Preeti Vyas with her son
By Shilpi Madan
Erudite, expressive and enterprising, Preeti Vyas is an absolute gem, much like the kids' books that she has been bringing out under her own publishing house FunOkPlease. As President and COO of the iconic Amar Chitra Katha, she powers the working of Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle, National Geographic Magazine and National Geographic Traveller. All while she raises her son Neel into a strong, independent young man. Excerpts from a conversation with Express Parenting:
How long have you been a single mom? How well has Neel absorbed the turn?
It has been three years now. He will be turning 11 soon. As a sensible and sensitive child he understands and accepts this turn. I always believe that kids watch what you do, not what you say. He has always seen me positive, driven, essentially a happy person. It was tough; we were together 25 years and married for 20 (to author Amish Tripathi). But I feel it is important not to pretend. What works is remaining happy and grounded in the present moment. That is what gives kids strength and courage, not hiding stuff.
God has been kind.
Yes. I count my blessings. I set up FunOkPlease after I put in my papers at my corporate job. I was on maternity leave, but once Neel arrived (when I was 34), there was no question in my mind that I wanted to be with him. It was not out of a sense of sacrifice, but out of a sense of greed that I quit my work. I wanted to be with Neel, to be a part of his growth. Ever since I was a kid, I was not sure what I wanted to do in life, but I was very clear that I did want to be a mom. So FunOkPlease happened, and since it catered to the three to eight years age group, Neel attended literature festivals and talks with me. Now that I am with ACK, that is in sync with the eight to 12 age group, Neel fits in perfectly.
"What works is remaining happy and grounded in the present moment," said Preeti Vyas.
How do you strike the work-home balance?
Weekends for us are a blur with pending jobs: laundry, groceries, catching up with friends, spending time together...I put Neel on the bus at 7.40 am on weekdays, and reach office before 9 am. I am particular about leaving office on time, by 6 pm. Given the traffic logistics, I reach home around 7 pm, and then I am with Neel till he sleeps. We get to spend good time together on weekends.
In what ways can working mothers make this balance actually happen in real life?
Speak up for yourself, without feeling awkward. Be upfront and discuss the grid that you are comfortable working with when you join a company. For instance, I clarified at the outset in my very first meeting that I would not do overnight business trips as Neel needs me around. If I do need to go out of town on work, I go early morning and am back by night, even if it means that I spend eight hours in the plane and car. Admittedly hectic, but Neel is my priority. Also, no late hours at work. We talk about quality time, but at the end of the day, quantity in time is also needed with children.
Neel is running on 11. Are you clued into his world?
I try to be a part of his world. Gaming is big with Nintendo, and now I honestly try to keep myself relevant, to stay connected. Honestly, life has moved beyond "Let's play a board game". These days he is engrossed in the basketball game, Poison. I am probably the only 45-year-old old playing with a bunch of 10-year-olds. But it makes him happy too, and I am happy that he sees that capability in me. We even have a basketball hoop at home to practice shooting (laughs) to better our game!
What comprises your support system?
I have full-time help at home. The other mothers (of Neel's friends) are also extremely supportive and informative. His friends come over and often I walk in to see six pairs of shoes at the door, and know it is time to make two litres of milkshake (laughs). I love being a mom. Neel is busy with classes as well: he loves playing the drums, rock climbing and plays basketball aplenty.
What is the best part about being a mom?
You have a person to share your life with, and that person gives you unconditional love and acceptance. As he is growing up, he pampers me, takes care of me when I am unwell. Neel is a part of my heart.
What sort of vacations do you take together?
We are wildlife lovers and often go on safaris. Neel loves to sleep till late whenever possible, but when we are in the jungle, he is fine with waking up at even 3 am for sighting birds and animals. We have a birding guide and a journal. Simply being in the jungle is a spiritual experience for us.