Thinking about a career break? Here is my story...

When I decided to get married, I was living and working in the UK while my fiancĂ© lived and worked in the USA. So, I decided to take a career break to live with my husband and look for a new job once I joined him. I have seen many couples getting married yet continuing to stay in different cities (even different countries!) but neither we nor our parents wanted us to live separately immediately after our  marriage.

Soon after I joined my husband I applied for the necessary permits to start working and also started my job search, which was not a pleasant experience, of course and took a long time. I had many ups and downs during this time and finally after months of struggle I found a job. It was only a few months into my new job when we were required to move back to India. With a heavy-heart of leaving the job that I found after toiling so much, I started to pack. People told me, I would have a lot of opportunities in India since I had 2 overseas experiences in my CV! So, I was very hopeful when I started to look for a job in my country but I faced hardships here too.

The interview questionsWhile the problem with finding a job in the US was more about not having US-specific experience, the problem with finding a job in India was more about having taken a career break! During the interview process in US, when I told people that I took a career break post marriage, they would congratulate me and say that it was a great decision since marriage brings about so many changes and there was also a factor of moving to a different country. On the contrary, a few interviewers in India told me that I would need to provide a surety that I would not take another break soon! I found it amusing in the beginning but soon this became preposterous. I fail to understand what kind of a society we live in. On one hand, a woman is expected to be a perfect homemaker while on the other she is not even allowed time-off to balance her career and personal life. Some interviewers even considered my MBA (which I did in the UK after working for 5 years in India) as a career break, which  any sane person would consider  as a career progression.

Job search in a foreign country vs at homeMy job search in India ended up being more stressful than the one in US, despite having worked in India earlier. During this stressful time, I often wondered if my decision to take a career break at the time of our marriage was a right decision.

My advice to women who dared to take a career breakI have now found a job, but when I was going through troubled times, I thought of other women who might be in a similar situation. Here are my two cents for them:
  • Before your make a decision to quit, understand where you are going to stand once you decide to join the work force again – both geographically as well as industrially. Like some countries, some industries are also more open to such breaks compared to others. If you are based in India and thinking of a career break to settle in the new life post-marriage, good luck to you (unless you are engaged in one of the preferred industries!).
  • While on a break always keep yourself engaged in things other than the household work (which I agree is difficult as household work takes up more time than most people think). Develop hobbies. Try travelling. Try doing something new. There was a time when all I did was household work and I started losing my self-worth.
  • Talk about your feelings. Whenever I felt low or unimportant, I would talk to my husband and tell him exactly how I felt. He was always very supportive and listened patiently. It always important to have someone who would listen. Your spouse, your parents, your friends etc., anyone who you can trust with your actual feelings without needing to feel ashamed of saying ‘I think this career break was wrong decision’.
  • Whether or not you take a career break should be your decision. Never take a career break because you are being pressurized to do so by your family or your husband’s. I never blamed my husband for what I went through during this time because he never forced me or asked me to take a break. It was a well-thought of decision which was taken solely by me.
  • Finally, when you step back in the work place, be ready for remarks like, “oh! so you were on a break. What did you do in all the “free” time?” or “so, you were just chilling at home all this while”. Such people do not know that being a homemaker is no less a challenge than being employed! Forgive them! 
I rest my case here with good wishes to all the bold women who decide to take a break from their career to spend time with their family, whether post marriage or due to motherhood or cause of any other family requirements. 

What's in a name, err..... surname?

This post was originally published in Women's Web here.
A change of surname after marriage for women should be a choice, not mandatory. Our society and officialdom need to come to terms with this. 
A lot has been written about this topic in the past and the future will be no different.
Like most other girls preparing to tie the knot, I also debated with myself, while doing the wedding preps, if I should change by last name post-marriage. After putting in a lot of thought behind this and taking a lawyer’s opinion, I decided that I shall stick to my maiden name post-marriage.
The reason was simple. My maiden name was my identity for more than 25 years and I did not have the heart to adopt a new identity at this stage in my life.
My lawyer advised that in case I decide to change my last name, I would need to execute an affidavit of the change and would need to provide the affidavit wherever I submit documents with my maiden name on them, like all education certificates, PAN card, driving licence etc.
Alternatively, I could retain my maiden name and provide a copy of our marriage certificate whenever I needed to prove my marital status – e.g. visa, address proof work related, etc. Now, if I have to submit an additional document whether or not I change my name, I would obviously, choose to keep my name unchanged.
The decision was taken to retain my maiden name and my husband was in favour of the same more than I was. My husband lived in the USA at the time we got married and my visa formalities as well as joint bank account opening formalities went pretty smoothly. No eyes or eyebrows or fingers were raised!
A point to note here is that women do change their surnames post marriage in all parts of the world (but it is a completely personal choice). However, last year, when we moved back to India, I noticed, every time I spelt out my surname (which is different from my husband’s), people raise brows. It gets to me but I let it pass.
Recently I went to a bank to open a ‘single’ account in my name. I submitted all required documents relating to my identity as well as address (which have my maiden name on them). Despite every document being in order, I was asked to submit a declaration that I was married but I have chosen to retain my maiden name, along with a reason for this decision!
I said it is a personal choice but was advised that it was not an acceptable reason, though all my documents and certificates were in my maiden name. The Customer Service Manager (I have nothing against her as she was merely following procedure) asked me to declare that I retained my maiden name for tax filing purposes. I needed to open this account and hence, submitted the declaration but I still fail to understand why I was made to submit it!
Since it is not a compulsion for women to change their surname post wedding, I fail to fathom why question them when they don’t? Why does my identity need to change just because I am married? I have nothing against people who believe that women should change their surname post marriage but I believe that this is a personal choice and should not be forced onto someone.
Such related incidents in the past few months have raised a very important question in my mind, “why can’t we, as a society, let people make their own decisions and not be judgmental about such choices?”

Touring the 'Heart of India'

No other activity can rejuvenate me the way travel does especially if the destination is thrilling. Recently, my husband and I decided that we would visit all the tourist places in India in a structured manner, one State at a time. The first State that we picked was Madhya Pradesh (MP) - the heart of India, as per the MP tourism advertisements. There was no analysis behind choosing MP as the first State, my parents live in MP, so access is easier. So long, we have visited only a few places- Bhopal, Sanchi, Bhimbhetka Caves, Tawa Dam & Reservoir and Pachmarhi. 

Why did we like tourist locations more than the ones in other parts of India?
In a short & quick visit to my brother’s place in Bangalore, we made a quick call on Hampi, witnessing its multitude of temples & shrines, especially the Vittala Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What we noticed was that the tourist places in MP are pretty well maintained. There is security at each site and guards ensure that tourists do not misuse the sites in any way. We found no litter lying around and were absolutely surprised to see that no one had proclaimed their love on the rocks of Bhimbhetka caves or those of Pachmarhi. This is definitely an extreme rarity in India where young lovers do not even leave the walls of holy places or sites of historical importance, to proclaim their love! Even the temples in Pachmarhi were absolutely clean despite the flowing water which could have caused a lot of sludge.

A quick guide to each of the sites we visited

Bhopal- Bhopal, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh, is by far one of the most beautiful cities I have seen in India. It is an amalgam of scenic beauty, historical charm and urban lifestyle. The two lakes in Bhopal dominate the city and one can find ample greenery in the busiest of the areas of Bhopal. Bhopal’s cultural scene is pretty active too- almost every evening, you can walk in to Rabindra Bhawan/ Bharat Bhawan and the likes for free to enjoy a cultural performance. Bhopal is well connected to the rest of India via air, rail as well as road networks.

Sanchi- Sanchi is located approximately 46 kilometres north-east of Bhopal and is known for the Buddhist Stupas. On the way from Bhopal to Sanchi, one also crosses the Tropic of Cancer. The Stupas at Sanchi is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are well-maintained despite all the natural wear and tear. It is a good idea to hire a guide to see the Great Stupa.

Bhimbhetka caves- This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Madhya Pradesh. Located approximately 45 kilometres south of Bhopal, these pre-historic (more than 100.000 years old) rock shelters exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India. One can still see paintings and art on the rocks. Some of these paintings have eroded, so Archaeological Survey of India has used chemicals and wax to restore them.

Tawa Dam & Reservoir- Tawa Dam & Reservoir is a scenic escape from the busy city life. It is situated 35 kilometres from Itarsi (the nearest major rail-road junction). The views of the sunset and sunrise from the dam are enchanting. A boat ride of the lake reservoir, which takes one around the little islands dotting the reservoir and offer beautiful views of the Satpura range is a must-do here.

Pachmarhi- Pachmarhi is a hill station situated about 120 kilometres from Hoshangabad (the nearest major rail-road junction). It is also known as ‘Satpura ki Rani’. The name is believed to be derived from hindi words ‘panch’ meaning five and ‘marhi’ meaning cave. Pachmarhi has the famous Pandava caves, used by the Pandavas during their Agyaatvaas (exile in anonymity) and many other tourist attractions including water falls, caves, temples and scenic views.

The directions to the destinations are also marked on the highways so driving to them is not very difficult.  The upkeep of these tourist places is definitely paid attention to. I would like to believe that such initiative is also taken by other States in maintenance of their tourist attractions. Till then, I will go back to planning my next sojourn!