July 3, 2020

Manjul Madampath Menon starting BEAD thanks to her daughter

This is one of the heart warming stories you will read on a mum. Manjul is someone  who literally dotes on her daughter, a daughter who is all set to fly away from the nest. Manjul Menon is an entrepreneur, a single parent and someone who believes in living life in the most practical form.

She shares with Mums and stories, “I have had a happy childhood and was the elder of two girls by two years and two weeks – which had implications for what birthday presents we got!  My father was in the Indian Railways and I changed several schools and each degree was in a different place.  I had a fairly strict upbringing; there were routines for sleeping, eating, bathing and studying too.  The travel and different places we stayed in provided a sense of adventure and exposure to cultures in a way that was not as common as it is today.

For instance, my handloom-loving mom was responsible for exposing me to textiles from all over the country.  We’d casually refer to the bedcover from Assam, the shawl from Manipur, the Pochampally from Andhra, the tant from Bengal…and so on. While we never lacked for essentials, we didn’t have much for wants, particularly since my father supported his parents.  So family values, sacrifice, sharing- these were part of our daily life

I’ve had a chequered education and work experience.  My undergraduate and graduate degrees were in Pharmacy but plans for a doctorate abroad were set aside when my 21 year old sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given little time.  Thereafter I choose to stay back with my parents and some years later, completed a doctorate in management since I wanted to work in health care.  I lost my father to a brain tumour during this period.

I started working in hospital management and consultancy, then more broadly, as a consultant within the service industry.  As my career was looking good, my marriage was breaking up since I chose not to continue experiencing domestic violence.  So I literally ran away with my then thirteen-month old and found a job in Bangalore.  It of course involved long hours and travel and my lawyer warned me that if it came to a custody issue, I’d lose because of the demands of my job.  When I asked for less travel and shorter work days, I went from being someone with “intelligence, integrity and intensity” to being “unprofessional” – I’m glad things are changing in the workplace.

I started working from home and almost simultaneously discovered that my child seemed to have more issues with teachers than most of her peers.  I decided to become more invested in her learning process and discovered her strengths and concerns.  I understood better why she had issues in a classroom setting.

Since I couldn’t get teachers to look at her concerns in the same light, I home schooled her for a time before she went back into a school.  She learned that keeping her hands busy helped her concentration and attention spans.  BEAD was born when she asked to make earrings while studying and I suggested she train a woman in need of income, so we could help her earn something.

So when we started selling the earrings made by these women, we realized that we either needed very large volumes or higher value products to help them earn more.  We then started jewellery with silver and semi-precious stones and got a good response.  But as my daughter, Manini, faced board exams and preparation for college, the amount of time she could spend on training and quality control of our jewellery, reduced.  Finding a tailor who worked from home, proved a turning point when our earring-makers’ ranks were decimated by marriage, moving away and other life events.  It marked our move into tailoring skirts which have now become our main product.

Along the way we also started making quilts to provide work to others who needed it.

Seeing the difference we made to the admittedly few people we work with, has fostered an intent to grow and provide an income to more people.”

Talking on the birth of entrepreneurship in her life through her daughter Manjul says, “ I think this is likely true.  Earlier she envisaged a future in design and I would encourage her to follow the work of socially conscious designers who make a difference to the communities they work with.  In senior classes in school, she discovered other interests and strengths, such as a flair for writing and thinking critically about issues.  She is currently in a university for liberal arts, studying for a degree in political science.  She seems to be interested in a career in influencing policy and opinion, we have to wait and watch.  She is curious, engaged, aware and ethical; qualities that should stand her in good stead.

Single parents are not infrequently stigmatised.  Having said that it did not in practice, affect my child.  But in her sociology class they read research which seemed to suggest that children of single parents tend to be low-achievers; she countered that with other, more positive findings.  People need to consciously move past their biases and consider individual cases – a sort of innocent-until-proven-guilty mindset!

Being a mother to me means I take on responsibility for another person. It means being a parent, mostly friendly but not a friend. In my book being a parent and being a friend are mutually incompatible!  Parenting necessarily means putting the child’s well-being ahead of her desires, likes or dislikes.  It’s not a popularity contest and I’m prepared to have my child dislike me sometimes.  It means giving unconditional love which is not contingent on whether the child’s actions are what I might like her to do.  It means providing the security that while I expect respect and will discipline, she can come to me with any problem – nothing is too bad, ever.

It also means shifting gear as the child grows, allowing her to negotiate rules and boundaries, make her own (safe!) mistakes and do things on her own.  Being a successful parent necessarily means making oneself redundant and being the wind beneath her wings when called for.”

Manjul has her word of advice on women getting into entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted.  It’s demanding, time-consuming and can be both the most joyous and the most stressful thing one can undertake.  I frequently forget to eat and hate the time spent on things other than work.

I’d say wait till your kids are old enough to be out of the house for predictable periods because they need an emotionally available parent.  Entrepreneurship has a way of taking on a life of its own and can take away from the time kids need.  My philosophy is that if you’re not there when they need you, they learn to do without you and both of you are losers then.  If you aren’t there to listen to the little things, you’ll likely to never hear the big things.”

Wishing Manjul the very best in life and wishing her daughter a bright future. We thank Manjul for sharing her perspective on being a parent, standing up against domestic violence and embracing entrepreneurship in the most spirited form.

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