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The journey of 11 Nightingales

At the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, Justice Prabha Sridevan launched a short collection of stories on 23rd of July that celebrate the power of women. R Sivakumar and V Pattabhi Ram authored the book that has a foreword by T N Manoharan, Chairman, Canara Bank. Excerpts from the book:
In Nightingales: How Eleven Women Overcame

Obstacles On The Road Of Life, we piece together the remarkable achievements of eleven outstanding women chartered accountants. These ladies have shown unparallelled zeal in their respective spheres and in their way contributed richly to brand CA.

There is a common thread that runs amongst them: passion, grit and the drive to walk the road less travelled. The choice is as divergent as one can get.

Revathy Sriram the lead nightingale

Revathy Sriram, arguably the first woman IT auditor of India and the first management accountant from the ICAI stable, is two generations elder to Nandini Satheesh. To have acquired and added multiple certifications at a time when women, at best, stuck to one graduation is remarkable. On her part, Nandini uses the JAWS software because she has only a 15 per cent vision. But that did not stop her from qualifying and then adding two post-qualification programmes to her armour. Mark it, a full 50 years separates these two nightingales.
Kimsuka Narsimhan had a comfortable upbringing living out of the posh Railway Quarters on Sterling Road in Nungambakkam, while Kalyani Arunkumar eked it out in a claustrophobic apartment complex in Chennai’s crowded Chindradipet area. The two went to the Ethiraj College for Women around the same time and made a mark in their respective ways in the corporate world. Kimsuka, a Sivabhogam Prize winner, is the CFO of Kimberly-Clarke while Kalyani, who studied CA, under difficult circumstances, works in a senior management position in Tata Communications.

Priya Bhansali and Anusha Sreenivasan share an unusual bond. Both are daughters of popular administrators. Both argue that their firm is not a family house. Anusha was an early day admirer of Priya. The two traversed diverse yet similar paths: Priya is the first elected woman central council member of the 70-years old Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, and Anusha is the first woman secretary of the 90-year old Society of Auditors.

Harikatha’s Vishaka Hari

Harilatha’s Ramamani Ravi, a multiple gold medalist with two professional qualifications in her bag, is into social work for the cause of autism, while Vishaka Hari, another nightingale with a trailblazing academic record, regales the public with her Harikathas. You understand Ramamani’s role best if you have someone in the family who is a spastic, a schizophrenic, or suffers autism that moves you to live two different lives simultaneously.

To achieve against odds

Sarala Panchapakesan, who like Kimsuka, is a Lady Sivabhogam Prize winner, chose to tread her path as a teacher, rather than as a corporate accountant and brought glory to India while working in Hong Kong. You realise the outstanding character of B Mala, the first woman partner of Fraser & Ross (now part of the Deloitte group), when you realise she overcame a personal lifelong disability to achieve what no other woman has achieved.

Sivabhogam who started the gold charge…

Standing head and shoulders above everyone is R Sivabhogam, the first lady of the accounting profession. A remarkable woman, far ahead of her time, she overcame a difficult physical condition and fought for India’s freedom. She is the one who really started the gold charge!

Four practitioners, two corporate employees, and one who straddled both spaces, one performing artist, one social worker, one teacher, and one freedom fighter – we went for breadth in our selection!

India in the last 120 years can perhaps be broken up into five generations: four of 25 years each. The first was the Freedom-fighting generation, followed by the Nationalists. The second half saw the Dreamers first and the Global Indians next. The 21st century marks the arrival of the Millennial. While the ones born post-2000 are too young to go into this list, we have ensured you get to read the journey of at least one CA from each generation. By the way, the chapters are in no particular order.

In the end, we would like to reiterate that these eleven constitute ‘a’ list of outstanding women CA and not ‘the’ list. Several others living either in India or abroad, whether in the profession, or in employment or in entrepreneurship, have left footprints on the sands of time. Like, the celebrated bankers Naina Lal Kidwai and Vishakha Mulye. Like, Dhivya Suryadevara the first woman CFO of General Motors, or Chitra Ramkrishna, the first woman MD-CEO of the National Stock Exchange. Like Rajani Gopalakrishnan who overcame Steven Syndrome and worked with JAWS software to become the first visually challenged CA. Or like the carnatic vocalist, Vidya Subramanian, who returned from the US to India. The box overflows.

We will get to them another day, another time.

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