We kick off a new monthly column showcasing our very own Puneites living abroad and what they miss the most about Pune. The column is authored by Pune’s well known celeb writer Monika Patel who moved to Brooklyn, New York but carries Pune in her heart.
Arveena Ahluwahlia reminisces:
Don’t let her glam looks fool you one bit; Arveena Ahluwalia is that ultimate combination of a beauty with brains. After a decade in Pune, where she was one of three girl students in her civil engineering class, this topper in the women’s division of Bharati Vidyapeeth, got a fellowship to pursue a masters at the ultimate mecca, Stanford. She was selected for the NASA sponsored Einstein project, trying to refute his theory of relativity. She went on to do a second masters in Management science and engineering before beginning a career with UBS, in San Francisco. At the age of 25, she realized the world she inhabited, where everyone made pots of money and lived impossibly privileged lifestyles, was not how she wanted to move forward. She did not want to become a jaded banker with no perspective other than a sixteen-hour work day. She decided to move into Marketing Finance at Google and realized her banker life did not even begin to describe the term workaholic. Coupled with an impending divorce, the gutsy girl decided to leave the West Coast and begin an MBA studying Real Estate and Finance at the prestigious Wharton school of business.
A summer internship followed at The Trump Organization where she was part of the strategy group, working closely with Ivanka Trump. Unfortunately, post her graduation, the economy crashed and Arveena decided to take time off to map out her future. She returned to India to explore options but eventually returned to Citibank in New York City, where she worked as a part of a Global Real Estate Group, planning finance and real estate options for high net worth individuals. Ever tough on herself, she realized the job did not challenge her enough. It was time to start working towards fulfilling her dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
Coincidentally, she broke her foot at the gym and spent an enforced period recuperating. Due to her broken foot, shoes were uncomfortable and she spent time researching comfortable shoes. When she returned to work, her colleagues started asking her to make shoes for them. One shoe led to ten and before she knew it she had become a shoe-maker. The “aha’ moment clanged loud and clear in her mind and she chucked up her banking career to become a cobbler, specializing in customized men’s footwear. People thought she was insane giving up a lucrative and established career for the unknown but as she puts it, “If I succeed, it’s my success and I might just inspire people to follow their dreams and if I fail, it’s my lesson learnt.” It’s been almost three years since she went into the shoe-making business and while there have been challenges, she feels it is a period of intense personal gratification. She has become whole, her world has expanded, she feels alive again.
What about Pune? Does she miss her life back home? What is it about Pune that tugs at her?
She candidly admits while she does not miss the city, she misses the warmth of the people. She has travelled extensively, but feels the people of Pune are the most hospitable. She misses her family and friends but that is a given for anyone who lives away from home. When probed to think hard, this desi girl admits she misses the festivities of Diwali. She misses playing teenpatti, through the wee hours of the night, at Ashish Chowdhury’s Diwali parties and staying on until brunch the next day. She misses dressing up in Indian clothes given they remain in her closet and rarely see the light of day in New York. And Indian clothes makes her wistful for her designer sister, Priyanka, her favourite stylist for any and every occasion. She misses them slipping out of her sister’s Dhole Patil Road studio and taking off for long walks, especially after a downpour, when the trees have that ‘freshly watered look’ and the steamy fragrance of wet mud distills the air.
Her bonds with Pune will never diminish since she regularly returns to catch up with her family and continue her cherished role as doting bhua and masi to her niece and nephews.
Hats off to this plucky Puneite who moved abroad and began living life on her terms.