A story that perfectly sums up the idiom “age is just a number”

A few days back, when Sapna Sharma, 57, walked into the office of DroneAcharya Aerial Innovations, a Pune-based drone services and pilot training startup, she felt like a child entering a school for the first time in life. This is Sharma’s very first job; her first baby steps into the professional world. Her workplace happens to be a start-up, a space that is dominated by the young. And yet, the organisation welcomed her on board. There’s a reason such stories need to be told. While we have women who have managed to break the glass ceiling, for many, career takes a backseat after marriage or children. Many choose to take a step back as responsibilities multiple or because they don’t get any help or support from families and many fail to open their innings. We need more workplaces like DroneAcharya that promote age diversity and give women of all ages a chance


Swati Subhedar

When fifty-seven-year-old Sapna Sharma was asked by the management of DroneAcharya Aerial Innovations, a Pune-based startup that works in the drone space, if she would like to join the workplace, she did not immediately say yes. She went back home and thought about it for two days. Her apprehensions were justified. Sharma has, as they say in the corporate world, no work experience.

Earlier this year, she, along with her husband Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Sunil Sharma, 60, moved to Pune after he was hired by DroneAcharya to join as President, Business and Strategy. Sharma accompanied her husband to the office one day when she was asked if she would like to join as Admin Executive. She was told that the startup would benefit from her life experiences and each team member would be happy and willing to help her integrate into the system.

“I eventually said yes and joined soon after. I think it’s never too late to start something and there is no age to learn new things. The fact that my husband also works in the same office and the management was motivating, encouraging, and welcoming helped me arrive at the decision. It’s been just a few days, but I am glad I said yes to the offer,” said Sharma.

The beginning of her journey

Born in Alwar, Rajasthan on September 18, 1965, Sharma completed her schooling in Jaipur and Jodhpur. In 1985, she completed a course in textile designing and got married in 1988.

“As my husband was in the Army, we had to relocate every two years. Some of the cities and states we have lived in include Sikandrabad, Chandigarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Mau (Madhya Pradesh), Mathura, Ambala, and Jalandhar. Because we were constantly on the move, I could never start my professional journey. You can say that I never tried. So, this job for me is like how a child goes to school for the first time in life,” said Sharma.

Sharma was 36 when her daughter Sweekriti was born and after that, her life revolved around her daughter.  

Bidding adieu to the Army, moving to Mumbai, Pune

Her husband took a premature retirement from the Army in 2006 and the family moved to Mumbai. Sharma’s husband took up a job with the Mahindra Group where he headed two verticals until he retired at 60 in March this year.

“Soon after he got an opportunity to work with DroneAcharya, so we moved to Pune. While we have some relatives and some wonderful friends here, it still felt like starting afresh. My daughter, now 21, is away in Bengaluru pursuing a course in filmmaking. My husband got busy with his new job, but it used to bother him that I used to be all alone at home. One day I accompanied him to his workplace when during a casual chat the management made this offer to me,” said Sharma.      

New innings: Joining a workplace at 57

While Sharma’s husband and daughter always encouraged and motivated her to work, somehow it never happened.

“It was for this reason I needed two days to think. Since I have never worked, especially in a corporate setup, I have been very out of touch. But because the management and my husband were very supportive, I decided to give it a try and give my best,” said Sharma.

How did she feel on the first day of the job?

“Well, I was very nervous, but, at the same time, I was very excited. Everyone was very helpful and welcoming. It wasn’t a very hectic day. I met the team and told everyone that they will have to treat me like a new kid in the class and teach me everything. Since that day everyone has been very kind and helpful,” she said.

When she decided to take up the job, the person who was the happiest was her biggest cheerleader, her daughter.

“I felt very proud. I have always encouraged her to work. In her case, going out and working was never a problem. However, there had been a long gap and after a point, she did not know where to start or what to do. When she got the offer, even before saying she was going to start working, she said she was going to start learning. So, she was very positive about it, and hence all we had to do was to give her support,” said Sharma’s daughter Sweekriti.   

“If your attitude is right, if you are ready to make an effort, and if you are willing to try, there is nothing you can’t do. She did have her apprehensions. While we were deliberating, she said she was hesitating a bit because she had no work experience and everyone in the team was very young. But those apprehensions were short-lived. She was willing to learn and give it a try,” said her husband, Mr Sharma.  

He added: “It would be wrong to say that she has never worked. For all these years, she has been managing the house, managing us, and making our lives so beautiful. Shifting cities and starting afresh, managing finances, all this is a lot of work. It requires great managerial and finance management skills. She has the skills; she now just needs to apply these in the corporate ecosystem. I must say she is a quick learner. Just two days back, all of us were casually discussing that she finishes her admin tasks in two hours, so now maybe we can give her additional responsibilities!”   

After so many years of being at home, Sharma was used to function at a particular pace. After joining the workplace, she had to quickly adapt to a new routine.

“While it’s too early for me to comment on the concept of work-life balance, but my routine has changed. That’s fine. It’s all about making some adjustments. I go with my husband and come back with him, and we get the weekends off, so it’s working fine,” said Sharma.  

Promoting age diversity at workplaces

At a time when boardrooms are getting younger with the start-up culture catching up, most companies prefer hiring young employees. Workplaces giving a fresh start to 40-plus or 50-plus is truly rare. In such a scenario, this move by DroneAcharya, of giving a chance to someone like Sharma, who is close to an age when most people choose to hang up their boots and who has no prior work experience, is truly worth applauding.

When asked to comment, Prateek Srivastava, founder and managing director, DroneAcharya, said: “She is starting her first innings at the age of 57. Her experienced outlook will surely add an interesting flavour to our work culture.”

Talking about age diversity at DroneAcharya, he said: “We foster an atmosphere that is very inclusive and welcoming of people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. Every single one of our employees is valued and given the same number of opportunities as the rest. While a younger workforce may provide fresh perspectives and energy, a more seasoned staff is necessary for setting long-term goals and creating a diverse and welcoming workplace. They also advise and play mentors to the younger employees.”

Commenting on age diversity, Sharma said, “It feels good to see people of all age groups working under one roof and towards the same set of goals.”

Her husband, who joined the start-up at 60, said: “In the new scheme of things, people want to achieve more in a short span of time, so they work for 18-20 hours a day and burn out very fast. In the culinary world, there is a concept called slow cooking. It’s often said some dishes turn out exceptionally well when they are cooked for a longer duration on a very low flame. Similarly, people like us who have been working for years or decades, have the wealth of knowledge and experience. So, our contribution is extremely valuable to any company.”   

Giving women of all ages a chance

While promoting age diversity is an important factor, it is equally important for workplaces to give women of all ages a chance. There are many examples around us wherein women have had to give up on their careers for various reasons. Some are not able to, or are not allowed to, work after getting married, for some a maternity break or having children comes in the way of building a long-term career. There are also women who get no help and support from home and quit because they get burnt out. Women often find it extremely difficult to find a job after these unavoidable breaks in their careers. It’s important for workplaces to give women of all age groups a chance because a career break does not make them less able, talented, or efficient.

When asked to comment, Sharma said: “It depends on person-to-person and situation-to-situation why women work, or they don’t. But I firmly believe there is nothing that a woman can’t achieve and there is no age to achieve something. Hence employees should not be discriminated against based on their gender. Women, of any age, are as valuable to a company as the men.”  

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. If you want us to tell your story, write to us at contactgoodstories@gmail.com

To read the interview of DroneAcharya founder and managing director Prateek Srivastava, click here.

On a high after a successful IPO, DroneAcharya’s all set to make strides in the drone space 

Pune-based DroneAcharya ended 2022 with a bang by becoming the first listed drone start-up in India. Riding high on the success of the bumper listing, the start-up is all set to make waves in the drone service and manufacturing space this year and in the years to come. In conversation with The Good Story Project’s Swati Subhedar, DroneAcharya founder and managing director Prateek Srivastava shares the journey of his start-up which, in a very short span of time, has managed to have a presence not just in India, but also in South East Asia, UAE, Eastern Europe, and North America. He also shed some light on how DroneAcharya was able to create employment opportunities for many youngsters in the drone space and also discussed the future of this emerging technology. 

DroneAcharya recently became the first listed drone start-up in India. The initial public offering (IPO) has received a great response from the market and investors. How will the successful IPO help DroneAcharya in the future? 

The drone industry is one of the fastest emerging sectors in the start-up space. In the run-up to the IPO, we were optimistic, but we are overwhelmed with the response we have received. We had the backing of stock market veteran Shankar Sharma, which helped generate immense curiosity among retail investors. The fact that the IPO was oversubscribed 262 times proves how sought-after this new technology has become. The government has estimated that India has the potential of becoming a global drone hub by 2030. This gives us the confidence that Indian investors are ready to pump more capital into the sector in the coming years. 

As the founder and managing director of a successful start-up, can you tell us a little about your journey? 

The idea of DroneAcharya first came into being in 2017. The Karnataka State Electronics Development Corporation Limited (KEONICS), a company that helps promote the electronics industry in Karnataka, helped us shape the idea and our aim was to train individuals in the fields of drone and GIS (Geographic Information System). After a hibernation period of three years, we resumed operations and kickstarted with a team of three at the end of 2021 right after the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted. 

Back then, the civil aviation ministry was at the precipice of drafting new rules for the drone industry and we realised that training could be one of the emerging sectors. Thus began our journey as a training organisation and we started offering online courses. Soon, we became a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)-certified Remote Pilot Training Organisation (RPTO) and started our offline and on-field training programmes. Some of our recent feats include opening another RPTO in association with Rashtriya Raksha University in Gujarat, collaborating with Tata STRIVE for increasing employability and starting specialty courses in association with Whistling Woods International. 

On the services front, we have been fortunate to have executed the Medicine From The Sky initiative for the Government of Telangana in association with Apollo Hospitals for delivering COVID-19 vaccines. We worked closely with IIT Gandhinagar for drone-related training and a survey of a UNESCO-recognised heritage site at Dholavira in Gujarat. We also successfully completed a project with the World Bank, which involved using drones for carbon financing 2,000 hectares at Nandurbar, Gujarat. This project was just the first phase and is going to be launched in multiple phases in different states all over India. 

We have had quite an organic and wholesome growth, having grown from a team of three to a team of sixty-five, and growing! Our headquarters is in Pune, and we have offices in Bengaluru, Chandigarh, and Gujarat. Globally, we have an office in North Carolina in the United States, and very soon we’ll be opening offices in Dubai, Malaysia, and Netherlands. Through our strategic alliance with the Asian Institute of Technology (Thailand), we will also have a team stationed in Bangkok. We also acquired DroneEntry, a Canadian SaaS-based platform, and have a growing network of partners, including SPH Engineering, Blueye Robotics, Microavia, BECIL, and Technit Spaces. It has been quite an eventful journey filled with ups and downs, and many learnings. We are looking forward to many more eventful years! 

The word ‘drones’ conjures up a multitude of images. Which are the areas where drones have proven to be vital and indispensable? 

Drones have a wide array of applications spanning a multitude of industrial domains like mining, agriculture, energy, utilities, urban and rural planning, roads & highways, and infrastructure. To give you an example, drones can be deployed at an open cast mine to calculate the exact volume of a mound of minerals that have been excavated, or also for knowing the current condition of the mine. Drones can be used in the agricultural sector for spraying pesticides on the affected crop areas or to trace individuals who have been hit by a natural disaster. They can easily travel to inaccessible areas for delivering essential food, medicines, and first aid items. 

These mentioned applications are just a few of the varied solutions that drones can provide and new applications are being developed almost on a daily basis. 

What is DroneAcharya’s primary area of focus?  

Our aim is to bridge the talent gap that is plaguing the drone and GIS industry today. Hence, training is our primary area of focus. 

Providing drone-centric solutions to industries and enterprises is another key area of focus. These solutions include aspects like 3D modelling and mapping, change detection, volume estimation, crop health analysis, hotspot detection, drone deliveries, and real-time video relay. Additionally, in collaboration with Microavia, we are working towards launching our own manufacturing facility in India for niche drone products like Drone In a Box, Tethered Drone, and Swarm Drone. 

DroneAcharya’s main focus is on upskilling the youth. Tell us more about the skill development aspect of your business. 

Through our years of experience in the industry, backed by highly experienced team members, we have designed assorted courses that give youngsters a 360-degree perspective of the drone and GIS industries. Our flagship course is the DGCA-certified Drone Pilot Training. We also offer specific courses that help one understand the uses of drones in varied areas like agriculture, disaster management, racing, aerial cinematography and filmmaking, drone data processing, and Python coding for GIS applications.

We don’t stop at training. We also provide career counselling and 100% assistance in a candidate’s job search process as well. Quite a few of our students have been absorbed as full-time employees at DroneAcharya.

We have completed more than 250 DGCA certifications in the past nine months, and, in total, we have trained more than 500 individuals. We have also ventured out into the defence sector for basic drone pilot training at various locations across the country. 

If you had to list one area in which DroneAcharya was able to make a positive impact, what would it be? 

I would say employment generation. We were able to make a positive impact in the employment sector as we have placed multiple students in drone manufacturing companies, as well as provided them placements in our own offices. We were also able to make a highly positive impact on the stock market the day we became the first-ever drone company to be listed on the stock exchange. 

The various steps taken by the government to support the growth of the drone industry are a big positive for the sector. How are these initiatives helping start-ups like DroneAcharya? 

The announcement of the New Drone Rules in 2021, and the liberalisation of laws in terms of flying drones in the Indian airspace has brought a propagation of growth not only for DroneAcharya but for a majority of companies in the aerospace industry. We have seen days of not being able to get permission to fly drones due to a ban imposed by the government, to now a flourishing environment where anyone and everyone can build something for themselves, as an entrepreneur, or even as an employee. 

What is next on the agenda for DroneAcharya – something that you would like to tick off from your checklist? 

We have plans to create an ecosystem of manufacturing, wherein we are seeking to establish a drone fabrication plant right here in India. The Make In India scheme, introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given us an opportunity to bring in foreign technologies and create indigenous systems for the whole world. Subsequently, we are in the process of expanding to multiple countries. We have recently opened our first international office in South East Asia. We also have a presence in the UAE, Eastern Europe as well as North America, countries that primarily deal in the development of drones as a service. 

A company is also about its people. At your start-up, one can see people from diverse backgrounds and age groups striving to take the start-up to the next level. In that sense could you tell us about your team and what drives all of you? 

Our team is extremely diverse when it comes to age and gender. We have almost 50% of gender equality for men and women, making it an impactful workplace for all. We have a 19-year-old working in the operations department to a retired Armyman’s fifty-seven-year-old wife with her first job at DroneAcharya. The stories that we are scripting are quite inspirational. We believe in ourselves and strive to take the start-up to the next level every single day. 

Lastly, what would you say to someone who is taking the first steps toward entrepreneurship? 

The only thing I tell my team is, if you dream of achieving something, have the patience to work for it and see it materialise. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, here are some words of wisdom: Know thyself. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who have a clear vision of what they want their business to become and how they can achieve that goal. In addition, they should know that success involves not only finding a good opportunity but also being able to take risks – something many struggle with within the entrepreneurial world.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. If you want us to tell your story, write to us at contactgoodstories@gmail.com

Spreading the goodness of yoga and naturopathy

At times, life experiences end up changing the course of our journey and we unintentionally stumble upon something that is our true calling. Ritu Sharma’s professional life was perfectly on track, but when she witnessed her father and father-in-law battle cancer around the same time, that made her pause and think about the futility of constantly running around to achieve something at the cost of health. It was then that she found herself drawn to naturopathy, yoga, and self-healing and decided to take it up professionally. Today, she is a certified expert who conducts training and workshops, organises awareness camps and drives and is also an educator. Through this story, Sharma hopes to inspire everyone to practice yoga and adopt the principles of naturopathy. There is also an important message for women who are struggling to find their true calling.


Swati Subhedar

“Sometimes we find ourselves walking on an alternate path, different than the one chosen by us. I can now say from my experience that one must keep walking on it. It may lead you to a different destination, but this destination will open multiple doors for you,” says Ritu Sharma, a certified yoga and naturopathy expert.

She would know better. Back in the day, when Sharma secured the second rank at the national-level Railway Recruitment Board exam and later pursued an MBA, little did she know that ultimately, she would end up becoming a certified yoga and naturopathy expert. She has always been passionate about promoting healthy living, but her journey took a completely different turn when she decided to pursue a diploma in yoga and naturopathy and take it up professionally.

“After losing my father and father-in-law to cancer early in life, I was even more determined to adopt and promote healthy living, yoga, and naturopathy. To join the diploma course at the DY Patil University in Mumbai was a conscious decision, but it wasn’t an easy one. My husband would travel extensively, and I had two young children to look after,” says Sharma.

“I got immense support from my family, especially my husband and mother-in-law. Today, when I teach yoga and naturopathy to children and adults, I feel content. It’s wonderful when you are able to turn your passion into a profession, but it wasn’t easy to reach where I am today along with juggling between so many responsibilities, shifting multiple cities and raising two children. And therefore, I decided to tell my story. I hope it inspires you to incorporate yoga and naturopathy into your life and through my story, I also hope to motivate other women,” she adds.

The beginning: Getting drawn to naturopathy at 13

Sharma did her schooling and college in Delhi. Her father SK Sharma was with Delhi Vidyut Board and her mother Krishna Sharma was working at Delhi University. “I would accompany my mother to the university sometimes. There was an institute called the Gandhi Bhavan, where they would teach naturopathy. My mother would take mud therapy. I was just 13 but was fascinated. That’s when it all began. I had no idea then that I would re-connect with naturopathy years later,” says Sharma.

After graduating, Sharma took the national-level Railway Recruitment Board exam and was recruited by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. “It was a great opportunity but commuting in Delhi wasn’t easy. I still remember I used to take the Haryana Roadways buses! I also pursued an MBA along with the job as that was the requirement. In the evenings, I would teach underprivileged children studying in government schools. Some of the parents would pay me Rs 500 as tuition fees. I would save the money and help my siblings financially,” reminisces Sharma.

Turning point: Pursuing a diploma in yoga and naturopathy  

When Sharma was working in Delhi, her parents started looking for a suitable match. Their search ended with Amit Kaushik, a marketing professional, and son of an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer KK Sharma.

“During our courtship period, my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. I witnessed his struggle. I saw him take numerous medicines and yet his health kept on deteriorating. Over the years, because of his professional commitments, he had ignored his health. It made me realise how badly we all take our health for granted. Unfortunately, my father-in-law passed away just thirteen days before our marriage in January 2007,” says Sharma.

After getting married, for six months, Sharma continued to work in Delhi while her husband was in Mumbai. It was around this time that her father was also diagnosed with cancer. It crushed Sharma. It made her realise that diseases are like unwanted guests that knock at your door when you are least expecting them, and hence it is wise to live in the present moment whole-heartedly. She decided to quit her job and move to Mumbai to be with her husband. He got transferred to Pune and but soon they came back to Mumbai.

“This back-to-back moving and the vacuum on the professional front left me exhausted and frustrated. I couldn’t take up a job because there was no one to look after the children. It was then that I decided to reconnect with my passion and enrolled myself in the Diploma in Yoga and Naturopathy course at the DY Patil Institute in Navi Mumbai and completed it in 2018,” says Sharma.

Though her mother-in-law Aruna Sharma stayed with her to help her, and she got full support from her husband, it wasn’t easy. Sharma would wake up early or stay up late to study. She even attended the long weekend classes to compensate for the week, but that course was something that she needed to do for herself to change her life.

“This is the message I want to give to all the women – that you are the drivers of your life. You are responsible for your past, present and future. There are going to be unavoidable breaks like marriage, children, or relocations, but never give up. Your happiness is in your hands. If working is a requirement, then go out and work, but if it’s not, then enjoy every moment of your family life. Let there be no regrets,” says Sharma.

Teaching yoga and naturopathy

From 2018 until now, Sharma has organised numerous health awareness camps and drives. “In Mumbai, I taught yoga to people of all ages. I organised awareness camps for children to teach them the principles of naturopathy and tell them the importance of exercising, eating healthy and avoiding junk, packed or preservative-laden food. I also worked a lot with women to make them understand the importance of knowing the source of our food as we unknowingly end up consuming a lot of toxic and pesticide-laden food,” says Sharma.

She adds: “My main aim is to make people understand that the body has the power to heal on its own and it’s harmful to pop up pills the moment we get a fever or cold. It’s the body’s way of throwing the toxins out. I work a lot with women because they play an important role. For instance, now that I have been practicing yoga religiously for years and have incorporated naturopathy into my life, my family too adopted these good bits without me having to tell them. Both, my daughter Dhwani (14), and son Veer (10) do yoga religiously, pick up fruits over chips and eat pizza only occasionally. My husband travels a lot and eating out is unavoidable, but now he picks up food that is relatively healthy.”  

While she was busy organising health camps in Mumbai, Sharma also learnt the entire Bhagavad Geeta and she would also teach those concepts to women and children.

Moving to Kolkata and working with Adivasi women

In the second half of 2019, Sharma’s husband got transferred to Kolkata. Soon after reaching Kolkata, she joined the Lions Club and became the secretary. Just a few months before their moving, Cyclone Amphan had ravaged parts of the region, so the first task at hand was to help those people.

“When we went to distribute food and clothes among the Adivasi community, I noticed that a lot of women were malnourished, even those who were expecting. In the next few months, I worked a lot with Adivasi girls and women and told them the importance of eating healthy, especially while pregnant. I shared with them simple knowledge that they anyway get a lot of Sun, they walk a lot and so they just need to eat healthy food like dates, jaggery and fish that was available in abundance around them,” says Sharma.

A few months later, during the lockdown, Sharma, along with others, distributed food, and ration among the underprivileged. They also opened a makeshift dispensary at a local gurudwara, where people would come for consultations. She also organised diabetes awareness camps for senior citizens in Kolkata.

Moving back to Mumbai, launching own website  

Early this year, her husband got transferred yet again and the family moved back to Mumbai.

“The only positive of the lockdown was that people learnt the benefits of working online. So, along with the whole shifting, setting up a new house and enrolling children in new schools, I continued taking online yoga and naturopathy classes. My experience of working with the expecting Adivasi women in Kolkata inspired me to broaden my horizon. I did a course in garbha sanskaar and now I work a lot with expecting mothers. I also learnt about the science of chakras and how they affect us. I did a course in water therapy and face yoga, and now I teach women pre-natal and post-natal yoga,” says Sharma.     

Sharma’s primary aim is to spread awareness about the goodness of yoga among all ages and that it is a lot more than just weight loss and stress management. “So many yoga classes are mushrooming these days and it has now become fashionable to learn yoga. One need not pay through the nose to continue going to a yoga class. You just need to learn the asanas and then you can continue at home. I sometimes feel sad that we have to tell people to practice yoga. It is a part of our culture, and it should come naturally to us. Along with yoga, I continue to teach the principles of naturopathy, and work closely with the International Institute of Naturopathy. Yoga and naturopathy go hand-in-hand and one must incorporate both into our lives,” she says.  

Sharma plans to launch her website that will go live soon. It will be called Yogtatvam — Center for Ashtang yoga, pre-natal, post-natal yoga, garbha sanskaar and naturopathy (www.yogtatvam.in). It will be a one-stop shop where one can find all the information about yoga and naturopathy. Once a week, she also plans to conduct free sessions for the underprivileged. Yogtatvam got a boost this year when the Ministry of Ayush-backed International Yoga Organisation registered the venture as an “International Yoga School” in its official global directory and appointed Sharma as a ‘Yoga Brand Creator’. Sharma feels this will help her venture grow.   

 Ritu Sharma is a Mumbai-based yoga, garbha sanskaar and naturopathy expert. You can write to her at kaushikritu35@gmail.com.

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Adding French to your resume will take you places

We are often told – when an opportunity presents itself, don’t be afraid of pursuing it. Sugandha Dubey Mishra did just that. Her journey from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh to now being a French educator to students from across the globe is inspiring. A translator, interpreter, and corporate trainer, she also works closely with many embassies and international businesses, where her French language skills are sought after. In this candid chat with The Good Story Project’s Swati Subhedar, she gives us a peak into her profession and tells us how learning French, the language of travel, tourism, literature, international businesses, and diplomacy, will open new doors for students and professionals. Read this story if you want to be inspired to follow your own passion and carve out a unique path for yourself.


It was in the late 1990s when Sugandha Dubey Mishra was pursuing her Bachelors in Science at Agra University, she was told about French and Russian being taught at the Department of Linguistics at the University.

“When I look back, I laugh at the reason behind taking up French. They were charging just Rs 500 per semester, and I thought it was a modest amount to pay to learn something new! But I am so glad that I grabbed the opportunity. French has given me so much, but, more importantly, it has given me my identity,” said Mishra, 42.

The beginning of the journey

Mishra was born in 1980 in Jhansi, a historic city in Uttar Pradesh. The only child of her parents Giriraj Kishore Dubey and Madhuri Dubey, Mishra was born 20 years after her parents got married. Her father, a central government employee working with the Indian Railways, retired in 1995 when she was in the ninth grade. He decided to move base to Agra, a tourist destination around 200 kms from Jhansi, so that his daughter could have better opportunities.

Mishra was academically a brilliant student and after completing her plus-two, joined Agra University. While pursuing her Masters in Zoology, Mishra, then 17, decided to take up a job at a school to support her father financially.

“It was the school principal who told me about French and Russian being taught at the university. I surprised myself when picked up French so well that topped the university and scored 99.9%. My professor suggested that I move to Hyderabad to learn advanced French at a prestigious institute. Being the only child, I could not have relocated so far from my parents. Agra is a tourist destination and many of my friends were working as interpreters and translators, but that did not appeal to me. So, I decided to move to Delhi instead, join Alliance Française and take up a two-month course in French,” reminisces Mishra.

Small steps, big changes

Mishra excelled in that course as well and the institute offered her a scholarship to pursue an advanced course. “I could not let go of that opportunity. However, living in Delhi meant I had to take up a job to pay for my expenses. I rented a house in Noida and started working with a digital marketing company. I would wake up every day at 4:30 AM, reach Alliance Française, which was in South Extension in Delhi, about 15 kms from Noida, by 7: 25 AM. Then at 9:15, I would rush to my office and at night I would go back to Noida. Back in the 1990s, commuting in Delhi wasn’t easy, especially for girls, and Noida was not as swanky as it is today,” recalls Mishra.  

All her hard work paid off.  The institute offered Mishra, who was just 21 then, a job at the French embassy. “It was a proud moment for me. In the 1990s, medical and engineering were top career choices and my father wanted me to become a doctor. But I told him that I did not have the energy to dedicate an additional 5-6 years to academics,” says Mishra.

Mishra still remembers what her father told her. “He said you are all that we have, and we have put in a lot of hard work to get you to this point, so no matter what you do, make us proud. For me, the job at the embassy was that moment. However, there was a catch. For the first posting, I had to go to France. My parents, who were senior citizens, were not very comfortable with the idea of sending me all the way to France, so I had to put that dream on hold. I do wonder sometimes how different my life could have been had I moved to France, but I harbour no regrets,” she says.

Marriage, motherhood

Mishra continued to work in Delhi and joined a very reputed event management firm. In 2005, when she was 24, she got married and moved to Indore.

It is here when her life story would sound familiar to many women. Especially those who find that their careers take a back seat when they get married, and more so when they experience motherhood.

The next three years were like a roller coaster ride for Mishra. A year after getting married, Mishra’s daughter was born, however, the same year she lost her mother to cancer. The next year, her father passed away.

“Those years were tough, however, my husband encouraged me to start teaching French at home. The journey started with just one student. After my son was born, we moved to a township in Indore, and that shift brought along many opportunities for me. Many children, who were studying in reputed schools in Indore, and had French as one of the subjects, lived in the township. I started taking tuition at home,” says Mishra.

French all the way

Over the years, until the pandemic hit, Mishra taught French to many students and took up numerous projects and assignments with different embassies across the world. She worked with various firms and international businesses as a translator and an interpreter, and also as a corporate trainer. During the pandemic, when everything switched to online, it gave Mishra an opportunity to widen her horizon. Today, her students are spread across the globe in countries like Dubai, the US, the UK, Hong Kong, Canada, and India. Presently, she has more than 70 students under her fold.

Talking about why one should learn French, Mishra says: “Well, it’s spoken across five continents, 89 countries and is the official language in 29 countries. It is also one of the six languages of the United Nations as well as the Red Cross and the European Union and it’s the most learned language after English.”

The many advantages of learning French

Mishra is passionate about French, and for good reasons: “I can safely say that learning French will enable you to have a very secure and lucrative career. One that will take you places.”

She lists down some of the benefits of learning French. “On an average, one gets paid Rs 18-19 per word for French to English translations and interpretations. If you know French, you can get a job with any embassy in the world. You can be a French teacher or a lecturer. For those who are planning to study in universities across France, knowing the language would help them get good scholarships and campus grants. For instance, one of my students who went to study luxury management at Sorbonne University in Paris, got a good scholarship because she is fluent in French. Even those who want to work as lawyers, medical professionals, or software engineers in countries like Canada, where French is the official second language, knowing even basic French can boost your profile. So yes, if you are passionate and efficient, then after learning French, the sky is the limit.”

She adds that many creative fields like filmmaking and animated films also need professionals knowing French for services like subtitling and voice-overs. Also, French is a bridge between English and other European languages. So, if you want to learn any other language after learning French, it will be easier for you.

Learning French was indeed something unusual back in the 1990s. But how open are today’s parents in letting their children pursue a career after learning French? “Things are changing, and parents are more accepting if their children want to learn French and also pursue a career in it. Besides, there are many professionals now who know French and so they can guide those who are learning the language now. There was no one to guide us back in the day,” says Mishra.

(Left) Mishra’s husband Rakesh Mishra, a banker, motivated her to start teaching French. (Right) Her daughter Ishna, 17, is learning French and is keen to take it up as a profession. Also seen in the picture is Mishra’s son Anadya, 8

Dearth of good teachers

The only issue, however, according to Mishra, is the manner in which French is taught in schools. “Many schools across the country, not just in the metros, but even in Tier I and Tier II cities, encourage students to learn French. However, we don’t have many good teachers. In most schools, teachers are teaching because French is part of the curriculum. They don’t tell them the benefits of learning the language and how it can help them in the future. It happens many times that those students who are good at French later don’t know how to make use of this added skill. Gradually, they forget and then all the efforts go down the drain,” says Mishra.  

Mishra’s future plans include tackling this one important aspect. “I plan to conduct professional workshops across schools so that children understand how learning the language will help them in the future. It will really help the way they will approach learning the language if they know why they are learning it in the first place. Also, I am working on having a website of my own,” says Mishra.

Apart from her usual projects, Mishra also dabbled in French storytelling. While talking about the scope of the same, Mishra says we will have to wait for some more time before French podcasts, storytelling or poetry recitations become a norm. “We are gradually getting there, but we are not ready yet. These things are still in the preliminary stages in the country,” she says.

Lastly, being a pro, is there any tip that she would like to give to those who are learning French presently? “All students face a peculiar problem. Because they are also learning English grammar simultaneously, it can get a tad confusing. Sometimes, it’s amusing for me when even adults and professionals try to apply the logic of English grammar to French grammar and end up getting frustrated! I keep telling them that now that you are learning French, put your English grammar in a sack and throw it away!” says Mishra.

Sugandha Dubey Mishra lives in Indore. If you wish to get in touch with her, you can send her an email at sugandhadubey@yahoo.com.

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