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The Passionate Goddess and the Two Stories on the Coin

“She got my dad a job, actually her story is amazing,” Shilpa Guha talks cheerfully of her mother who is her “rock”. She laughs in a loud voice as if she fears nothing. She says that her mother, after getting a physics PhD in India got a fellowship to the United States and by showing her husband’s resume in different places in the US she got him a job, too.

With her curly hair falling over her shoulders and a smile on her face Shilpa Guha, an Access Academy teacher at Asian University for Women (AUW), tells her mother’s story and how amazing she is. Shilpa was born to Indian parents in New Jersey. In spite of being born and spending her whole life there, Shilpa appears as a typical Indian girl while she has been to India only a few times for leadership and women’s rights conferences. She is wearing Shalwar Qamees, and a Bindi is shining on her forehead between the two eyes, giving a pure Indian feature to her face. She excitedly exclaims her time in India, the “richness” of everything, and the great women leaders that she met there.

Her story is a coin with her mother’s story engraved on the one side of the coin and hers on the other. She said that her mother raised her a feminist and taught her not to be ever a dependent woman, especially on a man. “I don’t know how young I was when she started talking to me about this concept or when she started implanting this idea of ‘you have to be independent, you have to stand of for yourself’,” she added.

As a person passionate about “everything,” Shilpa reveals where her passion lies. Passionate about justice, about equality, she says, “I am the most passionate about when people who have been oppressed or marginalized are able to find a voice.” Once, she says she taught public speaking in a leadership seminar at AUW. She had her students who mostly came from different levels of male dominated society to go on the stage, get the microphone and talk. Then she found out that after being part of many clubs such as public speaking, many of her students have got a voice and have been able to get such kind of confidence. “I don’t know if I could feel more passionate about anything more than that” she says.

A body of energy, of inspiration, of motivation, of empowerment, and of strength and struggles, Shilpa’s mother has been an exemplary leader that she adores. “She is a great example of someone who really took charge of her life but in many ways she was also an example of different types of oppressions” says Shilpa. Her mother, growing up in a very poor family and having lots of imbalances in her life, embodies both women’s struggles and their strength which makes her a perfect ideal for Shilpa as she explains so.

Shilpa says it is an honor to call oneself an activist where she defines activism as to have the desire to do something about the injustices, to take steps against a very dissatisfying situation, or to achieve a certain goal. “Even though I may not be out in the streets protesting everyday about certain issues, I would call myself an activist, in spirit” says Shilpa. She started her path to activism when she was in school. Shilpa and her friend wanted to start a club as another chapter of Equality Now. However, she sadly describes that there were not enough people as the members of the club, not enough people who would care.

The smile comes back to her face when she says that she had the opportunity to stir the part of her identity that was defined by activism and feminism which made her mother “thrilled”. Finishing her school in New Jersey Shilpa continued her education in New York. As one of the “biggest steps” in her life, during her college Shilpa left her job at the Student Life Office which she says was just not fulfilling and started working for the center that was working for women. She wanted to do a job that would make her feel that she is making some kind of contribution, or working towards achieving a certain goal. During this decision she says, “I figured out what really is my goal” and that activism and doing something became a way of being, a “lifestyle” and a “driving force” in her life.

Shilpa took part in organizing and leading many leadership conferences in India, interned for Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom at the United Nations and also the Human Rights Watch. To further contribute to human rights and women’s rights initiative “especially in an international way,” her passion, she came to AUW.

Shilpa also talks about the challenges of being an activist. She acknowledges that “Part of being an activist and fighting injustice is being informed and deeply understand the injustices…and there are so many realities that could make you completely devastated and disillusioned”. Hearing a story or reading news about the horrifying things taking place all over the world and that people could do such things to each other is really devastating and difficult.

Besides chasing goals, Shilpa is a dreamer. She dreams of being an “activist actress”, a lawyer by the day and an actress by the night. Passionate about arts and dance she thinks arts besides being a way to expressing yourself is a platform for conveying a message. For a while she says she wanted to become a newscaster on TV having a journalist talk show where women leaders would be invited to draw on important issues. While happily talking about her dreams, she exclaims that “I want to do something that allows me interact with people who want to commit to the very principle of equality and justice, people who really believe in the human and human connectedness.”

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

Klaudia Mexico's picture

loving your roots

I like Shilpa's passion about her roots, we can be born or raised any where, but there is always something that bring us back to our beloved land.
Great story,

Klaudia González

rabia.salihi's picture

True...

Yes Klaudia, that's true. Shilpa has got passion about her roots...before interviewing her I didn't know that she was raised anywhere else but India...Her looks and everything about her kind of convinced me to believe that. She has got the "richness", probably I could say the Indian richness that she remembers from India...and thank you for your time reading the story and the comment... :)
Cheers,
Rabia

rabi

I love her spirit and her connectedness to her roots.
The part about her bond with India and how she cherishes is really touching and I believe is something we all should nurture - our connectedness to our nation...

But yes, witnessing or reading, or hearing accounts of atrocities carried out against humanity, and especially women are just beyond comprehension and you have quoted her on that quite nicely

“Part of being an activist and fighting injustice is being informed and deeply understand the injustices…and there are so many realities that could make you completely devastated and disillusioned”

Nice profile Rabia! :)

Salaam
Aminah

rabia.salihi's picture

I agree!

Dear Aminah,
I agree with you. Her adoration and connectedness to India really makes her stand out. besides, I liked the ways she describes things, like activism and how generally but still precisely she describes the challenges of knowing or learning about your surrounding, the world, and human beings which truly is part of being a successful activist.
Thank you... :)
Cheers,
Rabi

rabi

Greengirl's picture

Hi Rabia

You just shared the profile of a unique woman in a unique way! Shilpa Guha is much connected to her roots, and she is a true activist at heart. Those inherent qualities certainly stimulated her preference for "working for the center that was working for women".

I am glad to know about Shilpa Guha; and commend you for representing her well through your writing.

Best Wishes,
Greengirl

rabia.salihi's picture

Hey Greengirl,

I am glad that you liked the profile and knowing about Shilpa. Yes, she is such a unique person, a passionate goddess who is connected to her roots and is trying to make contribution to human connectedness.
Thank you.
Cheers,
Rabi

rabi

JaniceW's picture

Beautifully written

Rabi, this is a wonderful example of a strong interview that not only gives me a sense of Shilpa's character but also leads me to want to learn more about her, to become her friend. This is high praise indeed as you have written this interview in such a compelling way as to inspire me to want to delve deeper into her life, to want to spend time with her. Reading your interview, I feel as if I am right there with you in the room.

You write beautifully Rabi and ended on a powerful note. Well Done!

rabia.salihi's picture

Dear Janice,

I am very happy to know that you admire the profile. If it is powerful and strong writing, it is all due to the support I've got, and am getting from the dearest members of the worldpulse community. It is all the encouragements and seeing many wonderful women and their work that I keep going. Thank you for the praise.
Cheers,
Rabi :)

rabi

libudsuroy's picture

compelling storytelling

Dear Rabia,
I love your storytelling. The way you began with the humorous quip; zeroing in on the strong mother-daughter links. Your narrative brought to me the stories of two women: Shilpa's and her mother's.
The tone and attitude of your story bring forth a woman of commitment with a spark of adventure, who sees self-empowerment as the other side of empowering other women.

Thanks so much for writing Shilpa's stories!

Blessings,
libudsuroy/Lina Sagaral Reyes
Mindanao, The Philippines

''Every Day is a Journey and the Journey itself is Home.'' (Matsuo Basho)

rabia.salihi's picture

Thank you!!!

Dear libudsuroy,
Thank you so much for your admiration. Your writing also could be seen from your comment. It is wonderful itself. And yes Shilpa's story and help from my dear mentors are the special points not to be forgotten, for making the profile better and better. Thank you for your precious time.
Cheers,
Rabi

rabi

Iryna's picture

Activist actress

Beautiful story, Rabia! Your writing is light, interesting and inspiring!
I like that Shilpa ia not only a feminist but also feminine! I like her strong soul and her tender nature and the way she combines them. It's important to remember always that you are a woman, even if you need to fight on the same level as men.
Great article!
Greetings from Ukraine,
Iryna

Sarah.Happel's picture

Wonderful sharing

Thank you for letting us know how one can still push for change even when abroad and far from one's home land. Shilpa's work is important and you are the catalyst bringing her goals forward. I would like to hear even more about her (and your) visions on empowerment and equality!

Sarah Happel, Principal
Intercultural Training & Leadership Coaching
www.SpectrumSolutions.eu

Sherry L's picture

Touched by Shilpa and the Coin

Rabia,
Thanks for making Shilpa and her mother come alive. Their strength, determination, and wisdom are palpable. I hope to meet them both one day. Mothers can have such a profound impact. Our youngest daughter and I spent several months in 2010 at Maher (which means Mother's Home in Marathi) in India. www.maherashram.org
Blessings & gratitude,
Sherry

Sherry Helmke
www.newviewnow.com

Maura Bogue's picture

Good Job!

Congratulations on completing your first module! I really liked this story. You are a talented writer, and you told this story with good logic. Great work!

In the future, try focusing on one specific aspect of your subject's life. That will focus your story even more.

But overall really good work!

Best,
Maura

Zoepiliafas's picture

Solutions

I loved the idea of using the arts to begin social change. I recently learned about this organization that use plays to act out conflict that has happened in community and then asks the audience to spend time supporting the characters as they resolve the conflict.

What are you thoughts on using art to bring understanding and healing? Any creative ideas on ways to do this in your country?

Thanks for the time you have taken on the piece!

Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager
World Pulse

Y's picture

What a wonderful testimonial

What a wonderful testimonial to the story of mother energy being passed on while it is also still contained in the mother."Her story is a coin with her mother’s story engraved on the one side of the coin and hers on the other."
I hope Shilpa's youthful enthusiasm settles into a concise mission and path, even though it may present itself in many manifestations.
Blessings on your powerful, playful story, Rabia.
Yvette

Y

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