Awakin Talks » Rohini Nilekani

Rohini NilekaniRohini Nilekani is a philanthropist, former journalist, TV presenter, author, social activist and a full time mother. In the equation between society, market, and government; Rohini has dedicated her work to enable a stronger society (samaj) by supporting ideas, individuals and institutions that have integrity, ethical leadership, clarity and accelerated impact. She is the founder-chairperson of Arghyam, a foundation for sustainable water and sanitation; co-founder of Pratham books, a non-profit children’s publisher and of EkStep, a non-profit educational platform. She truly believes in the importance of dialogue and collaboration. She has been instrumental in bringing together leaders from diverse fields to address India’s challenges through her book (& show) Uncommon Grounds. She speaks extensively on how Indian Philanthropy needs to shift to address the extreme inequality between the ‘have-everythings’ and the ‘have-nothings’ in India. Rohini continues to support work in diverse areas such as governance and accountability, environmental sustainability, education and research, and independent media and arts.

Five Questions for Rohini Nilekani
What Makes You Come Alive?

When I see a child with a Pratham Books book in her hand, when I see the look on her face when she realizes it is now ‘her’ book, it makes me come alive. The work we did at Pratham Books to get ‘a book in every child’s hand’ is perhaps the most joyful of the work I have been so privileged to be a part of.  When I go out into the field, through the many landscapes and peoplescapes of India, I come back so enriched. From Garhwal to Vembanad, from Kutch to Kaziranga -  everywhere, people try their best to innovate and be part of solutions, rather than remaining with their problems, and that energy is infectious. Also, people share easily; they have big hearts, and you return to your world feeling more interconnected and more committed than before. On my personal time, I love going into the wild, and I love music and yoga. And the blessed company of my now 3 year old grandchild, for whom, like for all children,  we must create a new conversation with the future.

Pivotal turning point in your life?

There have been so many moments. In my personal life, I have been inspired by my paternal grandmother, Atya, whom I wrote about recently. Also, I was humbled to stand in the same place, in 1997, exactly 70 years later, in Bhithiharwa Ashram, Gandhiji’s first ashram in Champaran, which my grandfather Babasaheb Soman helped to build. In my political life, the days of the Emergency were a serious turning point. Our coming into unimagined wealth deeply affected me, inviting me to be a trustee. My husband Nandan’s term in government transformed my understanding of the state. His unsuccessful election campaign was also a real eye opener. And every mentor I have met in my journey has nudged me to a better place.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?

20 years ago, Dr Meera, head of NICU, Manipal Hospital, took in my son, 10 years old, into the paediatric intensive care unit. He had a fat embolism in his lungs, escaping from a femur fracture. It was a dicey situation. I was in despair and in prayer. She looked me straight in the eye and said “ I will treat your son exactly as I treat all my patients, with all the professional care possible. But I cannot do more just because you are a VIP!” I was gobsmacked and remember blubbering,"Of course, I expect only that..” Somehow, it later seemed to be an intense act of kindness. To my son and to me, and to every patient in need. To have doctors and teachers and any professional serve every human being in an equal way is exactly what we need. Thank you, Dr Meera. P.S - My son became well after 10 tough days.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?

To have a bucket list.

One-line Message for the World?

Let’s stay curious, let’s stay connected, let’s stay committed.

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