log.India, a highly successful logistics magazine and JCK, the Indian version of the popular American jewellery magazine.

India is 1 of the 17 most mega diverse countries in the world. For mankind to survive as a species, Pamela believes we have to do much more than just give lip service. Seeing the city she lived in deteriorate, she got drawn to two NGOs; AGNI (Action for Good Governance and Networking in India) focuses on civic issues while NAGAR protects the open spaces in Mumbai. Her interest in civic issues and open spaces got her to actively participate in many of their movements. She edits the AGNI newsletters too.

Her home, the hot and happening Powai was changing before her very eyes. The Bombay she knew as a child was never coming back but she wanted the city to be liveable for her kids and others, so she got Nagar and Agni to assist and support her by introducing her to people in the local administration and add the required push and power.
Powai is now a concrete jungle and has lost much of its green cover. The rampant over-construction prompted BMC to pick 5 areas of Mumbai where urban forests would be planted. Pamela recommended the Miyawaki method of plantation according to which the saplings planted will look like 100 year-old forests in another 10 years. Pamela’s suggestion of trees on the banks of Powai Lake has been accepted and is being discussed now.

Apathy prevails among ordinary citizens who don’t want to get involved and show their support even in matters that affect them. Undeterred Pamela takes on the challenge to improve our world. Presently she has joined hands with many committed citizens to demand an underground Metro 6 instead of an elevated one which affects utilities, businesses, displaces people. The team feels the govt needs a long term vision to plan wisely. The entire city should have a robust underground system with seamless connectivity. Mumbai, the financial capital of the nation should ideally conduct business at the ground level with people travelling from one business spot to another via a network of underground lines. That would be sustainable development. Citizens will save fuel; no trees will need to be hacked, our air will be cleaner, etc. The façade of our beloved city and its’ heritage will remain unaffected.

This is a movement that all of us must pledge to support in our own way. Are you with these concerned citizens?