You said your father inspired you to become a scientist.
My father came from a very poor background. He was very interested in chemistry but was never able to complete his PhD. When I became interested in science, he told me not to stop studying after my undergraduate degree. In India, the response to a girl receiving [higher] education is often, “No!” But my father always encouraged me to go for my PhD. After I completed my postgraduate degree, I got married and had kids. I began to settle into a comfort zone, but my father continued to push me to do my PhD. I’m very proud of my father for encouraging me.
There’s a comfort zone you’ve pushed against that is bigger than your personal situation. You’ve pushed against a cultural comfort zone by abandoning the expectations of what a girl or woman should be able to do in society. Can you talk about that?
After marriage, everyone expects you to do all of the housework. It’s as if the job roles are fixed. If you are a husband, you work outside the house. If you are a wife, you have to do household work. I had to stand for myself. It was my dream to go for my PhD, and I did it.
It sounds like, despite the opposition from society at large, you had some important support. Can you talk more about the support you got from those around you?
For any girl to move ahead, her family’s support is needed. Everyone in my family supported me, especially my father. When I decided to go for my PhD, my husband also supported me. I even received support from my child.
From your child? Really? How?
At five years old, my daughter had an epilepsy attack, and she needed to be hospitalized for eight days. I was in the middle of my PhD, and many times, she saw I was trying to simultaneously work on my laptop and feed her. She used to say, “I’ll eat this myself. You just concentrate on your work.” I had support for everything, and it still wasn’t easy to complete my PhD.
It seems like you’ve had to push against a lot of comfort zones. How has that felt?
It has been difficult. Society has a lot of expectations from women, but my daughters are my motivation. I have to be on my toes to prove to them that yes, a woman can do many things. At the moment, I think I am their role model.