I still remember my first meeting with Janhavi Samant, over 17 years ago. I was a gawky, wannabe journalist and she was managing the education and careers space at Midday…
Both of us were in the initial phases of our careers. We wanted to ensure that the public received the best content from us. We used to brainstorm, fight and chew each other’s brains over the drafts. She always had the final say since she was going to publish the piece. And her decisions were always right. We lost touch. Years later, we connected first through Facebook and then through a common friend. Writing, research, PR and editorially leading publications, she has done it all. Today, she heads CNX, the entertainment section of Lokmat. She has continued to inspire me in more ways than one.
Witty, intelligent and balanced, are three adjectives that are most suited to Janhavi Samant, Entertainment Editor – Lokmat. In a heart to heart conversation, she left me awestruck and motivated. This is the second post in the #StayInspired series. It touched my heart, I hope it touches yours too. Read on…
What were the building blocks that led you to become the person that you are today? Tell me something about your childhood.
Most definitely, my parents. They were never disappointed that they had given birth to daughters. A lot of their time was invested in bringing me up as a forthright person. I was always taught to not to compromise on what I wanted. My parents expected me to work and remain financially independent. Staying unemployed was never an option.
Throughout my childhood, the one lesson that was constantly drilled into me was: NEVER GIVE UP. My parents encouraged me in everything but never coddled me with false praise.
They criticised and pushed me when I didn’t do my best and always comforted me when I failed. Most importantly, they truly empowered and enabled me to take my own decisions – right from the time I enrolled myself in a drama class at 8, to the time I bought my own house before marriage without asking them, to the time I decided to marry a man of my own choice at the time I wanted.
Is there an incident that took place in your childhood/growing years that was a turning point in your life?
I was a dreamy-eyed, below-average student. During the 90s, state-funded schools used to have close to 65 students in a class. Teachers neither had the time nor the bandwidth to even complete the syllabus much less nurture talent. And most students like me lagged behind which, in a way, affected our self-confidence and social skills.
I remember being extremely interested in drama and dance. I would eagerly go for auditions every year and return rejected. In the 5th standard, I finally got selected. I was on cloud nine and started learning my lines diligently. Then, three days into rehearsals, the teacher abruptly dismissed me and said that I didn’t need to come again. I distinctly remember crying all the way home. It seemed I had truly failed that evening. My father saw me crying; he was so enraged.
I remember him telling me, “Wipe your tears. If you want to act, you will act. The school is not the only place in the world.” The next day he enrolled me in a Jaidev Hattangadi acting course.
It was a class that ran late into the evening and I remember returning from school, getting ready, going for class and returning by 9.30 pm every night. My parents would come to the bus stop to escort me home. I went on to act in 4-5 plays. The confidence I gained through this exercise won me several accolades at elocutions, singing competitions and plays.
There are parents who would have said to the crying girl, “It’s just a stupid school play. Forget it.” Not mine. They made me face my failure and they made me fight it.
But most of all, they acknowledged my dream, and they believed that I deserved to make it come true. This episode and its results changed my personality and therefore my life forever.
What made you choose journalism as a career? When did you decide you wanted to make your passion your profession?
I realised that I really hated accountancy and realised that I completely enjoyed writing. My family was always politically conscious, left-leaning and so I decided that I would pursue journalism. Although, after many years as a writer, I realise that, writing is only the means. My actual passion is entertaining, educating and connecting people. Today, I get as much satisfaction from writing a film review as I do when I guide a young colleague in mutual fund investments or home buying or when I am talking feminism with friends.
Life is all about connections and learning and I am passionate about both.
Just like anyone else, there must have been ups and downs in your life, what were they? How did you overcome them?
Ufff….there have been so many highs and lows. Right from my first rejection in a reputed mass media college, to being isolated by a bunch of bitchy colleagues in my first job as a trainee, to a sexist sacking in the ninth month of my pregnancy, or the first time my editor ripped me apart when I misprinted a page.
There have been many many highs as well. My first proper job with a kind, nurturing boss, my first promotion within a year of joining a position and then a triple promotion by the second year, my colleagues in all the places I have worked with who I continue to be close friends. The measure of this progress is not how much money I make but the advice for which my friends turn to me and the expectations my bosses have from me.
The most satisfying thing through all these ups and downs is that I know that there is a lot more to do and that my dream is mine and no one can take that away from me.
What kept you going through all the low phases of your life?
I don’t know whether by nature or by training, I am extremely dogged and persistent. And I really never give up. I am superb at self-motivation. And I know how to stay focused on exactly what I want to achieve.
How different is the career woman from her personal life? Tell me something about your role as a wife, daughter, sister, friend.
I am not different at all. I get involved emotionally in almost everything I do. That’s why I don’t really have a work-life division as such. I am the practical, decisive tough nut in my family.
My dad has passed away but my mum, sister and I continue to be pillars in each other’s lives. Needless to say, we ask each other for advice on important matters. When not asked, we interfere shamelessly in each other’s lives and continue to push unsolicited advice anyway.
My relationship with my husband is very different than most marital partnerships. Although most of the time he is the chief irritating officer in my life in the last 18 years, marriage is a warm intimate cocoon for me. We are not big on symbolic romantic gestures and these many years of marriage have convinced me that happily ever after only exists for couples who love to watch Hum Aapke Hai Hain Kaun and Maine Pyaar Kiya.
Technically friendship is too lame a term to describe the comic and volatile nature of our relationship, I would be safe in saying that my husband and I laugh a lot with each other and are truly at peace with each other.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
No day is typical because the urge to sleep five minutes more or drink one more cup of tea always gets out of hand. The day starts with my husband getting the kids ready for school and me trying to pretend that I am useful.
I drop the kids to the bus stop and return to have a cup of tea. Then the cook comes, I give her breakfast and tiffin instructions and then spend half a lifetime in front of my wardrobe wondering what to wear. Then I realise I am late and rush for a bath. I come out and five outfits later, I gobble breakfast and rush to work.
The workday passes like a blur from an Imtiaz Ali film song. A bit of writing and editing, a dozen page corrections and hazaar meetings and briefings later, I rush back home.
Dinner is always ready and the family eats, mostly together. The primetime at my home is always bedtime. The minute they get into their pyjamas, my kids and husband get into top form and start horsing around – we read, we chat, we squeeze each other, we cuddle in the kambal and one by one, we drop off to sleep.
Which is the best time of the day? What do you do at that time
Typically, I am not a morning person at all. But motherhood has stripped me of that choice. I envy women who can successfully put their kids to sleep by 8 pm and then read or watch TV peacefully. I can barely stay awake after 9pm. But all hope is not lost. Sometimes a good book lures me to be unfaithful to my kids and stay up reading. Generally speaking, if I am not reading or watching a film, my favourite time is when I wake up and my kids are sleeping – just spent holding them, soaking in their skin, beauty, baby smell and innocence before they wake up and turn into horrible monsters.
Do you believe in God? What is your relationship with God?
I am not quite sure if I believe in God. I believe in a governing power around us but the notion of God is too patriarchal and rigid to my understanding. However, I do know that I do not believe in religion or any of the silly superstitions and practices that Indians allow themselves to be ruled by so routinely.
Who is your role model? What qualities of your role model did you apply in your real life?
My mum for sure. She is a tough woman and has undergone many hardships to achieve her own milestones as a light classical singer. I remember accompanying her to her music classes and performances when there was no babysitter and I see myself doing the same.
I was always a part of my mum’s career and my kids are part of mine. I realise it is important for your children to see you working hard. Kids respect that and learn from it.
I believe there is something to imbibe from all passionate working women and their struggles. Sudha Murthy, Smriti Irani, Kiran Bedi, Vrinda Grover, Indira Jaisingh, Naina Lal Kidwai, Asha Bhosle are all role models for me. Not only because they are good at what they do, but also because they have dared to think and do things differently.
Whom do you turn to in times of adversities? Has it helped? How?
Depending on what kind of adversity it is. At times, it is my mother. At times, my sister.At times, it is my husband. At times, it is my close friends. I am used to tackling most of my problems myself. However, talking about problems helps me sort stuff out in my head. It helps me rationalise issues and tackle my own anxiety around it.
What is your mantra of life?
No mantra as such. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The world and all its problems are because we don’t know how to loosen up.
What does marriage mean to you? Your spouse, what is the role he plays in your success story?
Exactly the role I play in his success story – a cameo. My husband’s successes are solely his and mine are truly mine. When my work is tough, he bears the weight of my non-work responsibilities. I do the same for him. He smiles and shakes hands at all my professional events and I smile and shake hands at all of his. We enable and empower but most of all expect each other to excel at what we do best.
Did Janhavi’s story inspire you?
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