Alka Jayakar is the manager of Air India for Thailand,
Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos. She is also proud to be a wife and
mother but beneath the smooth and flowing Indian outfits there beats the
heart of the revolutionary.
Alka is Indian, and was born in Mumbai. She was the
eldest child in the family, and has two younger brothers. Her father was
an aeronautical engineer, specializing in the dissection of air crash
data, and was also a director of Air India. Her mother combined the duties
of running the house and being an artist.
this diverse gene pool, the young Alka initially chose science as her
degree course at the University of Bombay, graduating with a B.Sc., after
topping the university in botany. (She still loves plants and flowers and
even looked for some flowers to be photographed beside, for this article.)
However, during her university life she became aware of
a personal need to be around and communicate with people, so returned to
university to do post graduate studies in mass communication.
After leaving the cloistered halls she moved into the
mass communications field of endeavour, working with Bombay TV for some
years. She was involved with many aspects of the business, directing,
scripting and producing movies for both the cinema and TV. “I loved
interacting with people, and the training in the research sciences allows
one to be analytical.” She is particularly proud of two films she made
with NASA regarding the space shuttles, including her interviews with Alan
Dean, the 4th man to step on the surface of the moon.
It was also at this time that Alka became involved in
the issues of women and children. Since her background was one of
privilege, I asked her where she became exposed to the problems of the
poorer members of the Indian society, to which she replied, “Working
class women will share their problems with their employers.” Amongst
those problems Alka identified lack of education and inability to finance
themselves. To assist and highlight, she produced a series of video based
programmes on these issues.
Having broached the subject, Alka set sail, a subject
about which she is very passionate. “Women must be educated. When you
educate a woman, you educate a family. The mother gives education to the
children. Women must be self sufficient and economically independent.”
But back to the life of Alka. Twenty-five years ago she
had two major changes in her life. She got married and she applied for a
job in Air India in the publicity office and got it. I was straightforward
enough to ask whether nepotism was involved, her father being a director
of Air India. Direct questioning did not faze her. “I came in through
the government (from Bombay TV) as Air India is a quasi government
organization. My track record spoke for itself.” A direct question got a
direct answer! She went further, “I am proud to be associated with
India’s national carrier. It was an honour to be accepted. We (women)
broke new ground.”
The women’s liberation “army” had begun bursting
through again! I asked Alka if she considered herself to be a female
liberationist. “I am liberated in my thinking. A woman should be able to
do better. I wouldn’t wear the T-shirt - I’ll prove it with my
actions!” Again, strong words from the cherubic-looking woman sitting on
the other side of the table.
She is proud of her dual careers of wife and mother
(her 21 year old son is following her husband into dentistry) and that of
a high flying executive in Air India. “My marriage and career have been
parallel. 25 years for both and they have complemented each other.
Marriage is a two way process. It isn’t easy, but my husband has always
been very encouraging (of her career).”
Being in the top position in this area, she is
undoubtedly a success, and she gave the following definition - “To laugh
often and much. To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection
of children. To leave the world a bit better by thought, deed, or redeemed
social condition. That is to have succeeded.”
She says she has tried to keep up with these ideals
personally and encourages people to strive for goals and play fair at all
times. Her advice to those who are to follow her is simply, “First get
the basic educational degrees so you will be an adequate candidate for an
appointment, and don’t lose sight of your personal goals.”
I asked if she had any of her own goals left to bring
to fruition and she replied that she would like to make one film a year.
These would be about people who motivate her with their deeds. She
mentioned our own Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, with the work she has
done for the Thai people and Ela Bhatt, the woman who has worked so
spectacularly to produce micro-credit for the poor women in India. While
Alka might say she does not wear the T-shirt on the outside, you are left
with the more than sneaking feeling it is comfortably worn under her
traditional Indian garb.
As hobbies, apart from home gardening she has an
interest in Indian dancing and art, inherited from her mother’s side of
the gene pool and even describes herself as a blend of the scientific and
analytical qualities of her father and the artistic side of her mother.
An afternoon with Alka Jayakar can leave you
breathless. She is a dynamic and forceful woman and deserves all the
success she has and will engender, while at the same time she shrugs it
off by saying, “Ganesh has blessed me.” That may be so, but Alka has
used her own talents too.