When sixteen-year-old Jyotamma came to Mylaram, a sleepy village in Warangal, as a new bride, life did not change much, except that her troubles were of a different kind. As a child, although her parents were alive, her father put her in an orphanage, lying to the officials that her mother was dead as he was not able to support her.
She lived the life of an orphan deprive of simple pleasures like eating a puri from the road-side hotel, a dream she hoped to fulfill. She studied till SSC and just when she enrolled herself in college, she was forced to join a tailoring course, as it seemed like a fetching job. Her marriage put an end to her education.
After she was married off to Sammi Reddy, her distant cousin, she had to live in a joint family that was struggling to make ends meet. The five acres of land they owned was used to cultivate cotton and groundnut – very unreliable crops – and like many of their ilk, the amount of hard work never equaled the produce. Many a time, rains and famine played havoc.
Married life was not much different, and her education did not help. Every day she would finish her household chores and go to work in the fields. The work was new, she made many mistakes and by the end of the day, she developed sores on her palms. But she was persevering and learnt the tricks from farm labourers who came to help her with work. She also worked in others’ fields to earn some extra money.
Soon she was pregnant and a baby girl was born. The happiness was short-lived as now she had an extra mouth to feed. The older child was not even a year old when Jyotamma realised that she was pregnant again. She gave birth to a girl and situation turned from bad to worse. The family could not afford to buy extra milk for the baby. Holding the younger baby in one hand, Jyotamma sat helplessly watching the older one cry herself to exhaustion for want of milk.
When she tried to tell her husband the problem, all she received was a thrashing in return (the not-so-unusual behaviour in rural India, where a husband is considered infidel if he does not beat his wife as he considers it the solution to all problems). She was told that since they lived in a joint family, she had no other option but to adjust. Not one day went by when the thought of suicide did not cross her mind.
Many years later, as she sits in her plush Keys Software Solutions’ office in Phoenix, USA, she cannot help but reflect on her trouble-filled past. “I do not even want to forget my past. That helps me to be on my guard and stay motivated,” shares Jyoti Reddy alias Jyotamma, CEO of a million dollar recruitment firm, whose burning desire is to make a difference.
She recalls that her story is the same as that of almost all women belonging to rural India, where a woman not only takes care of the house and the kids, but helps the man and in many cases, takes his place in earning a living. Yet she gets no respect and is subjected to an assault on dignity invariably.
The story of Jyotamma, who is today known as Jyoti Reddy, however, takes a different course from here on. She refused to get bogged down with the grimness surrounding her. She motivated herself constantly and hoped for a change and decided to ‘be’ the change she wanted to see. The story of her rise and success stands out as an inspiration to all the women especially Indian rural women, who, either blame the system or fate, or resign themselves to the life of misery.
“Women have to constantly motivate themselves. Any amount of external help in terms of money or opportunity will not help if the woman herself does not seek the inner strength to deal with life,” shares Jyoti, who is on a visit to India with an agenda. “I am here to visit 25 educational institutions where I will talk to the students.
I think that it is the youth that has to change their outlook towards life. My talk is not a sweet one; I usually prefer to talk straight and blunt. Truth hurts, but unless a person hurts, there is no chance to heal him. I also want to change the mindset of as many women as I can. Even if I am able to help one of the ten people I speak to, I would think I have accomplished a lot.”
A visit to Mylaram was indeed an eye-opener. The villagers are eye-witnesses to her life of struggle and are happy to see her rise to the echelons of success. “She had learnt everything from sowing to pulling weeds, from putting water to the fields to operating the water engines, and she never hesitated asking for help. One lady, Lakshmamma, used to teach her work. She never shied away from hard work. She took good care of us when we worked in her fields,” shares Maska Ilaiah.
“Despite her work, she used to find time to teach me English when I was in Class X. She has been an inspiration to all of us. It was because of her that I ensured my sister studied MA, before getting her married,” shares Vadla Ravinder, a Vastu expert from the village.
Another old man shares on how she was selected as a teacher for the night school and how she took the additional responsibility of going personally to the dalit basti to persuade women to come and learn the basics of reading and writing. She taught many of them to sign their name. But her family, an upper caste Patel family, did not like her mingling with people of lower caste. And the men whose wives went to her night school used to create a ruckus in front of her house, but nothing dissuaded her.”
“I always did what I felt was right. I used to eat from their lunch boxes and worked with them. I never felt it was wrong,” shares Jyoti.
After she proved herself at the night school, she was promoted as National Service Volunteer. She had to travel to Hanumakonda on a daily basis and from there to neighbourhood villages on work.
It would be late in the night by the time she returned. But Jyoti converted the problem into an opportunity to come out of her house and live in Hanumakonda with her daughters. She put them in a school and went about her work. Her constant efforts brought in other opportunities, but not without hurdles.
Her perseverance, courage and never-say-die attitude helped her through her life in overcoming obstacles and making the best of her opportunities. During the time she completed her B.A through Open University and did M.A is Sociology.
Her day typically would start at 3 am when she would wake up the children, give them a bath and get them ready for school before putting them back to sleep, get the food ready for them and set off to work. After coming back, she would stitch petticoats for extra money to run the family. Later, when she got a job in Janasikshana Nilayam at Girmajipet, Warangal, she had no time for tailoring, so she would take a few sarees from an acquaintance on loan and sell them in the train on the way back from her work.
She started working as a teacher in a government school at Ramakrishnapuram village. She started earning Rs 2,700 per month. At every step she not only worked to support her family, but also worked towards changing the people around her for better. The government school that had 16 students and one teacher when she joined evolved to having 16 teachers and 270 students when she left.
The desire to grow and achieve something led Jyoti on to the path of success. “One must have a burning desire, it is only then that he will aim for change. I was working as a mandal girl child development officer and my husband also had started earning and I was living a comfortable life. One day, when I met a cousin from the US, an idea took shape in my mind. I tried relentlessly for a visa to visit USA – the land of opportunities to earn money for a better life.”
After many rejections, Jyoti finally made it to the US in May 2000 leaving a comfortable life, a good salary and the family behind. From working in a small recruitment agency, to becoming a head of a successful consultancy firm, the journey has been an eventful one, “It was not easy. During those early days, I would cry in loneliness and at my misery.
Life was very difficult. But I couldn’t go back without proving to myself. I faced many failures, met many people who duped me, but I have no complaints. I have met several others who helped in many ways all throughout my life. Be it the old woman who loaned me Rs 20 when I was in need or a friend who suggested that I should set up my own company.”
Today Jyoti has a successful business that stood the test of recession, two beautiful and well-educated daughters married to intelligent and successful men and a whole bunch of well-wishers and friends. When it is time to relax and enjoy life, she has taken a decision to serve people – her own people, the people of her country and her state who are waiting helplessly in their miserable lives waiting for a saviour. So every visit to India is dotted with appointments with people, meetings and discussion to see how she could give back to the people.
“I have never rested in my life. I cannot remember if I spent even one day on myself. Every time I achieve something, I ask myself – what next? I have taken care of all my responsibilities towards my family and now I want to serve people. I’ve always loved to be with people and help them in my own way. My purpose is not to give money to these people and wash my hands off. I want them to understand that they should help themselves.
I also want to make at least three model villages where everyone will be educated and every one will work. I am working with various organisations to bring special reservation to orphans. Till now I have served my family, it is now time to serve people.” The success has brought with it admirers and critics; she in unfazed by both. In fact I like criticism as it helps me understand that I am on the right path and will help me correct myself.
Today, some people criticise me and say that I am trying to get name as I want to get into politics. I ask them – Why not? Nothing in my life has ever been planned. As of now I have no wish to associate with any political party as it would dilute my efforts. I just want to do what I think is right and do it sincerely,” she signs off.