Do you believe that you have the power to change your life or do you believe in destiny and surrender to it? Meet Mritula Chandrasekaran, a wonder woman in every sense of the word. Born into a middle class family in Villupuram, a small town in Tamil Nadu, Mritula as a young girl had big dreams. If she had succumbed to circumstances and decided her destiny was to be curtailed by the events in her life, she would not be where she is today. Mritula Chandrasekaran is a Ph.D student in the field of Artificial Intelligence from the Kingston University, London. She is nearing completion and soon will have a doctorate degree. This is her inspiring story. – Written by Lakshmi Mitter

Mritula as a child was carefree and loved to play. She grew up with her brother and a few pets. She had a very supportive mother who told her several times that she must be bold and look for ways to become independent when she grew up. “It was my brother, who made sure that I sat down with my school books and studied a bit. Those days, there was no pressure to perform and I studied lessons that fascinated me,” she says. However, there were relatives who used to put her down and make her feel inferior and incapable of anything. Troubled by their words, Mritula made a resolve to prove them wrong but at that point in time, did not know what she could do.

After her schooling, she joined a BSc. Computer Science in a college near her house. Cycling to college on her own, gave her time to contemplate and enjoy every step of her journey. Mritula referring to her admission to the Computer Science course, says, “That turned out to be a life changing experience for me. At college I met people who were struggling to even read and write in English, but still had worked hard to come to graduate level. Looking at them I realised that I am fortunate in so many ways and that I must make best use of all that life had given me to grow and achieve something worthwhile.” During her time in college, although she could not afford to buy text books, she managed by spending an hour after college in the library everyday, taking notes. She became more vocal about her thoughts. She became the person who was not afraid of making mistakes. “If mistakes happened, I learnt from them and moved on,” she says. She actively participated in extra curricular activities and performed well in academics. College had enabled her to grow into an independent and confident woman, ready to take big strides in life.

Soon after college, she worked for Hewlett Packard for awhile before moving to Infosys as an Assistant Software Engineer and later to Accenture as a Senior Programmer. While still at Infosys, she got married. Her wedding was a beautiful and orthodox Brahmin marriage with all customs duly followed. Soon she was expecting and she decided to quit her job to look after her son.

She enjoyed spending time with her son, but there was nudging feeling in her heart- The desire to achieve something significant. The desire led itself to feelings that bothered her. She felt like the world was taking her granted for being a housewife. She knew she had to do something more, but did not know what and how. Her best friend from school, Dr. Ramya, a successful neurosurgeon who had seen several ups and downs in her own life, inspired her to look out for opportunities and not underestimate herself. “Ramya has always been and is my pillar of support even today,” says Mritula, fondly remembering her best friend. Fortunately for her, her husband is a person who believes in empowering women and strongly supported Mritula to pursue her aspirations. Mritula says, “He kept driving me to look out of barriers and insisted that all aspirations are within possible limits.”

While she was trying to figure out her next steps with the continuous support of her husband, she met a lady in her 60’s, Mrs. Radhika. Over time she realised that this lady never cribbed about health or fate or even her age. Much to her surprise, Mrs. Radhika revealed that she took to her passion only when she was in her forties. Mritula, realised that she too could start from the beginning and pave a way for herself, just like her. It wasn’t impossible.

She tried business, even tried studying for a MBA degree. But these options she says, did not give her the satisfaction she was looking for. Confused, she wondered what she must do, when she remembered someone, whom she had been in awe of, while growing up. “Prof. Kasturibai from the same town as I hail and who also happens to be my mother’s best friend, is a brilliant academician. I decided to follow her footsteps.” Mritula went on to pursue a full time education and planned to eventually get into academia. She joined Christ University, Bangalore to do her Master’s in Computer Science. Her interest in research grew even more. After her Master’s she enrolled herself for a Ph.D degree in the field of Artificial Intelligence from the Kingston University, London. She is currently close to completing her P.hD Degree.

Mritula as a mother

Managing the heavy load of academics and bringing up a child isn’t easy. Mritula says, that she begins each day prioritising her different roles and making time for each one. “As a mother, I have always wanted to be the one who looks after all my son’s needs and being there for him when he needs me. I did my Masters when my son was 2.5 years old. There were times when he used to be sick and needed me more. Those times, studies would take a backseat,” she says remembering those times. Eventually, Mritula and her very supportive husband figured out that planning the week in advance helps a great deal in managing all their priorities. “We plan for Monday to Friday, starting from cooking, shopping, health, studies, work, etc. We get all the required shopping done over the weekend. Our son is ten years old now. His studies and health are top priorities on our list. I strongly believe that his education starts from home and his health from the kitchen. Although we may not be able to execute our plans 100% of the time, planning ahead has helped us a great deal,” says Mritula, when asked how she manages to multitask among the various roles that she plays. Time has passed and Mritula has somehow over come all the obstacles that came her way, be it family expectations, her own expectations or any requirement on academics side. Needless to say, her journey is a combination of determination, passion and her husband’s support in all her endeavours.

At the verge of finishing her Ph.D, she relives the time when her father used to take her to school. She used to sit on the front bar of the cycle and while they crossed a bridge on the way, her father used to tell her, “Life is like this bridge. Peddle hard in the first half and the second half will be smoother. You can then enjoy the breeze.” Mritula too has peddled hard on the first half and is on the verge of entering the second half after she completes her doctorate degree and enters the world of academia to make a mark for herself.

Mritula is is currently working on developing solutions to make public spaces such as pavements, zebra crossing etc, safer and more easily accessible for the elderly, people with disabilities as well as pregnant women, for her Ph.D degree in the field of Artificial Intelligence. More details are available here.