Reena Mundra – 40, single mom, corporate honcho- one of the the youngest and dynamic women leaders to have reached the pinnacle of success at such a young age. She had smashed the glass ceiling and was the beacon of hope to so many young women out there who were fighting misogyny and striving to make their presence felt.
A marathon runner- who started running at the age of 32 and she set a new record. From the Boston marathon to to Chicago and New York, she had conquered them all. The gleaming medals were testimony to her dedication and perseverance.
A life that was glitzy, glamorous, Louis Vutiton bags and Rado watches, an exotic Greek holiday and aa sea facing apartment in Worli- she had it all.
Was she born with a silver spoon in her mouth or did she get plain lucky? None of the 2.
She was born to middle class parents- the greatest blessing was they were educationists and they made books a integral part of her life. Discipline, dedication, working hard, focus, resilience- these were some lessons she was taught as a child.
Intelligence coupled with a will to work hard and a zeal to succeed can work wonders. She completed her Masters in Business Management with a Gold medal and started her career with a retail bank. It was stressful, the work pressure was tremendous. People often looked at this “pretty face” and mocked – “will she be able to withstand it?” She outsmarted everyone. 2 years down the line she was promoted – the only one in her batch.
There was no looking back. She continued to grow and pursue her career relentlessly. She switched jobs to a bigger bank. This was in the early 90’s where women were almost invisible in the workforce. Teachers or bank clerks that’s what they mostly restricted themselves to. A young woman, who was not apologetic to call the shots – sent shockwaves in the male centred banking industry.
Love came calling when she least expected it. Aman and she met in a client party and hit it off. They began seeing each other and after a year of courtship, the tied the knot. Her parents were overjoyed.
Aman and Reena continued pursuing their careers on weekdays and weekends were dedicated to each other. Sports, reading, entertaining friends , spending time as a couple- life was perfect.
Reena had just got promoted as a Associate Vice President in the bank.
That’s when Aman got an opportunity overseas in Japan. It was for 3 years. He had to set up a team there. It would be a great experience and a stellar performance would mean a promotion and good rewards.
Aman and Reena were not ready for a long distance at that point. There was no way for Reena to take a transfer and getting job in Japan was not easy because of the strict regulations.
Reena was in a fix- she loved her husband but she loved her job as well. She couldn’t imagine sacrificing either of the 2. When you are facing tough times and unable to decide, God comes to your rescue.
Reena had been feeling uneasy since a few days, nauseated and tired. She took the pregnancy test and it was positive. A new life was growing inside her.
She knew what she wanted at that instant.
She was always clear about this bit- when she became a mom she would take some time off work and spend ample time with her kid. She knew that her demanding corporate job would not allow her to devote enough time and these were the moments that came once in a lifetime. She wanted to savour them and live them to the fullest.
She resigned after 6 months and joined Aman in Tokyo.
Aisha was born on 7Dec and it was the most memorable day in Reena’s life. Becoming a mom is a life altering experience- the tiny bundle of joy had conquered her heart.
Time was now spent feeding, singing lullabies and changing diapers. 3 years passed by in a blur. While it had been a rewarding experience as a mother, it had caused a dent in the husband wife relationship. Aman was busy with his job, it was demanding and he was keen he gets his due at the end of the assignment.
They spent very little time as a couple. Aman and she drifted apart. Daily conversations were limited to making a list of items to be bought from the grocery store or other errands to be run.
Love had vanished away from the window. It could be brought back, love can always be rekindled but they decided to shut the window. There was no point living in a loveless marriage and pretending everything was fine. Aman’s assignment was extended by 2 more years.
Aisha was 3 years old now and Reena’s parents were getting old. They were keen for their only offspring to come back. Her mother was more than happy to support Reena to care for the child.
Reena was also eager to restart her career, She knew too long a break can prove detrimental.
Aman and she came back to Mumbai and a took a divorce by mutual consent.
Reena shed a lone tear, and rubbed it off determined to re start her life with her daughter.
Her academic credentials were fantastic and she had a stellar experience. The break still loomed large over her head. It came as a rude shock to her that a 3 year break would render a woman of her calibre obsolete.
She did not give up. If anything, it egged her on. In her third interview, one of the panelists recognised her as the intern who had delivered some fantastic results in a banking project. She was offered a lucrative role at the same designation she had taken a break at.
Life had begun again. With vigour and passion she pursued her dreams. She would read stories for little Aisha at night- not stories of a knight in shining armour who would sweep her off her feet but stories of real men and women who were the heroes of their destiny. They did not wait for someone to come and rescue them, they wrote their own happily ever after.
Reena was promoted to Vice President – one of the youngest women to have reached this far in a male bastion. She was often called as a guest speaker at events – where she spoke about her career as a woman, about shattering the glass ceiling and why women need to stand by each other. She was a rising star.
The year 2002 is when a new journey began- what started out as a fitness regime slowly metamorphosed into a passion. At 32, a desk job with with a healthy intake of food is not sufficient. Some form of physical exercise was needed. She started jogging and started enjoying this morning ritual. Jogging gave way to running- 2km to 5 and 5 to 10, a half marathon and one fine day she had run her first full marathon. It felt exhilarating.
She had made up her mind- she wanted to take up the World Marathon Challenge and run all the 7 marathons. Once she set her sight on something, there was no looking back. In a span of 10 years she had checked off the box.
She had just celebrated her 40th birthday. Life was good. Her adorable daughter was on the cusp of teenage- the mother daughter bond had only grown stronger over the years. She had that best friend talk with her daughter- seeking her opinion on several matters and Aisha never ceased to amaze her.
Her career was at its peak- she was almost set to step into the shoes of CFO.
The tempest came without any warning – probably there were a few subtle signs which she failed to recognise. It began with slight trembling of the hands, legs and her jaws. She was a good sleeper but off late had started having difficulties in sleeping through the night. She found herself forgetting things which was so unlike her- she was a person who had this razor sharp memory and never needed post its or notes on her laptop to remember things.
When the trembling did not cease and started getting more frequent and for longer durations, she knew she had to seek help.
She made an appointment at Fortis with Dr Gujral, her family physician. He looked sombre when she described the symptoms but did not reveal anything. He ran her through a battery of tests over the next few weeks. As she sat in his office today, waiting to hear the results, one look at his face told her that things were not good.
“Reena I dont want to dilly dally but get straight to the point. You have Young Onset Parkinson’s. ”
She looked at him ,eyes wide open, trying to fathom if this was a dream.
“Parkinson’s usually affects people above 60 but there is a slim chance -10% in every 1 million who can be inflicted with this disease way before 60. Why does it happen? Its a combination of genetic factors which play a strong role or environmental factors. Its quite complicated as compared to a person in his 60’s getting affected. Younger people are busy pursuing their careers or catering to other responsibilities and often lack time to care for themselves. The good thing is we can start treatment now and prolong the progression. You can start sessions with a Dr Gupta, she is a renowned neurologist and I will get you started on some dopaminergic medications. With the right medications, guidance of a good neurologist and the right spirit one can continue to live a good life. Knowing you, your resilience and never say never spirit , I am sure you will beat this. But as your practioner its my duty to tell you that there is no cure. We can try our best to prolong it but we cannot cure it completely. Unfortunately science hasn’t found a cure yet.”
Reena went home saying she needs time to let this sink in and figure out how to move forward. This was something totally unexpected. She went home,started her Mac and started researching all about Young Onset Parkinson’s.
She kept looking for causes for she couldn’t figure out where had she gone wrong in taking care of her health or diet that she could have gotten into this. It was bit of relief to know that she hadn’t done anything wrong. She was among the 10% in a million- the unlucky few.
She needed to clear her head and running worked best in such situations. After a few rounds, she was back. Breathless, but she had her answers. She was a fighter and she wouldn’t give up. She would fight and conquer this disease.
It had been a week now and work was keeping her busy. It was a month into the promotion season and she was waiting with anticipation. She had worked hard, got some fantastic business for the company and it was unlikely she wouldn’t make it.
Saturday evening , she sat with her cup of green tea to enjoy the soothing breeze. Aisha was out at a friend’s for a birthday party. Her computer made a click sound and her gaze caught an email from the CEO. She went to check what was it on a Saturday that he had mailed about.
She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just 3 lines- but enough to make her life, the life she had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build — begin to crumble around her.
You have always shown remarkable conviction and zeal at the workplace and have been one of more most valued senior members. However off late, it was noticed by several of the Board members that your diligence and commitment towards the bank has been dwindling. It was thought to be due to personal reasons initially which Raj Uppal tried talking to you about and you denied. When this continued, the frequency of lapses getting higher, the Board decided to take a call on this. It has been mutually decided by the Board that it is in the best interests of the Bank that you step down with effect from today.
A severance package equivalent to 12 months paid leave has been agreed by the Board. The gardening leave is revoked. Your belongings will be delivered to your residential address by the security on Monday.
It was an absolute pleasure and honour to have worked with a dynamic personality like you. We wish you success in your future endeavours.
Reena’s eyeballs popped out. She couldn’t believe what she had just read. How the hell can they do this? They know about my disease, thats the only logical conclusion. This thing about lapses and inefficiency is a farce.
From the time she had got to know about her condition, she had changed her style of working. She knew that she couldn’t rely on her memory. She made notes , used post its and kept her I pad handy at all times. If she was being brutally honest to herself she knew that she hadn’t erred. There had been no misses, if anything she had brought in more business as her goal was the CFO Chair. This dint make any sense.
The information had been leaked, somehow. She thought hard and then it struck her.
When she had been to Fortis for her therapy sessions with the neurologist, she had bumped into Sharma’s wife. The chatterbox Mrs Sharma was all curious and tried to squeeze out information from Reena but she had distracted her and walked away. In all likelihood Mrs Sharma shared this piece of juicy gossip with her husband who was a bigger gossip monger. He dug into this further and uncovered the truth. Anyway it didn’t matter now. The news was out. They knew about this.
I cannot just let them get away were her first thoughts, they cant just chuck me out like that. I will make sure I create noise about this- a lot of noise. They cannot just do what they want with Reena Mundra- use her and throw her.
She clicked reply and was about to start typing when a panic button rang in her mind.
What will you say? Will you dispute the termination saying that it is not because of your inefficiency but because they discovered about your disease. What proof do you have? This will mean admitting before the whole world that Reena Mundra had Parkinson’s disease. The star, marathon runner, gold medallist, corporate girl, the one lakhs of people look upto is down with Parkinson’s. There is no cure. One day she will no longer be able to run these marathons- running a few steps will make her breathless. Who knows one fine day she may not even be able to perform her most basic tasks and may be confined to a wheel chair. Her brain will no longer work with that magical speed that astounds everyone, she won’t speak up and challenge people in meetings. She may not even be able to comprehend whats being spoken.
Are you ready to confess before the world that you are no longer that role model , that idol everyone loves?. Its a long drawn battle. Are you ready to fight it against a MNC bank while you talk in open about Parkinson’s and how it has and could change your life for the worse?”
Tears trickled down her eyes, she had never felt so helpless. She shut down the laptop. She wouldn’t take a hasty decision.
The next morning she had sorted out her thoughts, She would accept the money and walk out in a dignified manner. No damage done, no one needs to know anything. Financially she was in a good position, she had always thought of starting something on her own to encourage women entrepreneurs. Now was the time, earlier than she had anticipated but never too late.
She smiled after a long and stressful night. Life was not turning out the way she wanted it to and had worked towards but that was life and God making plans for you.
She had to talk to Aisha about the job thing, She spoke to her over lunch. Aisha knew about her mother’s medical condition, this matter took her by surprise too. “Maa you are fighting this out right. You know what I met Kushal’s Dad yesterday at his birthday party. He is a top class lawyer, I think you should talk to him”.
Reena gaped at her “Aisha I am bowing out gracefully” It did not sound convincing to her own ears.
“That not you Maa my hero. My hero is the one who stands up in a room full of people and makes her voice heard, the one who is unafraid of speaking up, challenging things and is unapologetic about her dreams. You deserve to be the CFO , not an ex employee terminated in such a undignified manner after all that you have done for the company. When your doctor certifies that you are mentally and physically fit to work in your current job, I don’t see why anyone should have a problem. When life puts you down, you don’t back off “gracefully”you get up and fight, and conquer. The world will know about this wounded tigress and will love her even more. Parkinson’s will trend on twitter in a positive way, watch it Ma”
When the hell did she grow up? Reena wondered with tears of joy and renewed hope in her eyes. She hugged her daughter- the nightmare was over. It was time to start a new journey which would culminate into a positive beginning.