Anju Sharma is an IAS officer serving under the Government of Gujrat. She has served in senior positions for more than 27 years and is a woman of Steel. An epitome of woman power, she is also an author and has already written two books. We got lucky to interview her over the telephone and thus presenting Anju Sharma, our #StreeJosh to you. Really loved interacting with her! Here are the excerpts…
1.Who are you and how are you into what you do?
I am Anju Sharma. By profession, I am a civil servant and an IAS and by passion, I am an author of two books. Been into civil services for 28 years now, from the 91 batch, and serving as the principal secretary for technical education to Government of Gujrat.
At the author side, I started writing in 2013 and I have authored two books so far. My 1st book came about 6 years back in 2016 called ‘I of the Storm – Discover Your True Self.’ The 2nd book called ‘Corporate Monk’ was released in Jan 2019.
2. How did you end up writing two books? How did the passion for writing develop?
I have been writing since childhood from the age of 9 years if I remember correctly. I used to write 4 lines or 3 lines of small poetry and then essays as I was a debater in school. So, the writing was always there. I also used to scribble a lot in my Personal diary. But formal writing came about 6 years back. And there is a reason behind why I got into formal writing or writing for public consumption.
I always had an urge to contribute to the society which also explains as to why I am in administrative services. At some point I felt that in our service your path is not actually decided by you yourself, you are actually not in charge of your path. The path is not decided by you but somebody else because of transferrable postings and every 3 to 4 years you visit new areas and the area is not chosen by you.
So, to follow a path consistently and if I had to have a consistent purpose in my life of giving back to the society, I had to do something along with my service that would allow me to consistently give in one direction and consistently develop in one direction and facilitate my personal goals as well as my contribution to the society in that area. So, I took up writing about spiritual intelligence and I write specifically on psychic-spiritual theme and self-development.
The reason why I chose this is in recent times there is a lot of stress in life and I saw personal examples and also examples of people around me, wherein they do not understand certain phenomena happening in their lives and tend to fall in to a trap, fall into despair attracting a lot of unhappiness when they do not know what to do when unhappy.
So, I started writing on this theme which turned out to be my first book, I of the Storm where I had explained the phenomena of setbacks and how these setbacks can be perceived in a positive manner and how unhappiness in our lives can be dealt with positivity and how happiness can be derived at any circumstance.
Spiritual Intelligence has now become a part of my life, so I took it ahead and I’m already pursuing a Ph.D. on that. I took it further as I thought we should also have a model, a prescriptive model for people to find out how to work on these things. So, in my second book ‘Corporate Monk’ I have tried to develop a model of Seven Bridges of spiritual intelligence and the theme that I have taken is of a corporate person an executive who faces stressed executive burn out that comes from all the stress that hard work during his work brings him and how this gives him unhappiness when there is no reason to be unhappy.
If someone is actually facing a natural set back or something really gross then one can understand but most of them are very small problems in our life which we perceive as too big and tend to rise into a whirlpool of problems to such an extent that takes over our entire personality. That is the problem that I’m addressing and in this, I have tried to address this through a story which is in the lines of Arjun & Krishna from Bhagavad Gita.
So, there is Arjun and Aman. Arjun is a successful executive who is on the verge of burn out due to so many things going on his life and there is a corporate mentor who has passed through all this earlier and guides him into the spiritual-intelligent way of dealing with such things at home and work. Here is the model which comes back for my readers especially professionals to follow in their lives in a simple manner. The things have been simplified so as to be put into practice. We can think over them, we can reflect over them and it changes the thought process, it changes the mindset of thinking about various things that are happening around us, to us, about us and everything.
3. Women especially housewives have to go through a lot of stress with nil outlet for their piling up negative emotions. Can such women find solace in your book?
In the book Corporate Monk, the protagonist is a man and a professional but there are various women characters around him. He has his wife, a friend, an extramarital affection, there are people around and stories of women around. And these women are powerful in their own ways. Some of whom are even professionals. The protagonist’s wife is not purely a homemaker and has her own aspirations and demands of what she wants out of life and when she is not getting that, how she deals with it and her responses to it. And then there is the protagonist responses to the same as a man. So, Women characters are very much there and this is not only a book for men but the women are very important too.
The issue of men looking at women in a particular way, dealing with the women in their lives in a particular way, that is also a very important aspect because they have their own aspirations, they have their own desires, they have their own destinies which I have tried to touch upon in my book. The women characters in my book are very strong characters, none of them are weak characters. They are looking to find something in their lives. Not simply accepting things in their lives.
So, there is Sayali a bright student from a business school and a topper throughout her school life who is abused by her husband when she gets married at an early age. She is married off by middle- class parents at an early age as they want to see her married and her in-laws and her husband being well off and well-moneyed people don’t allow her to work which she initially accepts as her fate.
But when she witnesses a lot of abuse and her life is completely destroyed that is when she takes it no more. She realizes that her true happiness does not lie here. She cuts off and emerges as a strong woman who seeks her true happiness which she knows does not lie in her married life. And she takes charge of her life and emerges as a life coach coaching corporate professionals much older than her, CEO’s etc., so, she reaches that level. She finds her true potential and aspirations. So, all of this is there in the book because it is all part and parcel of our lives. A professional’s life is not his alone but it is also about women and men around him.
The protagonist’s wife is also a strong character. When a professional puts long hours, time, and effort at work especially 12 to 18 hours a day, they tend to forget they have a family back home. And the family cannot be taken for granted since they are available always. Years of neglect cause some damages somewhere. So, I have addressed the issues of Wife Infidelity.
The reader has to get into reasons as to why this happens and this can happen to anyone. There are spiritually-intelligent ways of dealing with these things. But one has to introspect and see what is the responsibility that one has to take for it. Putting the responsibility on the other person can be convenient. But one has to reflect and see inside as to what did they do wrong or where did they go wrong? So, that issue has been dealt with and seeing the things from another person’s side. When the protagonist sees things from his own wife’s side when he realizes how he can understand her perspective and how when he tries to deal with it in an amicable way it results in a win-win situation.
Being a woman writer, I might write a man’s story but women will always remain a part of it and have lots to look forward to.
4. Was IAS by chance or there’s more to selecting this position?
I always wanted to carve a path of my own and hence chose to be in the administrative services. My father was the biggest motivator. I am not from a civil servant family but my father always was telling me to become an IAS officer and that too from an early age. So, when I got my first gold medal in 10th standard my father and grandmother immediately claimed that she will become an IAS or collector. That somehow got into my early childhood so much that I had the ambition to do it from an age of about 12 or 13 years.
And I kept on following it with a huge focus which made me get into services very early, in my first attempt itself. In fact, being an MBA myself I never opted for a corporate job and so it’s always been there. It isn’t merely by chance. Initially, the reason for joining was my father but later on when I graduated and I especially did my MBA and could think clearly and also consider and weigh out other options I still chose IAS. This was because I always wanted to contribute to society in a meaningful way and impact the lives of people. I can make an impact and touch the lives of people today.
Through my writing also I can make the same impact because I have been an IAS officer for the last 28 years gaining vast experience from people’s lives. I interact with so many people and get to know so many things. So, without that exposure, I wouldn’t have been able to write such books. It is my services and the experience I gained from it which grants me the power to write my books. It is a great feeling that we as civil servants keep making a lot of positive impact on other people’s lives.
5. What initiatives have you taken as an IAS to empower women and society?
There have been multiple initiatives which we have taken but I’ll speak about a few of them for now. I was in the health department so we came up with “E- Mamta-/MCTS” which was a mother and child tracking system which was developed way back in 2010. It was such a powerful initiative which got taken over by Government of India and got converted into a mission project by Govt. of India gaining popularity at the national level. It was a system to track the health of pregnant mothers and young children.
The second one was the “Abhayam project” which is of much significance. It was a woman helpline which I started in early 2014. It had a complex system of counseling and emergency help extended to women where women can call up 181 which reaches a call center (Counselor) who helped women on a protocol-based approach. If she required immediate police or medical help that was also made available to her. If she wanted to be rescued then rescue vehicles were also made available. That kind of system we have developed which is now doing very good work in Gujrat, it has really touched a lot of lives. Every life it saves brings me a lot of personal satisfaction.
I also started “Khilkhilat” a drop back system for newly born children and their mothers. It was a transportation system-based model developed by me. Other than that, being a woman myself, every time when I design a model or program, I always keep women at an important space. For example, we are doing a student startup and innovation policy so, we see to it that we encourage teams which are fully comprising of girls and we come up with special initiatives for them. So, these are the few initiatives.
6. What role do you enjoy the most and which role would you have chosen in your professional life if you weren’t an IAS?
Umm A very difficult question for me as it is difficult to compare apples to oranges. The role of an author and the role of a civil servant are like my right eye and left eye. It is difficult to choose whether to look through my left eye or right eye. At work, I enjoy my work thoroughly but when I am not at work, I enjoy my author skills. But yes, the role of an author would continue, being a civil servant has a timeline but being an author does not have a timeline. I can be an author soon as I live. I can be a civil servant till I turn 60. But I give equal importance to both of them and I find both of them as an integral part of me.
7. Would you also want to share a few things about your personal life?
On the personal front, I’m married. I’m married to an air force officer. I have two children and both of them are studying.
8. Any three words that you would always say to yourself in front of the mirror.
I always like to say in front of the mirror that ‘I Am Blessed’, because I wake up with that feeling and I sleep with that feeling too.
9. Your Winningstree moments…
The launch of my book Corporate Monk has really been a winningstree moment. It was very significant for me since I was working on it for the last three years and it also had a huge launch and the readers have received it well and are giving very good feedback. I have always had many such moments in life like when I got my first gold medal or got selected as an IAS or I keep on getting some of the other achievements in my service or receiving the Prime Minister’s award for Administrative Excellence for implementing the Sickle Cell Anemia Control Program in 2011. But the recent one would be the launch of my new book the Corporate Monk.
10. Winning Message to Fellow Strees and Our Readers
Believe in yourself. The entire universe can be unfair to you but be fair to yourself. If you are fair to yourself nobody can defeat you. We have to be first fair to ourselves.
11. Any difficulties that you might have faced in your career or any hard situations that you had to go through as a woman.
As a woman, the foremost difficulty that I faced all through my life is being judged. That’s something which really disturbs me. So, people judge you at various moments. They judge you because of your gender, your appearance, your background. This really disturbs me and I feel that If I were not judged every time, I would do much better. So, that pulls me behind.
12. How do you find time to write among your busy schedule?
Writing and reading are my favorite pastimes. So, Whenever I get time, I am only doing either of the three things, Writing, Reading or Watching a Movie. This is equivalent to my Me Time which I gift to myself. And we do find the time, work on a very heavy day will take 14 hours of your time but even then, you are left with some time. I do not while away my time on weekends or holidays either. Most of my writing happens on Sundays or Weekends. That is the time when I meditate in the morning. Meditation helps me getting a lot of clarity in my mind when I’m writing. I write after meditating.
So, I meditate for about 1 to 1.5 hours of time, and then I sit to write. Meditation gives me more productivity, more efficiency and more clarity of thoughts. Of course, it takes time as this book has been written over a period of three years and I have to write as per my own availability of time, I cannot write a book in 6 months or one month as I have my own time constraints and time pressure. But whenever I find some time of about 4 to 5 hours I write in a stretch and with meditation I can pull on for longer hours. I can also write for up to 6 to 7 hours in a stretch.
My writing does not happen in a continuous manner so it happens once in 15 days or once in 20 days. When the time is available then 2 days at a stretch so whenever I find some time I sit and write. I also utilize my traveling time, especially in the aircraft or car. I utilize that time to read, write or edit. So, I don’t waste my traveling time and utilize it completely. Aircraft travels mean no disturbance, no phone, no family, no children, no call bells or doorbells. That is precious time and I avoid dozing off at the aircraft.
13. Mam you also mentioned watching movies, so what would be your favorite movie?
Too many movies to choose from but I had watched a movie on writing, imagination and creativity called the “The Magic of Belle Isle”. This has to be my favorite movie.
14. What makes you extraordinary?
My Grit, determination, and focus.
15. Your Favorite quote that you believe in…
“Change what you don’t like and accept what you cannot change…”
16. Where can you be reached?
My FaceBook Page by my name https://www.facebook.com/anjusharma.india/
More power to this lady who touches so many lives and is truly empowered to illuminate many in the process.