On reinventing public health for humans (and dogs) through better social dialog and policies.
Lalita is a director at 3H catalyst, an organization based in Bangalore, India, that is helping upscale people from all walks of life through a very unique approach called 3H approach. She has deep roots in sociology, public health, grassroots development, governance and accountability. Lalita is a prolific writer and author who recently published a book. She received her PhD in Sociology from Northeastern University and Masters in Public Health from Boston University.
Show Notes & Links
Madhav SBSS 0:04
Hello boys and girls welcome to this episode of seeking Sathya Podcast.
Today we are Seeking Sathya with Lalita Pulavarti. Lalita is a director at 3H catalyst, an organization based in Bangalore, India, that is helping upscale people from all walks of life through a very unique approach called 3H approach that we’ll get into shortly. She has deep roots in sociology, public health, grassroots development, governance and accountability. Lalita is a prolific writer and author who recently published a book. We’ll get into that, and a lot more.
Lalita, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Madhav, thank you for the opportunity.
Let’s talk about the book first. As I was really intrigued, I read the book. It’s titled buddy and Papayi, the true story of an indie pup and his best friend. It’s available on Kindle and in paperback form on Amazon. We’ll include links in the show notes, definitely check it out, folks. It’s very heartwarming story of a dog’s life on the busy Indian streets.
So Lalita, tell us what this book is about. I’m glad that you started with the book, as opposed to the rest of my career in life, because it’s so recent, and, you know, fun experience.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:23
Buddy was a little puppy that showed up in our life, just out of the blue. We hadn’t had a dog in our house for more than 35 years. And we had no intention of getting one. Because it’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a lot of work. But we know that they can bring a lot to our life. Anyway. So buddy, one night, I was sitting outside like any other street dog, as you know, right in the middle of the street, and got hit by a car right outside our house at 9pm as we were having dinner. So of course, we had to take care of him bring the vet in at 9pm and took care of him. But then he came down with canine distemper. So long story short, he was a little fellow who needed a lot of help. And so he just waltzed into our life just like that. And it was interesting experience for me because it was the pandemic, it was the lockdown that we couldn’t go anywhere out of the house. And what buddy brought to life was so much of love and laughter and fun experiences, even though he was a sick little fellow for you know much of his life. He brought in so much to us. And so although it seemed like we rescued him, it was almost like he rescued us during the pandemic. So the book is a chronicle. I started it as buddies Chronicles as a blog, where every, you know, I wrote it as a series of little stories about buddy’s life. And and so when it reached about the 20,000 word limit, I said, Hey, you know, why not? I publish it as a book. So just out of the blue, very random, never, ever thought I would write a book about a little dog. That’s what that’s how it turned out. And you did talk about number of words. So I wanted to ask you a question that sort of relates to this, which is, how long did it take for you to write this book? And if there were any particular routines that you followed, to keep yourself on track? To either learn or unlearn some habits write the book and completed it? That’s very, it’s a very interesting question. And I don’t I don’t label myself as a writer. So I don’t know if I have any routines. I would just say, though, that I write from the heart, right. So that means if something moves me so much, I can sit and write 3000 words in two hours.
And if it doesn’t, then I could belabor a report or a chapter or something that I’ve tried, I could belabor the same thing for five months, and not get. So you know, it’s that inspiration that comes it’s that topic that touches your heart. So I think that is the only thing that led to buddy’s Chronicles coming out as a book. So I couldn’t tell you how long I took. But I don’t think each piece took more than two hours to although I might have taken long to polish it later.
Madhav SBSS 4:19
You said you’ve not actually written a book, you’re not a prolific writer. You’ve written blogs. But writing a book is very different. Like if someone is thinking about writing a book, but they’re overwhelmed like who am I to write a book? What would your advice be?
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 4:37
I would say the first thing is write about something that’s dear to your heart. Write about something that resonates with you. It may or may not sell. I don’t know how many copies but his buddy and Papa has sold it may or may not but for me, it was not from it was not from the sales perspective that I wrote the book I just posted it on Amazon because I wanted more people to read the story. So write something that resonates with you. But of course, something that other people have to be interested in to read. Second thing is, yes, it started solo exercise because something that resonates with you will still have to be polished, you still have to be brought to shape. And for that, I actually hired a copy editor from Fiverr. Fiverr is a great site, you want to you know, find resources. I had somebody from Sri Lanka who design the cover of the book, I had somebody from the US, you know, who edited every part of the book, every line of the book. And, and and there were some differences. For example, there was one place where I had returned, but he was sitting plumb in the middle of the street, right. And this, I never realized that there is no American usage for plumb in the middle of the street. Because we know plumb plumb in front of the wicked, right? That’s what we say ws plump in front of the wicked. But that’s not a common usage. But I didn’t know that, right? So it was a mingling of so to make my book readable to a wider audience, I had to find editors who would edit to a wider audience also. Some which are very Indian usage, for example, might have to be smoothed out a little bit, the language and punctuation might have to be smoothed out. So it’s very, very, very important that if you’re not established author, you find others to help you with the design and with the editing. So in that sense, it was a team effort. Yes.
Madhav SBSS 6:41
And how did you go about finding these resources? Was there any tool so
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 6:48
there are a lot of freelancers, and I spend a lot of time reading reviews, review, others who have used their services, and then something has to appeal to me about their services and about the reviews. And and of course, it has to be affordable, because nobody’s paying. It has to be affordable. But it’s a very good investment. I living in India, for the editing I actually spent in dollars, right. So it’s not cheap. But it’s well worth it that when you see your book at the end of it, and it’s well put together, that’s a great satisfaction for you as well as for the reader.
Madhav SBSS 7:22
Was there any particular time while writing that you felt stuck? I mean, people who write books tend to say hi, but writer’s block. Maybe this is not an issue, because you’re actually writing a story as it was happening, maybe. But if you had any such like mental blocks, or things that you couldn’t make progress on for a certain number of days,
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 7:44
in this for this particular book, it was not an issue because it was already a series of blocks, I just had to put them together and, you know, make sure that they packaged into a good storyline. But I’m very, very familiar with writer’s block in other situations where I have to write for my profession. And it’s a real thing. And I remember we can be paralyzed for weeks together, you know, with writer’s block, and we will not be able to progress. And the only thing I would say is I have I have done a lot of research taken tips from other people and said, start with, don’t start at the beginning. I never start my pieces at the introduction, I will always write a piece that appeals to me on that day. And I will save it and then I’ll put it together at the end. So even when I wrote my PhD thesis, I remember the introduction is the last thing you write. You always you can start with conclusions, it doesn’t matter, you can start with the last piece first, but write a piece that appeals to you. And when I have a writer’s block, I’ll leave that piece and I’ll go on to something else. And then I’ll come back to this,
Madhav SBSS 8:51
I think writing with the end in mind, or beginning, middle and end, I think it’s interesting that you bring that up that you could start with then and then conclude with the intro. Low to actually this is the first time I think I’m using Zoom after they change things. But in the past, I’ve never had this issue, but it just prompted me saying I only have 10 more minutes in this meeting. And then it’s going to cut it out. I never had that issue before. So just letting you know, we may have to again reconnect after 10 minutes or so. So just one last question about this book. Before we switch gears into three h catalysts. How did you you talked about like getting it printed after this editing and not not taking help from Fiverr for designing and all that. How did you go about because printing a book a physical book or getting it on to Kindle for example? I mean, those are not something that you do every day. Was there something that you had to learn? What did you do to make a book come out in the digital By
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 10:01
the way, the world is down. bookstores or publishers don’t want to carry inventory. They don’t want to carry a large number of books. That’s the reality. So print on demand is a huge thing now. And so they will take your book and only if you, if mother orders the book, they’ll print it and send it tomorrow. So the cost may be a little more, but they don’t care. They don’t carry the inventory. So they don’t have a, it’s a win win for both at the same time. So what I did is I have an Indian publisher, who will cater to the Indian print on demand market. And then I had Amazon for other markets. And nowadays Amazon is so versatile, you can do the UK market, you can do the Europe, the India, the US, Australia, you can do different markets. And for Kindle, yes, you’re right that you have to format your book in a certain way to upload to Kindle. And while it is not rocket science, it is a lot of work to figure out that the meets the exact requirements or not, you can get on Fiverr. And you can get somebody sitting in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, or somewhere. I think my guy was in Mumbai, or I don’t remember now. So he just formatted it in one day for me for Kindle. And so I just had to upload it to kindle after he sent it back to me. That was it. Okay, so services are available, we just have to research and make sure we use them only because you can save a lot of time, instead of my in formatting it to kindle and you know, doing it the exact way. And then the Indian publisher wanted it a certain way. And then the paperback needs it a certain way. So we just give it to somebody who has been doing this every day. And they just do it so much more quickly, if you can. And the fees are very nominal. I mean, it was not very expensive at all to do that. So that helped a lot in getting the book
Madhav SBSS 11:54
out. Gotcha. And how did you find this resource again? Okay, perfect, perfect. Switching gears a little bit now from the book. And I hope that we’ll have a part two for this book. I read it page to page. It’s it’s a beautiful book, I encourage everybody listening to just check it out on Amazon. So switching gears, your current role at th catalyst, what is the H catalyst very high level? And what is this three h approach.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 12:29
So I’ve been volunteering with an organization called sai Krishna Charitable Trust, which is just on the outskirts of Bangalore. And the trust runs a preschool for rural children, and they run a little boy’s home and a little Medical Center which caters to the villages around there. So many of us volunteering there decided that we would like to spread out, you know, our services a little bit more. And that led to the three h catalyst initiative, we found that many of these students who study in government colleges, for example, are really not employable when they graduate, they may get a BSc or a B comm or an M comm or MSC from government colleges, but when they graduate, they have no skill set that actually gives them jobs. So that’s where we decided that we would start an upscaling program targeted in government college students, but not exclusively. So we have had a software companies reaching out to us and saying can you help with our onboarding program because many of our students come from rural areas, and we would like some onboarding and upskilling for them. So we customize according to what they need, but the three h iniciative. The three H stands for head, heart and hand as you said, and we believe that the skills that our students need, some of them are head skills, you know, analytical and so on. Some of them are hard skills, which we’ll talk about the soft skills, right, empathy and communication and compassion and so on. And then somebody hand skills you have to learn Excel and you have to learn some tools to do you know, your work. So that is where the head heart and hand approach comes. It’s a more holistic basket of skills that you can help the students with so that when they go and attend an interview, or they go to a job, they have a better chance of landing a job and staying in the job. And, and so we have worked with the government of Pondicherry which wanted us to do upskilling of their students in government colleges we have done in Karnataka. Right now we are doing at a polytechnic near Whitefield called in muddy Holly. We we small basic things everywhere you see newspapers and then talk about soft skills. And soft skills are not really soft skills. They’re really essential skills, communication, for example, right? So we talk a lot about verbal nonverbal about return skills, how to write an email, how to write a professional email, right. How to Write The professional progress report, how to use social media responsibly. And we cover digital literacy. So different topics. But we also go into logical reasoning, quantitative test taking, you know, group discussions for interviews. So there’s a whole basket of skills out of which we pull out customized according to the needs of the students that we’re talking to. So this in brief is the three h catalyst initiative. As you know, government colleges find it very difficult to pay for any service. And most certainly, the student body there also finds it hard. So we tap, CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility funds, or private donors to help pay for these for this program. If it is private colleges, often, some students will pay for a two day workshop or a three day workshop. But typically, in government colleges, we have to tap funds from elsewhere to run this program.
Madhav SBSS 16:02
But there any particular lessons, as you’ve done this, probably for some time now with different types of students, different graduates of different colleges and whatnot. Any particular lessons or observations on what the other any common themes, maybe so maybe what I’m trying to get at that you think, or like you mentioned, communication skills, you mentioned writing, or there’s some things that you see over and over again, there is
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 16:32
a lot of potential, you know, the students are excellent in many cases, but they may not be getting the right inputs that they need, right. We did a program in Chennai, for about 15 Young software, employees, who were all hired from small districts or villages in Tamil Nadu. And we saw that they were so bright, you know, and they’re so active, but they didn’t have the input. And you and I, when we sit here, and we talk across continents like this in a language that is not a native language, we don’t realize what a privilege it is that we have learned English from our childhood, we have studied in English, we converse in English, and we go work in an environment where English becomes the main language, and that opportunity has not been provided to them, right. But they need that ramp up. If you give them six months of time, they will learn. Okay, so given the opportunity by not labeling them beforehand, as you know, non English speakers are not good at communication. This labeling is what and I’d like to get into this label aspect of it more as we explore, right, that we tend to label people. Right? This one is from a rural background. This one does ish. Well. You know, this one doesn’t. Right? Well, but that’s because they haven’t been given the opportunity.
Madhav SBSS 17:59
Very interesting topic that you bring up. So maybe, yeah, I’d like to hear more about what this labeling thing is about.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 18:11
So yeah, I think it just arose from the previous point I was trying to make about the students that we meet, and, you know, the opportunities that they get based on, you know, the labels we put on them on rural versus urban or English, medium versus vernacular and so on. So, yes, so if I may get into the labeling part, this is something that I think a lot about. Even when we are young, I’m sure you have seen this too, that it’s everywhere, but especially in Indian society, we tend to label people as this one is dark. That one is fair. You know, this one is obese. That one is like this one is short, that one is tall, this one is intelligent. That one is not intelligent, right? So so right from my childhood, we get used to hearing these labels. And I remember we had been to Sri Lanka once and one of the Sinhalese ladies on campus where my father used to actually my older brother was there and she said, Your brother looks like a film star. But why are you so dark night? So So you, you know what I mean? And I’m saying you’re joking as a joke, but when we get used to those labels all the time, and and what happens is that one year opportunities are curtailed, and to so much of potential is lost because of this kind of labeling. And my entire goal in my life has an analog to this is there’s an interesting method called Auto ethnography. I don’t know if you’ve heard about, that you use experiences from your life, to do an ethnographic study where you relate it to a larger societal story are a problem, right? So I might narrate to you two or three like autobiographical stories, but they relate to a larger social story that I’m trying to leave, right? Speaking of labeling, for example, I remember maybe I was 19, or 20. And there were a couple of brothers who had come to our house from Rameshwaram. And there were a series of four or five brothers who were all hard of hearing and mute, they were deaf and mute all of them, all of them. But they’re excellent at palm reading and face reading. So this side, and they tell you a lot about previous life, your parents and your grandparents and all of it adds up because it’s all factual, and they know it. So when they tell me about your future, people tend to believe what they and you know, we all believe a lot in astrology and palmistry in these things, and they’re all it’s a great science. But my personal thing is not everybody’s perfect at it at using that knowledge. Where I’m coming with the story is, so one day, these two brothers were sitting there, and everybody was having a conversation. And so my mother has pointed to me, and said, What about her? So one of these face readers and palm readers, he made some calculations, he looked at everything, he looked at my face, and he said, she will not do anything except washing vessels. Right? He minded? He minded? Right? So you can imagine the impact it will have on somebody. She’s not
Madhav SBSS 21:25
overstating? I mean, for someone, it could be pretty. Yeah,
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 21:29
right. She will not do anything except for washing pencils, you know. So I left it at that. I think about that incident a lot. I think about many other such incidents. And I say, your goal should be to rise above all these labels, and above all these predictions because nobody can predict your future except God. And nobody can. So you just have to go forward. The reason I bring this up is this labeling is very damaging to students lives as well, right. And when we look at these students in our three H programs, I and I look at them and I say all of them have so much potential, you just have to give them a leg up to overcome some of the barriers that are keeping them from realizing their potential. So the tagline for three h catalyst is actually realize your potential, right, unleashing your potential is the
Madhav SBSS 22:24
idea. No, I’m reminded of a book that I’ve read a few times now called Mindset by Carol Dweck. She is a Stanford professor who has written about growth mindset. And how don’t get into this labeling business, you know, just have the growth mindset because any of us can learn and grow and put their foot in, don’t be stereotyped into a particular He’s intelligent. She’s not whatever, those things are very interesting. lovelies, I’m so glad that you bring it up. Because, as you said, Today, every one of us goes through those insecurities or comments made by others when you’re growing up as a teenager, that sort of could sometimes be devastating and may change your career path. Because oh, maybe I’m not capable, why bother doing engineering, or medicine, whatever that happens to be very interesting. Switching gears from three h into some past work, you’re done, again, in the team of, you know, public affairs. And you I know you have a lot of history there. You’ve worked in the public realm for a while, even while you’re in Boston, Public Affairs Center, what is PAC? And like, why did you get involved with PAC,
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 23:46
I actually worked at an organization for public affairs Foundation, which was a sister organization to PAC public epicenter. This organization was started about more than 25 years ago by Dr. Samuel Paul, who had returned from the US to India from the World Bank. And when he came to Bangalore, he felt that citizens don’t have a voice to give feedback to the government on how are they doing? What are the difficulties citizens are having with the services that they need? Right. So he started it with something called the citizen report card, where it’s a poll, but it’s a more detailed poll, it takes an hour and a half some time segments to the whole questionnaire, talks about quality of services about satisfaction, its services, any issues you had like bribery and corruption and a whole gamut of things related to governance. So he started Paul citizen report card where he polled people across the city and said, How is the government doing? So this is like giving a voice to the citizens. And so when I was returning from Boston and I moved back to Bangalore, I joined Public Affairs foundation as a research analyst. And it was very rewarding because That was my reentry into the grassroots in India, you know, and involving myself in different projects going out to the slums and you know, different parts of the cities, different villages, to look at how government services are working, or not working, and how citizens are perceiving, you know, their experience. So that’s how my involvement with the Public Affairs Foundation staff
Madhav SBSS 25:21
are one of the startling stats I saw and I had no idea in that report that your shared with me was Crimes Against Children has grown dramatically over the last five to 10 years. What do you know is true in that, like, what is maybe from the data? What is this crime rate going up? I think it was something like 24,000 crimes against children, like in 2010. In 2016, it was like 105,000, and probably think it’s much more now. Is there a trend? And what do you know is true here?
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 26:02
crime data is very interesting, because this is i you as you know, I work with crime data when I was in Boston Police Department, but one of the issues with crime data is the severe under reporting, right, especially with crimes against children and crimes against women. If you are looking at x, probably it’s many times x. Right? That is the that’s the sad part of a difficult part. Because reporting a crime is very, very difficult. We think it’s easy, but it’s not. Right. Going to the police station is a huge deal for people, it’s not easy to go and navigate that. So if you’re looking at crime data, that’s only a small part of the story. So that makes us even more worried. Right? That what the real, you know, magnitude of this problem you’re seeing and yes, crimes against children have increased. Few things have improved, especially in India, with now child labor, it’s very difficult to employ children, which is a great thing. And many, many activists have worked in a toy night and they given their heart and soul and money and energy to making sure that the child labor laws are passed, you cannot employ anybody under 14. Does this mean it’s been completely eradicated? No, but at least it’s quite a dent in the problem. At the same time, yes, crimes against children has increased crimes against the girl child, you know, you know, atrocities against all children. The reported and the unreported is a big problem. And this is something we as a society have to really deal with, how do we make systemic change but also change to society’s values value system? That how can you allow crimes against children? Right? How can you sleep at night knowing what is happening, right? Unless we have that moral outrage and that moral concern to do something strong? I don’t know if any system can work on it alone. We need it, we need the government to crack down we need the police to crack down. And but the biggest thing is children as I write in, you know, something I might have shared with you. Children are not a voting constituency, that is the biggest issue. Children don’t come out on the street and do a dharna and walk to the statehouse and, you know, protest it because they’re too vulnerable. So who is fighting for the rights of children? You know, few activists here a few activist there who is and children vulnerable children, right. And I’d speak about the intersection of caste, class, gender religion, you know, that every layer adds another layer of vulnerability to the children’s lives. So the most vulnerable children who is fighting for them, they are not a voting constituency, no MLM MP comes out and says, I will fight for children’s rights. We haven’t seen anywhere. Right? So that is the biggest issue there that as a whole society, if we don’t value that children have rights, that children’s rights should be protected, protected, and that they’re the most vulnerable, then the crimes will continue to increase.
Madhav SBSS 29:14
Yeah. Did you see any like correlations or patterns in different states in India and different, like you talked about layers, poverty or education, any of these playing into this crime against children.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 29:34
Most certainly, there will be variations, we I mean, regional variations will always be there. Definitely rural children. Children from you know, for lower socio economic caste backgrounds, will always suffer disproportionately in everything because there’s really nobody paid even their families can’t fight for them because the power relations are such right. The people committing the atrocities pacing means that children will always be more powerful in whichever way economically or socially or cost wise. So as you pile on those vulnerabilities, you will see the variations. Right. Urban children, I have written in newspapers about children who are in government run schools, right? government run hospitals, where the guy the government has really not put in systems to protect the children effectively enough. So we keep pushing, keep pushing, but pushing against the government to do anything takes decades to you know, see any change.
Madhav SBSS 30:36
Yeah, this is a fantastic I mean, I did not know. I mean, just like, as a product manager, for example, in a company, we’re constantly talking about customers and customer feedback and having a pulse on the customer on how our product is helping them get their jobs done. But when you talk about government, and people benefiting from what government’s policies are not that feedback loop that you’re talking about like this, you know, survey, a detailed in depth survey that takes it back. How does that so that effort actually feeds into the government and government sort of ease in the equation? Or how was that working?
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 31:19
It’s a very good question. Because I think initially, it started as a confrontational thing that here was an outside organization, confronting the government with the data, that he has the data collected, this is what the people are saying about you. But slowly, over time, you know, what the organization learned is that from confrontation, you really have to go to collaboration. So you have to win over the officials. And the politicians have to find some use for it. Only then they’ll collaborate and they’ll use the data you give them. Otherwise, I’ve just collected a whole bunch of data and given it to the government, and and that happens to believe it or not, if they don’t like the data, they’re not going to act on it. If because if they make it public, and they think it’s detrimental to them, they’re going to just kill the report. Right? So it’s a lot of navigation and negotiation, to have them act on the data and say, we are doing it for our collective good. Right? You’re not here to find fault with you, although we are but we are not here to find fault with you. So that negotiation to have them collaborate with us to use the data for the larger good. That took 15 years, I think, for the organization, right. And still, I have personally worked on projects where sometimes they just kill the report. Or you work very hard to do the report and the official who commissioned it was very interested in get transferred out the next day. Oh yeah, you walk with two steps forward, and then four steps back. And then when
Madhav SBSS 33:06
talking of children, I want us to travel in time. Backwards. Imagine I put you in a time machine and take you back to your teenage life. Can you just share a little bit about how where you grew up? And how was your upbringing and if there were influences or things that had influence on your career and life.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 33:29
My father was a professor in regional engineering college instrumental, which is on the coast in mind law. Far away my parents are from Andhra Pradesh, but they moved there when they were very young. My father was the first batch of engineering graduates from Andhra university, but then under University in the mid 50s. And the government was just post independence government was just setting up the infrastructure of colleges around the country and so on. So many of these new graduates were sent for teacher training and then placed in different engineering colleges. And that’s how we landed up in Mangalore at the Karnataka regional engineering college. And they were very young person, early 60s, right. And not many Telugu speaking people there. My mother was all of 16 ministers married. So yeah, so that’s where we grew up. It was a campus life very idyllic. And, and when we were very young, there was the government had something called the quality improvement program. So they sent all these masters level lecturers to different IITs to do their PhDs. And so my father loved his entire young family and we all went up to campus, when that was our introduction to life in north India, at that time, we went to IIT Kanpur and my maternal grandmother came there with us and we all lived there for a year but unfortunately, she came down with cancer. And and while we were there, my father I got an opportunity to go to Harvard University to finish this PhD, because they had much better computing resources than what it can put had at that time. So his guide was going so he went to Harvard University for a year and a half. So we moved back to Mangalore, again to live there while he was gone. So there was a lot of back and forth, back and forth. But the campus as a family took care of us while my father was gone, you know, and my mother and three of us, my brothers, and I lived there. We had we lived, we could hear the beach, we could hear the ocean, you know, we’re that close to the Indian Ocean. And it was an idyllic childhood with mango groves and cashew groves. And we went to Kendriya Vidyalaya. School, you know. And so that’s where we grew up. But at 15, when I was 15, my father decided to move to the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. And I mentioned this because I was in the ninth grade and being uprooted from the small campus, too big. And that and Bangalore was into and big, but it was big compared to where I was coming from. That was a big impact. In hindsight, it was a good impact. But when you’re going through, you know, this is another lesson of life, right? When you’re going through it, it’s brutal. But later you say, I think that was good, Bobby. I, because we are on the campus of an engineering college, many of my peers went into engineering. And when I was growing up, there are only two things you could do in life to be successful, or so they said, you have to do engineering or medicine. There was no life outside engineering or medicine. And so when I came to Bangalore, and I didn’t do that great inaccurate academics because of the shift, and you know, the moment so on, I enrolled myself for Bachelor of Arts, sociology, psychology and economics. And this is where the labeling again begins. They’re like, Oh, your life, it’s done in. There’s really nothing else you can do with a Bachelor of Arts. You’re a girl. So you wait until you get married. And that’s it. Right? So that’s the labeling that happens. Right? And that happens a lot even now. And, and, and it’s I don’t know how to say that. This is where you think that the universe has so much in store for you. You just have to open up and sometimes you don’t even know that you have to open up. One day my brother was writing the GRE exam. And one of the Auntie’s she came and she had visited us my mother’s friend, she stood at the gate said, why don’t you write the GRE exam? And I said, really? I mean, me. Yeah. And I had started I had finished my bachelor’s and I was not doing much I was working at some dead end job at All India Radio typing away on a computer I on a typewriter. And she said, You’re right. That was the universe telling me and I didn’t even and that time imagine there was no internet, no email, no websites, no university. There was one parents guide if you remember, there was one book called parents Guide, which had addresses of universities and what majors they offered and my brother was using it that’s how I even saw it.
So I just said okay, so while going to work it All India Radio out go through the list of words for the English, you know, thing. And I prepared for two months and I got 1800 score in GRE and I did well in TOEFL I’m like, Okay, then. So you don’t know the reason I’m telling you this. You don’t know what is in store, you just have to open yourself up. You don’t even know the possibilities of what can happen in here. At that time applying to American universities is half it was expensive. You had to depend on postal snail mail. There was no email or an online applications. And I was I applied only to one university because I didn’t want to spend my parents money applying to universities without knowing whether this is just a donkey or a boy thing right? applied only to Northeastern University. And I got it You shouldn’t be. In I tell the story to say that. All this labeling you go through saying You’re useless. You don’t need to do anything in life. Not from your family. I grew up in a family where I was not treated any different than the boys and loving family which understood the importance of education. And I think my father was more thrilled than I was when I got in Boston because he had been to Harvard University. And he, you know, he realized that life changing experience he had. So that’s the reason I keep coming back to this same theme of this, that let us emerge from this is that when you open that, that you open yourself up to this possibilities, things just happen. And the universe just conspires to make it happen. And these are the things that you want to, you want others to have to, you know, and that is the reason I’m three h, for example, is trying to help students with this, we also have this with fewer father, friends in Boston, one of the things we have come up with is, there are many students and families which cannot afford the kind of opportunities that we had. And this is not even an organized organizational effort. Even one person can change one student’s life. We have had examples, especially now with the pandemic, many of the families are not able to afford the high fees for the student for the children, right? For good education, you know, education in private schools in the cities is very, very expensive. And families are struggling with job loss, you know, with you know, truncated incomes, and many children will fall through the cracks at a very critical part of their lives where they need to get, you know, those milestones in education. So you set up a fund where if we come across anybody, if anybody comes on our radar, but their parents are not able to afford the fees, and you think the child will benefit from it, we have to come together and help them out. Because in those critical years, we have one student who did wonderfully well. But a parent who has parents could not afford even the government medical college fees. Just by random choice, some chance somebody asked me, I would like to help a girl student, please tell me randomly two different things in the universe, right? You become just you become the facilitator for these two people to come together. And sub 2.2 ladies from New York are paying the fees for this medical student, and she’s now in third year, which her family would not have been able to afford, because she’s two younger siblings, and income is hardly anything for them to even manage in everyday life. How much of potential would have been lost if this child would not have, you know, been able to make use of the seat that she got in a medical college?
Madhav SBSS 42:29
Yeah, what’s this fund? Is it something that is there a way for people to find out more help or participate or?
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 42:38
Right now, it’s a very informal fund, among friends, but we could always make it a little bit more formalized, through, you know, Cybershot trust or any, any other, you know, trust that we already have, if you want a formal vehicle to do it in. But right now, it’s a few of us friends, who just call each other up and say, I came across this, you know, and it seems like, there’s some vetting and some screening, you know, required to do these kinds of things, just to make sure that they are authentic. And but many of them, you know, nobody comes asking for money unless they really need to, you know, families, especially for education, it’s very easy to get them, you can pay directly to the school that with the college into so many different things. But I keep coming back to this because so much of the potential of a young people and you know, India has the highest, the young population in India, what they call the demographic dividend, you know, the number of young population that is it, sometimes it’s more than any other country’s entire population, except China, maybe we have 415 million people who are below 25. Or even below 19, or 20, I forget exactly. But you know, it’s like in that many, it’s more than the US population, right number of young people. So if you don’t give them opportunities for them to realize their potential, how much is a nation building in the family and the individual definitely, but and, and as individuals, that may seem like too big a problem for us. But if each one can change one person’s life, that’s that’s just amazing. I mean, you know,
Madhav SBSS 44:15
fantastic, actually very inspiring, just to close out on this childhood journey, that we just taking the time machine. So whether you talked about labeling, you talked about getting inspired by seeing your brother, and this lady who spoke to you and said you should write the GRE, I mean, like you said, universe sends message or somehow you get to, but you have to be open to it. Like what if there is anything particularly that you can share that someone could say? How do you keep yourself open or how do you have the strength and the courage to say, Yep, I think I can do this. I’m going to write it. I mean, how do you develop something like that? If I if I were a teenager who was told But I’m too dark and too short and too dumb and whatnot. Like, how do I keep myself open and say I have something bigger to do here, I’m not going to listen to all these people.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 45:15
That is the inner journey. And you know, the inner strength that everybody has. Even as I was going through this process, I remember I had to go for recommendation letters to apply to Northeastern University, and having graduated from bachelor’s, I was doing an Open University Master’s at my soul. So I went to one of the lecturers there, and I said, I need a recommendation letter. And he was an excellent lecturer. He said, What would you do with a PhD in Sociology, you can never be a teacher, you’re so short. Right? And I still remember this, and you know, the biggest or not get those those comments get to you. I said, Okay, that’s your perception, but give me the letter anyway. So he gave me the letter, I mean, are the later years I needed to be letters. So in life, so many people will say so many things to you, you know, if we get bogged down by that, and if we internalize those labels, then we are the losers, we can’t control and this is one of the biggest lessons, we can’t control what other people say or think or do. We can control how we react to it. And I, when I mentioned northeast, I didn’t end up being an academic, but I did teach a lot as a teaching assistant. And nobody ever said, You’re short, you can teach statistics, right? I taught statistics, in fact, this way, that is to say, I remember this to say we understand you better than the professor. I but so the thing that the thing you’d like to leave the businesses is to not let other people tell you what your life is, or what you can do or can’t do. Because they don’t know. And it’s not to demonize them or to be angry at them or upset at them. Maybe at that time you are. But to say that that is the limited perception.
Madhav SBSS 47:15
Yeah, that makes sense. Let it go. I think someone, I’m pretty sure I’m butchering this code. But someone said, Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. Thanks for sharing that knowledge. I think it’s very helpful for unsure many who are in a similar boat, especially in those teenage years where you know, you’re unsure of yourself, to some extent, and you have to pick up yourself and just keep moving forward. I know we are running on top of time here, just wanted to touch on one other thing before maybe we could wrap up with a few fast questions. So any particular dark moment or influence, either positive or negative? In Your Life A either as a teenager or somewhere else like the tattoo, like someone would like to call? I think I heard some authors talk about it as the darkness teacher. I wonder if there is something that having gone through some of the things that you’ve gone through? Was there any particular negative or positive influence that impacted you and how you use that as leverage to? Yeah, take the path you have taken.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 48:41
Maybe I should say that I’ve been particularly blessed to have, you know, despite everything I said, about labeling, and so on to a very good childhood, you know, and very encouraging parents. My, I always say this, that my mother was only 17 when she had her first child, and 19 when she had me, and many times I feel that we grew up together, that we are more like siblings than, you know, as mother and children. And when my father was away, and my grandmother maternal grandmother had cancer, and he was a he didn’t want to go to Harvard, because she was so ill, and he didn’t want to leave us but she, you know, prevailed upon him not to lose that opportunity. And so off, he went to Harvard, and we were on the campus, and she actually passed away while he was gone, and I was all of 10 years old, and taking care of her. At that time, I think that left an image in my mind that we should always care for other family members always write. She helped my mother was her only child and and so that still stayed with me and I think that was a big influence in my returning from Boston to Bangalore. You know, when I returned in 2011, that all my brothers and I, all three of us were away in the US at that time, and my parents were here. And so coming back here and staying with them. So a huge blessing, huge blessing. And I want to point out one thing here, many people asked me, Is it a sacrifice? When you look after your family, or you know, you give up your job, or you take care of elders or mothers take care of their children? are you sacrificing something to things, it’s never a sacrifice as in a negative, you know, thing when you do that for your family. And second thing, we have always been taught sacrifices a great value, you know, it’s a it’s a positive value to experience in life. It’s not a negative thing. So that connotation of sacrifice for your family, your sacrifice for society, or sacrifice or anything? No, I don’t take sacrifice as a negative value. No, I take it as a positive value that enriches our life. So that with my grandmother going through that, when I stand was really I think it was a huge impact on my life.
Madhav SBSS 51:05
Awesome. Thanks for sharing that. That’s pretty personal, but also very touching. I think people if there isn’t anything that I take away, I mean, yeah, care for the elders care for the people that you’ve who have cared for you as you grew up and helped you come along? I know, I had a few other a lot of topics actually want to touch on but just being considerate of your time. The sanitation projects that you’ve worked with, in India, I had a few questions there. I don’t know if we’ll be able to cover some of the other aspects like women in work environments in India, you’ve been working on some research there. Could you say maybe briefly about like the sanitation project? Or what is the truth of like, Where does India stand in terms of sanitize Sandhu, sanitation and facilities and? Or is there any progress being made? Or the things that have to change drastically to make progress there? What’s your stance on that?
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 52:12
I worked on a project when I was at my previous job at the foundation. And this project was commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And they were looking at the sanitation picture and we have chosen two states, Tamil Nadu and Orissa. This is where our work was done. This was in between 2015 and 2018. So we told a lot I have gone have seen more toilets than I would ever care to in my life in rural areas. We had taken well performing districts, medium and poor performing districts, in terms of how many how much of toilet coverage was there in individual household toilets, right. And it was so rewarding, but also eye opening to visit the villages in India in different places. And I would like to tell you, just like we spoke about the crime data, it’s just numbers always speak only given limited story. Data is what it is. Has the situation improved? Definitely. It has improved, how much it has improved, and will it stay that way? is a question we have to ask. And by the way, before the SWaCH Bharat, which is the huge, you know, mission now before that was the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan you know, before that was a total sanitation campaign. Before that was the community led salutation campaign. So this has been going on for about 3035 years now trying to improve sanitation, especially in rural India. So it’s definitely not a new campaign as it’s made out to me it’s been going on for a while the name changes, you know, occasionally, and so on. But the changes we have seen a very incremental but suddenly there’s a huge spike in the numbers of toilets. But just being on the field, my sense is that just building a physical toilet is not sufficient. Right? Somebody has to maintain it. What is supply was a huge thing if you are a woman fetching water from the faraway pond to your house. How likely are you to flush it down the toilet versus using it for other household?
Madhav SBSS 54:18
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 54:20
So do you have do you have piped water or not to flush down the toilet? So your thing right, so things like that are new answers that add to the story on will they use the toilet or not? Or in some cases it’s only then deliver us that we will use the toilet because they don’t want to go out there? Right They can’t but everybody else involved because and the cultural norms of having the toilet right by your house this little house right the cultural norms of not wanting to do that because your entire life outside somewhere. So there are many new answers which act you know, which feed into the story then just putting up a dashboard with how many toilet submissions and then who maintains it? What if it does All right, we’ll repair it. You know? So these are some of the, you know, just to be very quick summary of what we saw.
Madhav SBSS 55:10
Yeah, this never thought about all the other aspects of Yeah, keeping them up to date or maintaining them and actually having them use some some realistic or practical challenges of water and how people would use the water even if you have a toilet next to your house. I mean, wow, that’s eye opening to me. Switching gears a little bit to our one of our favorite topics that both of us love running. I know you’re her part of Jan, I got a Jagger’s, can you share a little bit about your running routine or this Chenega Jaguars robot?
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 55:46
I must say you’re the inspiration. Because I saw you run the Boston Marathon. And
Madhav SBSS 55:53
I didn’t intend that to be a plug. But thank you.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 55:58
But I must tell you that I never ever imagined that running and Lalita would be in the same sentence. Ever, you know, but this was another one of those things that you have to be open to one of my colleagues mentioned the Jenica Jaguars. And it so happened and I take ground five minutes away from my house. Only thing is they meet at five in the morning. And so this is another one where you have to get over your mindset of you know, you’re talking about the growth mindset is to get over those imagined barriers, you know, that will restrict you from doing something. So I just joined jaynagar Jaguars thinking, let me check it out. I don’t think I can run. But the best thing about the Jaguars is they don’t make you run for the first nine sessions. They just walk, swing your arms and walk. And then after nine sessions, they’ll say okay, jog a little bit, you know, and initially, if it was three kilometres, I’d be like, Wow, I don’t know if I can do this, you know. And now they’ll say, oh, today’s workout is only six kilometers, is only 10 kilometres. So, core Chino, Mr. Promo dish, Pandey who was an athlete in Tirana himself. His his structure is such that Lalita and running from not being in the same sentence can say I ran 10 kilometers yesterday, you know, comfortably. And if he can do that to me, he can do that to anybody. And and this is another place where our group, people come because they’re not judged. You know, we have young people, old people, short people, tall people, obese people, you know, people who want to lose weight people who are ultra runners, ultra marathon runners side by side, shoulder to shoulder with us, right. And we are all in different groups, of course, based on our you know, capability and timing, but nobody is judged. And just start running, just do it. You can run five, run five, you can run 15 on 15. You know, it’s fine. So yesterday, I was at breakfast with my group. And they said, this is one group where they don’t do other things. So that’s a huge thing for people in that. And we have the youngest is 15 in our group, and the oldest is 8282. And he started running at 75. And he runs with us, and now he’s preparing for the Bangalore marathon, which is in January.
Madhav SBSS 58:27
So it’s never too late to start running. And start small. Like you said, you don’t have to
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 58:35
buy the Jenica Jaguars has a group in Babel. Yes, because our people who went there and for studies or work or something and they said we want to run with Jaguars. So we have an app. Every run mornings, the app will tell you how much you have to run. And it’s all your psychology, right? Our coach says he refuses to give us the distance the previous night. Because he says in your sleep, you will think it’s too much. Let me just sleep in. Right. So in the morning, we wake up at 430 to get ready at 415 for five zero, they’ll put out that thing saying run 10 kilometers today on 14 today. He says it’s all psychology because
Madhav SBSS 59:19
that’s a great tip. Yeah, I think it’s very just a small tip but it’s very helpful. Like I can relate to that. Like once you’ve already in the water. I mean like what is the big deal just depends. So just wake up and then you see okay, it’s 10 kilometers today. I might as well just run it
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 59:40
the previous night your mind will keep telling you hey cool, you know as it I know, just getting out the door is the main thing after you’re gone. You know? It’s just getting out of the door.
Madhav SBSS 59:54
Yeah, once you started it’s hard to stop to coming to the last, towards the end of the session, I want to ask you a few rapid fire questions, just quick questions, but you don’t have to answer them in a rapid fire, fashion, but is there a book that you’ve gifted or recommended to folks that has helped you in your life?
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:00:20
The latest one is Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.
Madhav SBSS 1:00:26
Never I don’t know if you’ve read his Checklist Manifesto, but not this one. Interesting.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:00:33
Mortal Atul Gawande.
Madhav SBSS 1:00:36
What one piece of advice would you give yourself your teenage self
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:00:42
life gets better hang in there nice.
Madhav SBSS 1:00:46
This one might be tricky. One truth you believe in that nobody else believes in. On more or less, nobody else believes.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:00:58
Oh my goodness. Remember that unique to have one truth and in every life, human or animal. Every life is precious. Every life so don’t let any divisions mar the truth familiarize,
Madhav SBSS 1:01:19
fantastic. If you were to write something on a full moon, like a message or something that you want to pass on to people who are looking at the moon, and probably the whole world can look at it at some point in the night. What would you write on the moon?
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:01:39
Open your heart and fight for the underdog
Madhav SBSS 1:01:42
lover. Love fighting for the underdog? Who according to you is the most successful person in the world?
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:01:54
One who is content and happy in their skin?
Madhav SBSS 1:01:59
Happiness skins awesome. Love it.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:02:03
I’m enough. That’s one who believes it enough?
Madhav SBSS 1:02:10
I know you would. The past life you’d work for the Boston Police. And this might be a we might even edit it. This might be a tricky thing to talk about. But I just noted it, I thought I’ll bring it up. What’s your perspective on hashtag Black Lives Matter hashtag Blue Lives Matter. Hashtag all lives matter. Um,
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:02:38
you know what, what citizens go through is the reality. And if you want to bring change, there are two like I spoke about earlier as well, there are two strains. One is systemic change. And one is societal change, right? systemic changes when you put in systems in place to prevent racism or to prevent atrocities against minorities to prevent that is the system’s taking care of. But the societal part is it should not even get to that stage where you have to build that equality in society from childhood where everybody believes that all of us that all lives matter that you know that black lives matter that we are not different, right? So if that is not taken care of the societal part of engendering equality in our hearts and minds is not taken care of. Then systems can only do so much because systems is always reactive. Right? You react to what is happening in society, and you try to prevent what is happening in society. So both these streams have to work otherwise, we’ll continue to see these kinds of atrocities. And this is not in when we are in Boston police, for sure us police but you know, things that have happened to us recently, but in India to write this power relations between the police and the minority, the you know, socially Lorca, you know, groups, this power relations and what leads to this kind of thing too. So to equalize those power relations, to give everybody plays at the table, is the only way that we can make things better.
Madhav SBSS 1:04:19
That’s a beautiful way to look at it. I think you’re right. I mean, systems are there, sort of like towards the tail end of things mean, problem is already kind of gone out of control. And then you’re trying to sort of manage it as opposed to front load some of that in the schools and education and the family values and a lot of that has to happen.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:04:42
Human Values, it all boils down to that you know what value system in schools in our communities. If we don’t practice those systems can only be the active.
Madhav SBSS 1:04:53
Sweet Lalita. Is there anything that we didn’t touch on that maybe you wanted to bring up as as a parting message to them Audience
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:05:03
I would say every day when I wake up, I tell myself, the universe is so big. And we are just a blip. And in that blip, which is not in the blink of an eye, right our existence in that blip in this entire universe, let’s learn to be happy. Let’s learn to be happy with where we are, what we are, how we are. And only that we can radiate out to the world that will be our contribution to the world, you know, have wealth and position and prestige and, but the only thing that we can radiate out to the world is love and happiness.
Madhav SBSS 1:05:45
Sweet. I think that’s a beautiful,
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:05:47
saying that I’m there yet. And the thing that’s what I try to open your heart, give love. That’s the only thing we can share. And it never, it never minimizes or reduces in yourself by sharing.
Madhav SBSS 1:06:02
It only grows, if anything. If people wanted to get in touch with you, what’s the best way they can get you out?
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:06:12
You can put in my email address,
Madhav SBSS 1:06:15
and I’ll send it to you or LinkedIn or any other sorry on LinkedIn. There was such a pleasure chatting with you and appreciate the time.
Lalita Rao Pulavarti 1:06:26
And thank you for the opportunity of giving voice to what I feel like an everyday person. I’m not a celebrity. I’m not a huge writer. I’m not a huge accomplished, but it’s nice to give voice to an everyday person.
Madhav SBSS 1:06:40
Thank you so much.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai