Skipping the career ladder to follow her calling

She completed her bachelor’s degree in Business Management, barged into the director’s office to fight for a seat in MBA, fulfilled her dream of doing an MPhil. But, despite being in the financial sector she was convinced that education was her calling. Find out what made Swati Morzaria Prabhu open a pre-school of her own.

Swati Morzaria Prabhu, 39, Entrepreneur, Bangalore

Interviewed By Poorva Dinesh

Why did you decide to give us an interview on education?
My husband and I run a pre-school. Prior to that, I worked as a dean in an international school for three years. It gave me a lot of insight on what education should be about; how we need to bring up the new generation. I feel the education system in this country is preparing you for the wrong things. And that’s what we want to change.

Tell us about your school days. Why did you feel the need to change the system?
I finished my schooling from a convent in Coimbatore, so my brain works a certain way, and then I have to bring myself back saying, “No, this doesn’t work anymore!” I did my bachelor’s degree in business management from an all-girls college. After completing my MBA I joined a bank, I was heading a team there. Having observed people, I always felt that my team did not get what I got – a systematic education. I realized how systems and processes can make a difference.

You made an interesting point. Although you’ve tried to forget that you come from a convent school but you’re also giving the same system credit when you looked at your colleagues. It’s a bit contradictory.
Yes, I hated it. The nuns and teachers were rigorous about the system and the routine. You have to learn A, B, C, D or 1, 2, 3, 4 the way it is. You can’t skip 2 and 3 in between and go 1, 4, 5. Everything was so methodical that one would just get bugged. However, when I started working, I realized how much all that discipline helped me. All organizations are process-oriented, and it was easy for me to follow the steps. It helped me move ahead in my career. However, I always felt I should go for education.

You mentioned that you were always leaning towards a career in the education sector, but your education has been all about business management. Were you unsure about it?
The gut feeling came later. In school, I was more of a listener. I was scared of public speaking. In college, I started taking part in extracurricular activities. I realized that I wanted to do marketing. I applied for MBA in various places but I didn’t get through because I belonged to a forward caste (that’s the impression I was given by the institutions). But I figured that a master’s degree would prepare me better, so I went back to my college and met the director. I told her that I really wanted to study MBA. And she just gave me a seat because I had asked for it boldly. I just wanted to be independent and have a bank balance, like everyone else.

Women issues quotes

How was it working in the financial sector? Would you like to share any incident?
During my second job (for a bank), I was the only woman working with 30 men in that department. I didn’t get along with them. I hated every day of it. Plus, there was only one toilet for all of us, which was constantly used by those men. When I spoke to my boss about it, he taunted me saying where was my feminism when it came to using the same bathroom available for both men and women. I started using the maid’s toilet, which was worse. At one point, I just couldn’t use any of the bathrooms so I quit.
Why does nobody in college discuss issues women might face at workplaces?

What did you do after quitting that job?
I decided to do MPhil, for which I had to take classes for MBA students. They had women empowerment as a compulsory subject. It was about different kinds of NGOs in India and how you can help them. I knew then that I had to reach out and help others.

Was MPhil a decision taken because you didn’t know what to do next or were you so angry that you didn’t want to go back to work?
It was everything! I was really frustrated. I was angry at myself for putting down papers for a stupid restroom. I was not angry at the men either. I was annoyed at my boss that he was letting go of such a good employee. And in those days, I didn’t know that having a unisex toilet amounted to sexual harassment. It was back in 2003. I didn’t put up a fight. But if it happens today, I will not take it.

Since you had decided to reach out and help others, why did you continue your career in the financial sector?
I came to Bangalore after I got married and applied for jobs in different universities. I went in a salwar-kameez for one such interview, and the director looked at me and said, “I’d prefer you to come in a saree.” And I was like, I’m not coming at all! I can wear a saree but I don’t want somebody to force it upon me and make it a rule. I decided to go back to finance.

(ALSO READ: When Your Five-year-old Takes Care Of You)

What nudged you to finally switch to education?
After my son was born premature, I didn’t go back to work for a while. It’s only when he turned four, I was ready to go full-time and enter the education industry.
Plus, I always felt I was very good with children. I can teach them stuff in a fun way, and yet it is very systematic. My husband would say I know how to guide them and play with them, whereas another mom would just struggle to deal with kids for even two hours.
If my son was not born premature, I don’t think I would’ve started this school. Maybe I would have been a professor ten years down the line, glued to my financial and credit analysis. Some sixth or the seventh sense was poking me saying that I wasn’t on the right path.

Why do you give all that credit to your son?
I had to understand many things about how to bring up a different child. My son still walks on his toes, there are still many milestones that he hasn’t achieved. And that helps me, as a parent, to transfer it to the other children.

The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic, but we ask everyone we interview – What does love mean to you?
For me, love is my husband, my parents, me being a mother. Love is not about repeating the three magical words. You have to show it. And how do you do that? If you have to be strict, be strict. If you have to be loving, be loving. There has to be a balance.

Meet the interviewer

Poorva Dinesh

Poorva would love to call herself a writer, but doesn’t write much these days. Apart from reminding herself everyday about her two unfinished books, Poorva manages the day-to-day operations of Interviewing India and “talks to strangers” as her children put it. Even within the II Team, Poorva is notorious for walking up to complete strangers and requesting them for an interview.

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