A narrative of personal journey in trying times. Read about Ms Meena Chabria’s struggles as she worked to raise her children and keep ambition flying.
Each day is a great opportunity to try something new and push oneself into areas that test individual capacity, thus paving the way for growth, both in personal and professional lives. But very often, human beings get bogged down by challenges that seem much bigger than they actually are. Self-doubt, self-pity and lack of confidence to overcome the challenges inhibit growth. Those who successfully circumvent personal challenges through planning, dedication and hard work accomplish such targets which seemed impossible in the beginning.
Part 1: Childhood @ Coimbatore
I have divided my story in parts. I was born in Coimbatore. My father was a tailor and mother, a housewife. I have two siblings. My sister is working in a school and my brother is working in The Hindu newspaper. We belong to the most middle-class family.
It was just that the father cat learned to bring whatever he could earn and we managed to get our food out of that. My father was a big inspiration for me. His thought process was to get the girls up, at any cost. He would always push us to do only the things that we loved for. He never told us to study or be a part of sports or any such thing. My success belongs to my parents. They made me to take important decisions in life. I follow their parenting style and leadership in my team. I push my people and say, “You decide what is good for you.” My dad used to cycle every day 20 kilometres up and down, just to give his two girls hot lunch. That is where my love for cooking and making some good food for my children later on, began. After 12 years, we had my brother.
We grew up in a very tough situation and on many days, we used to wait for the food served by our neighbour, after their pooja rituals. Yet, I don’t have many dislikes, many opinions or many bad remembrances of my age before marriage. We were one happy family.
Part-2: Into the Wilderness
I got married at the age of 16, not knowing anything, to a guy 12 years elder to me. He was one of the most amazing men I have ever met in my life but I didn’t find love in him. We had some issues and we got separated. My son was 21 days old and I asked him a question for which he didn’t have an answer. I sensed the marriage would not work. In the middle of the night, with my two year old daughter and 21 day old son, I left my home. From there, my new life began and I didn’t know what to do, with no money and no job and pushed into the society.
The first job I found for me was being a helper to an old woman who didn’t have eyesight. I had to give her bath and take her to the wash room. I got 6000 rupees a month and enjoyed doing the nannyship for some time. It was very inspiring doing something to take care of my children and meet my ends. But taking care of my children while I was away was a challenge. So I shifted to a small 1BHK apartment with common toilets, in Choolaimedu, Chennai for a rent of Rs.1500.
There was a small construction going on and there was a fight between a husband and wife every day. She had given birth to four daughters and she did not have a son. Listening to her, I asked her if she could take care of my son when I was away for my work and told her I would pay 500 rupees a month to her. She agreed and took extremely good care of my son. It was very overwhelming and my son was never ready to part from her in the evenings. Now I could trust someone in life.
Then I got my second job which was wiping the legs of children in a preschool. Gradually, the principal of the school saw me and one day asked me if I could teach the kids. I started teaching the Pre-KG kids. In parallel, I did my teachers’ training. I got a job in Sindhi Model School but couldn’t continue it. After three months, I quit the job and went for an autism clinic to be a helper for autistic kids. I did a job there for one year until I found my first professional breakthrough called Shiamak Davar’s dance class.
Part 3: A Bumper in the Offing
I went to drop my daughter for her dance class and I saw a board where it was written that call centre employees were required at Rs 12,000 salary and with flexible timings. It was like a bumper for me. I casually applied and got the job. After two weeks, I got a call from Shiamak Davar, the owner himself.
He was having a test drive of how the call centre was going on. He told me that I spoke very well and asked for my number. I thought he was joking. After the call, he promoted me as an assistant manager for Chennai, for handling his dance classes. That was 10% growth of my career.
My kids joined in DAV school and both grew up being independent, with the sister taking care of the brother. After 6 months, I organized a very good fashion and dance show and we did very well. I was promoted as a city manager.
Part 4: A Knock at INOX
During one of the promotions for the fashion and dance show, I went to INOX. There I met actor Lakshmi Narayanan who does a lot of movie roles. He was there in the lobby and we became friends. He said he was quitting his job and taking up a movie portfolio. I asked him if he could help me out with a better paying job. He took me to the Inox manager. My CV had hardly any worthy details, except my salary expectation of Rs 28K. They hired me as a Manager Marketing for Inox and I began the first corporate world job over there.
I worked with them for two years and it was a good journey. All my learnings in processes, systems, man management and return on investment began from there. I had the most glamorous and most skilful learning days of my life through Inox.
My CV had hardly any worthy details, except my salary expectation of Rs 28K. They hired me as a Manager Marketing for Inox and I began the first corporate world job over there.
Part 5: A Giant Leap
One day, in 2009, two people came to Inox to see how the property was working. They were the CEO and Senior Vice President of PVR. I met Gautam and Shalu, who are now the CEO and Vice President of PVR. They asked me if I could come for an interview the next day. I went and they recruited me for their Ampa mall, which was upcoming then, at a salary of 60K per month.
If you ask me where my life changed, I will tell you it was in PVR. In the last 13 years, I have never gone for any interview, seeking any job. The strength of PVR is its no-gossip environment and that was the best for me, being a single parent. PVR respects people for their work. Gautam became my boss, friend, mentor and godfather.
My life really changed. PVR is a great organization and has given me a great career. I am a living example to say that if you give hundred percent, you will get hundred percent but if you go far and give 500%, you will get 1000% in return. I can proudly tell people that out of my 13 years of working, I got 17 years of incentives. I have delivered more numbers and got more numbers. Year on year, I started growing in my career and in my life. First, I was given Chennai as my zone for three years. Then they gave me Hyderabad, Cochin, the whole of South and Sri Lanka, one after the other. I handle more than 50% of the screens in my kitty, in the entire geographical description.
Do I think there is something called work-life balance? Unfortunately, for me, ‘No.’ My job is not a 10 to 6 job, but a 24 x 7 job.
In PVR, it has been a beautiful experience with beautiful people, always learning and having the hunger to do something, so my children can get better. My daughter is just completing a commercial pilot course. She had movie offers but declined them and wanted to become a pilot. I agreed, on the condition that I could fund her but she must manage all her work—applying for the course, attending interviews, joining, etc., as I had very little time to help her out.
My son is 18 years old—young, handsome and 6.2 tall and has joined the St Joseph’s School of Commerce in Bengaluru. Both my children have been taught to be independent. I think this speaks volumes about a woman, raising two children on her own, with so many professional and personal challenges that she can ever go through. That is a perspective. A 6 for me could be a 9 for you.
In this journey of mine, was my job tough? Yes, sometimes. Is a corporate job easy? Yes, but it depends on what kind of line you are drawing with whom and what kind of aim you have. Are there any issues with the office, team and bosses? There will be and there is no escape from them, but we need to work around them. We need to see the perspective, our objective and goal. Do I think there is something called work-life balance? Unfortunately, for me, ‘No.’ My job is not a 10 to 6 job, but a 24 x 7 job. Does reading or upskilling help me? Yes, very much. That is where I began the next chapter of my life, during the Covid time. I enjoy my work. I have a glamorous job of being there for every movie, attending FDFS (First Day, First Show) and meeting movie stars.
Part 6: Turmoil
The wheels of the bus were just on the track and it was like a dream for a little girl who is a tailor’s daughter. Come March 2020 and Covid upset everything. The cinema shooting stopped. The company had to go through a real turmoil. It was heart-breaking to the core. Two weeks before Covid, my daughter had to leave for New Zealand for her pilot course. We got her an educational loan from a bank but I had to fund 30 to 40% of the expenses. I gave her my entire reserves. Everything was good for the first 6 months. In the seventh month, I called the bank to transfer her loan amount but the bank wanted my salary slip to revalidate the loan. The salaries were gone and I could not produce the slips. Of course, PVR took care of the employees very well. The loan was refused by the bank. I somehow managed to withdraw from my PF account and I paid her fees.
Part 7: Meena 2.0
Then came the U-turn of my life. I wanted to do something more, during the Covid lockdown days. I enrolled for one course after the other. I graduated out of IIM and ISB. I am now doing one in UCLA and MICA (Mudra Institute of Communications and Advertising). These, I am sure, will lead me to the launch of Meena 2.0.