June 25, 2021

Renuka Taneja – Women in my life – My mum & my daughter

A very inspiring mum, daughter and entrepreneur-founder of Windows the Art and Craft corner in New Delhi; Renuka Taneja, shares with Mums and stories her journey of failures and contentment in achieving and realizing her true potential.

Her venture of starting a craftsy creative hub, thanks to her daughter and mum has changed her outlook in life. Today Windows is ensuring many children explore their potential through art and creative capabilities.

“My mom Lalita Diwan Kinra hails from Multan a city in the Punjab province of Pakistan. She is one of the few left who have seen and been through partition. It is wonderful hearing her stories and how they grew up and lived life even after losing everything. Today, at the age of 86, she is painting, learning how to play the casio and is learning computers.

She is a source of inspiration for many of us and her grandchildren.
It is amazing to watch her especially considering she started painting only at the age of 75 and started learning computers at the age of 80. She spent her whole life after marriage bringing us up, even though she was a gold medalist in M. A. Psychology. She married a service man from a prestigious oil company then known as Burmah-Shell. When she got married, she was a teacher in the prestigious Lawrence School, Sanawar.

After marriage, however, she gave up working and never looked back. She spent all her time in taking care of her three brats, her daughters; a full time, often considered thankless, job.

We are three sisters and I am the middle one. My elder sister Rekha is a teacher in the US whilst the younger one Rashmi is a special educator and I have taught briefly in DPS, then in Design and Fashion Institutes. It was finally the calling of art and craft education and running my own venture.

It is amazing how all of us are connected to teaching in some way. When I was young and studying in Villa Theresa School in Mumbai, I was an introvert as I was always compared by my teachers with my older sister who was very talented and intelligent. I remember going into a shell as a result because I did not want to be singled out and shamed. I used to stand in front of artworks, hoping I could do it someday. My art teacher would always say that what I had done was not right, and that I was not capable of doing it right.
Faced with so much of putting down, I even gave up trying. I was even failed in Class 5. This further eroded my self-esteem. It was only when my parents changed my school, when I was 11 yrs. old, that I began to discover a part of the real me. This was all thanks to Mrs. Amsadwala, a great teacher in Princess high school which was not that well known.

She was the first one who pushed me towards art and helped me realize that I too had some potential. She appreciated me and made me feel that I was capable.

My mother stood beside me all along. I did trouble her a lot as I never wanted to study the normal rote way (at that time, we never had an option as that was the only way). I don’t think my sisters gave her such a hard time as I must have done.

Soon, we came to Delhi where I had the opportunity to be one of the first students of Mrs. Shyama Chona, who is credited with the popularization of Brand DPS (Delhi Public School). She and the art teacher Mr. Amitabh Bhowmick (whom I call my guru today as he showed me the way), recognized my potential and told my father to send me in the direction of literature or art and design.

My father was very disappointed as he wanted me to either be a doctor, engineer or an IAS officer.
At this stage of my life, I was clear that I wanted to do something in the field of art and design, but did not know what. My mother supported me all along and convinced my father to allow me to do what my heart wanted me to do (thank you mom). I did my BFA graduation from College of Art, Delhi, in graphic design.

In 1983, I moved on to do my Masters in Textile design from NID, Ahmedabad, the dream place I always wanted to be in (I had been rejected the first time I applied), but this did not happen without an element of drama.

When I gave the entrance exam, my father did not want me to study further as he wanted me to settle down in life. I applied without his knowing about it. I was one of only 4 who were selected All India (at that time, even though NID had around 15 seats, they took only as many as they found capable). My father said ‘No’.

My mom came to my rescue at that time and told my father that he cannot do that as I was one of the four selected which was a great thing and that I must go. This is how my journey to be a designer began, and I am really grateful to my mom for standing up for me.

While I was still at NID, I was introduced to an IIT, IIM graduate (a very logical thinking person) who was 27 years old at that time and was considering marriage. After he saw me, he said he wanted to marry me. He said he was willing to wait for my education to get over. I ended up saying yes because I had no good reason to say no. My father suddenly passed away in September 1985 and we tied the knot in November 1985 on a date decided by my father, even though I was still studying.

Vinit, my husband has been a huge support in my having reached where I am today. Had it not been for his guidance and support, I would have not achieved much.
I never wanted to teach, especially after having spent so much time studying. I wanted to work in the field. I started working as a freelance designer. I also taught part time to contribute financially to setting up the essentials for the house in the early years of our marriage.

After a shift to Mumbai and back in Delhi, I started freelancing; working part time teaching part time at National Institute of Fashion Design (NIFT). That is when our lovely daughter Saadhvi came into our lives in 1995, 10 years after our marriage. She transformed our lives, changing virtually everything. She was the center and epitome of our lives. I left my part time job overnight and my teaching assignments reduced. I was called back to NIFT and my only condition of joining back quickly and on contract was that I would be allowed to take Saadhvi to college with me to look after her, and I would be permitted to go home in between, even though the contract terms were full time.

To my surprise, the request was accepted. Over time, however, it became difficult as this was a rare request and many felt it was unfair. It came to a point where I wanted to leave my job but did not have the courage to leave as it was so prestigious and sought after.

This state of confusion prevailed for some time when the mind just did not know what to do. The divine, of course, had his own plans and he forced the decision. I went on a holiday in June 1999 where I fractured my ankle requiring longer term healing. My department was on the first floor. So, even as I was able to walk with a cast, I was unable to take my scheduled classes in college. This led to a situation where I had to resign and be at home, doing no work other than managing Saadhvi and home.

This set me into a depression as working was a source of my own inner connect with myself.
That was the time when Madhu Roy, a friend of mine and my classmate from College of Art, stepped my life as a savior.

Together, we decided we would do something where our respective daughters (Labonie, her daughter, was a year younger to Saadhvi) could be with us and we did not have to leave them in a crèche or with anyone.
In January 2000, Windows was born, once again with the help of my mother who offered the Barsati in our house in Panchshila Park, to set up the studio.

Windows the Art and Craft Corner is a place where children find themselves. In art and creativity, nothing can really be labeled wrong. Children are given the freedom to explore, experiment and express. They work from their heart rather than their head.

Given the space to connect with themselves and to create what they want, children have demonstrated a potentiality way beyond their years. This is what has made it truly a special place where children love to come. Some of them have been coming for more than a decade and have for more than a decade and have virtually grown up here.

I see this all as a divine plan in which our daughter Saadhvi has played a key catalyzing role. Today she is 20 years old and is pursuing fashion design at Pearl Academy.

It is interesting that she has had struggles similar to mine through her school and college and my work is now slowly beginning to find avenues where I am working with teachers, helping them to create the open learning environment where each child is seen for her unique potentiality and nurtured so. Perhaps this is what the next orbit of Windows’ work will be.

As I look back at my life’s journey, I thank the divine for a number of things which may have seemed like an adversity at that time. Going through my struggles gave me the ability to create a learning space for children, fracturing my foot gave me a chance to create Windows and get more time with Saadhvi.

The list of memories of her growing up is endless. I have enjoyed every moment of it. She has taught me a lot and has also been instrumental in creating a positive impact in the world through Windows.

As we walk the journey together, today we are more friends. I thank the divine for showing me pathways and mentors throughout my journey – especially my mom, my darling daughter Saadhvi, my husband Vinit, my friend Madhu, and everyone else who has been associated in my life to bring me where I am today…… ”
Mums and stories is thankful to Renuka for sharing with us this beautiful and inspiring story with us

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