Anita Goyal, a well-known personality as the CEO and trustee of The Hemraj Goyal Foundation, a patron of Binti International, and Honorary Chair of the FGM Appeal for Barnardo’s in the UK, appears to be the very definition of success.
Her latest project ‘Voices from Punjab’ sees her sharing the stories of fifteen Punjabi women who live in the UK, detailing their challenges and achievements. The profiles include highly influential politicians, award-winning leaders, and philanthropists. All of them have inspirational tales. globalindianstories.com caught up with Anita to find out more about the project and what it means to her. What made Anita want to move into writing and what were her experiences as a first-time author?
“I was inspired by books I had read before that dealt with women’s lives and the effects that their upbringings and surroundings have had on their lives,” she says. “Having completed a Masters in Special and Inclusive Education, I knew I finally felt confident enough to pursue a big piece of work like this, that tells not one but many stories and explores the cultural challenges faced by a particular set of women.”
Wanting to be an author is one thing, but finding a topic to be passionate enough about to be the inspiration for writing a whole book is another matter. “I was given a book called ‘Beautiful Women’ by a friend who works with iPartner India, and who told me that the book not only introduced ‘Journeys from despair to dignity’ (as indicated in the strap-line) but also provided a powerful insight into the work that iPartner India’s charity projects do.”
Beautiful Women follows ten women who fought their way out of the commercial red light district in Goa, and found sanctuary by joining an alternative lifestyle through a special program for women. “Following this I knew there were stories to tell from my work with the Hemraj Goyal Foundation, of which I am CEO, and I felt that a book was a strong way to do this,” says Anita.
Anita cites her mother as another inspiration. “It was her stories that I originally heard as a child and growing up, and I always promised her that one day I would write her story in a book to celebrate her life and continue her legacy”, she explains. “The stories she told me – of cultural challenges and strong family dynamics – seemed so profound to me back then, but only now do I realise how similar so many of our challenges are and have been in the past. What is different is the way we approach and deal with them, and that is a unique insight that this book provides.”
Now that the book is complete, what are Anita’s hopes and dreams for ‘Voice from Punjab’? First and foremost, she hopes to lift the presence of HGF in everyday life, initiating conversations around the work that HGF does and the projects it supports. This will be particularly supported by the fact that all author royalties from sales of the book will be directly funding a livelihood project in Punjabi.
“I am proud that this book harnesses the power of storytelling to promote issues both in our history and still existing today; educating the next generation, and allowing me to leave a legacy not only on behalf of the 15 women in the book, but also for myself and for the Hemraj Goyal Foundation”, she says.
So there are some moving and crucial historical moments from the past that are covered in the book, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a weighty tome. “This book provides some real understanding of the strength of Punjabi women at different periods of our history, as it features women who were born in the 1920s – all the way up to the 1980s. Their upbringings are different and yet the book offers a unique insight into the similarities that exist between them, and I think that anyone reading this book will find that they start to identify with the women in many ways.”
Anita says that she herself has found inspiration from these 15 women in so many ways, and she hopes that it will do the same for others when they read the stories for themselves. “I’ve learnt so much from working on this book,” she shares. “It has deepened my understanding of so many of the events covered in the book, and has strengthened my passion to support projects like the Partition museum that focus on enhancing the education of young people.”
The project has brought new friendships into her life, and has taught her to be a more active listener and more compassionate person. It has also caused her to reflect on her own life, recognising that stories are a powerful way to share some very key messages.
The journey hasn’t been easy, however, with the biggest challenge being to find enough time. “I have so many commitments, demands and passions, as well as my family life at home and also caring for my mother-in-law with her health challenges,” Anita explains.
“It also took some getting used to before I was able to conduct the interviews in an effective manner, as initially I found it challenging to capture the essence and messages from each woman’s story – often taking down far too much detail and not capturing exactly what I wanted. This became easier as I undertook more interviews, and now that we have started on the second book it seems like second nature.”
The final challenge was Anita’s own expectations, which she found she had to manage as she progressed through the project. Initially interviews and plans fell into her lap with no real plan, and that became difficult when it came to managing timescales.
So, with one book successfully finished, what’s the next project? “Next up is ‘Voices from Gujarat’,” she says. “I am keen to approach and interview an even broader range of women, and so far this is going really well. I’m excited about all of the women of Gujarati heritage who have so far committed to being a part of the book, and have some amazing plans for developing this further.”
The next book doesn’t mean that all the work is finished for ‘Voices from Punjab’. Anita is also currently exploring the exact project that is being supporting through the sales of the book, as this will become an ongoing commitment and partnership for HGF.
Finally, there is a national and international book tour in the planning stages, with a series of book launch events in the works. We hope that the book is successful in bringing the voices of inspirational Punjabi women to a whole new audience and that the proceeds will make a difference to women living in Punjab.