Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Lakshmi Kaul as part of her regular series for iGlobal to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Lakshmi, an iGlobal regular with her Talking Point columns, is on the other end of the questions this time as she reflects on life during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, her passion for UK-India ties and strengthening the Indian diaspora living bridge as the UK Head of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and championing causes close to her heart.
The world has been propelled into a pandemic; in your darkest times, what has been your guiding light?
The pandemic is a tragedy that we will all remember for a long time to come. I'd like to share with you what a dear friend said to me recently: this crisis has made us all focus on the important things in life, than what is urgent?. It has taught us to pause, to breathe.
Having witnessed a few ups and downs in life, having witnessed the battle of life and death up close, I've learnt that the only reality of life is its conclusion. Everything in between is a bonus. If we can go from one moment to the next, smiling, healthy and content, life becomes blissful. All the emotions we experience anger, hatred, jealousy, happiness, sadness and a myriad of others are all transient.
To be calm and accepting of circumstances, to have faith in your own resilience, entails inner strength this has been my guiding light and aspiration through all dark and not so dark periods of my life.
If you could go back and give your teenage self one bit of advice, what would it be?
A younger us is always a raw version of our future self. I've lived a good life and have learnt a great deal at every step of my growing up years. I would certainly go back to my teenage self and pat her on the back for having the courage to dream of doing meaningful work in the years to come.
I certainly will ask her to have more faith in her abilities, to be confident and not look for others to confirm this to her. And oh yes, have a bit more fun and not work too hard!?
Which one person has had the greatest influence in your life, and why?
My late daughter, Nainika. From the moment I felt her in my womb, to the time I held her in my arms and to the time I spread her ashes on the banks of Vitasta in Kashmir, she has nurtured me and made me the person I am today.
Motherhood teaches you patience, selflessness, compassion and is an epitome of unconditional love. To give birth is one aspect of parenting but to send off your child on their last onward journey, tests you in more ways than one can imagine. She makes me smile through sadness and makes sure I never let her down, in action or in thought.
We all work, pursue great careers or not, live, eat, and ultimately die. None of us will take anything with us,not even our bodies! She taught me how important it was to declutter and let go, to keep life simple.
She left me a note in her treasure box that said: "remember moments, not days". She continues to be my guiding light, inspiring me at every step.
You are almost like a living bridge between India and the UK; what do you think are the greatest similarities between the two nations and the starkest differences?
The UK and India have a shared history, also of blood and gore. People are the living bridge of opportunities, culture, business and future.
Rather than trying to superficially please one another of similarities and distance one another over the differences, it is important to first and foremost accept, acknowledge and truthfully confess the shared heritage and history, assess the present perception and visibility of this perception in local narratives and then look to the future possibilities and synergies. To know where we are headed, it is extremely important to know where we have come from.
Efforts are being actively made to pursue businesses and the Indian diaspora to continue to make a positive contribution to the UK. With a steep expectation such as this, there ought to be reciprocity of intent.
Connecting India and the UK, leveraging each other's mutual strengths, pursuing business opportunities is my day job and India has continued to be a strong ally, a friend to this country. People form the continuum to this strong relationship, and it is they who ought to feel the hand of friendship extended to their doorstep.
Immigration policies, social security agreement, fairer post-study work visas, a relook at the 'no recourse to public funds', compassionate view of visas to Indian dependents, particularly elderly parents of British Indians in the UK, are some of the challenges that the current government has begun to look at. May this commitment continue and shape a robust living bridge between the countries, for both their good.
*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.