Thriving at the creative confluence of UK and India

Thriving at the creative confluence of UK and India

Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Dr Priya Virmani for her regular series for 'iGlobal' to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.

Dr Virmani is the author of ‘The Smallest Stories to Extraordinary’. As a TEDx and international speaker, she gives talks and workshops on topics such as well-being, Vedic philosophy and entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment. She began Ame-luxe.com to curate exceptional, luxury travel experiences with an emphasis on encouraging women to travel. In her role as a philanthropist, she founded children’s charity Paint Our World.

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Q

Tell us all about your travels to India and what they mean to you?

A

Each time my travels in India take me to places off the tourist trail I realise where the best India really lies – in her stunning coastline, her awe-inspiring Himalayas, in her lush fields, in her little unbeknown villages and most of all, in the simplicity and clear heartedness of people in the smaller towns and rural areas.

I had an unforgettable experience in the heart of Maharashtra’s Western Ghats and by the Arabian Sea in a little village in the district of Sindhudurg. On a boat trip arranged by Coco Shambhala villas in Sindhudurg, one morning I found myself surrounded by schools of dolphins. From Maharashtra I travelled to the jungle of Ranthambore, Rajasthan. Crepuscular light in the jungle was magical. Learning to track the elusive tiger from its pug marks when this territorial animal marks its territory or from the alarm calls of other jungle animals like the langur monkeys when it sees a tiger, was just fascinating. Of the 10 accessible zones of the tiger reserve, each one is distinct in topography.

And then, for my travel company Ame-luxe.com, I explored the jewellery artisanry trail in Jaipur which is known for jadau – one of the oldest precious jewelry making forms in India.

Q

How did your Paint Our World philanthropy journey begin?

A

The image of that morning is still so vivid. It was an early morning in Kolkata. It had been raining. Flood waters had receded leaving behind muck dotted with green coconut shells and dead cockroaches. Their corpses lay belly up. I was walking to school and saw street children eating out of a rubbish bag. Street dogs milled about. The children, unperturbed, kept emptying the rubbish bag rummaging for food.

An older child gave a younger one something discoloured. The little child chewed on it. Perhaps it was a vegetable peel or a scrap of paper. That night, I asked my parents and their visiting friends, ‘why can’t these children sit on a table like you and me and eat?’ I was only four then.

Over a decade later I moved to the UK and over two decades later I had completed my PhD and was living a fulfilling life in the UK. But I still remembered that morning so clearly. The image from my four-year-old self had become a reminder reel in my mind; a reminder that I wanted to reach out to severely deprived children in the country of my origin.

And this was the seed to setting up Paint Our World.

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Q

How would you best describe your relationship with the UK and India?

A

I see myself as a confluence of the UK and India – like an ocean into which two great rivers conjoin. My political and economic writings often bear this out too as does my book – ‘The Smallest Stories to Extraordinary’, which has stories set in both countries.

I take great spiritual insight and strength from my Indian heritage. I began researching Vedic philosophy, Hinduism, the Gita and the great epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as a student at Bristol University.

The University library had an envious collection of books by Vedic scholars and during breaks from essay writing I would read them up. The more I read, the more fascinated and eager I became to learn more. British libraries then became a space for me to better understand my heritage. Today I give talks and workshops, the world over, creating greater awareness of the practical wisdom on life management in these texts.

My British education also accorded me the confidence to begin Paint Our World in India – a charity that emotionally empowers underserved children to transition from abuse to empowerment. Working in the UK also empowered me financially to begin a charity with my own funds at a very young age. My work with the British media, including the BBC, with the UK higher education sector and my affiliation to the Conservative Friends of India (CFIN) have been tremendous learning grounds, according me transferable skills that have been an asset to inculcating discipline, perseverance and concepts like health and safety while working on the ground in India.

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Q

What has been the lesson you have learned during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown?

A

During the lockdown, life as we knew it was challenged, we all were restricted and felt caged. In this scenario, when movement and meeting were both so severely controlled, as a well-being coach and a practitioner of meditation, I realised the affects of the power of imagination, of positive visualization, even more palpably. I used this successfully over myself and over my clients who I counselled while they were dealing with onerous situations.

A most life affirming experience came from the readers of ame-luxe.com who reached out to me with lifting stories of how my travel articles helped them travel beyond their living rooms and, in some cases, beyond their hospital beds. The learning for me is, no matter how restricted we are on the outside, within our mindscape we have the power to travel to places, to positive emotions and feelings, and to our better health and happiness.

Reena Ranger is the Chair and Co-Founder of Women Empowered. In this exclusive "In Conversation" series for iGlobal, the dynamic entrepreneur-philanthropist catches up with high-achieving Global Indians across different fields to spotlight some insightful life lessons.

(The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees).

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