Success Story

Varalaxmi Pillai can probably be the best brand ambassador for Mumbai, the city of dreams. This 21-year-old’s luggage occupies quite a bit of her tiny Kanjurmarg house.
Shanta, a proud mother, said, “I worked as a domestic help in several houses. I swept, cooked and washed vessels to bring home the money.” And Shanta’s courage is what inspired Varalaxmi the most.
Varalaxmi Pillai, who grew up watching her mother work 12-hour days as a domestic help, has done her mother proud and now holds an international panache.


Actions are the louder expressions of thought. The quality of thought is ordered by the nature of our inner ‘belief’ and faith. Where faith is shaky, thoughts are vague, and actions weak and purposeless – indecisive and timid. If our service to the world is to be effective and productive of sure results, then our head and heart, within, must be inspired by our own “conviction” and Varalaxmi is the testimony of this fact.
If she had faith but not firm conviction; certainty but not self – resurrecting and adamantine belief, the dynamic convictions that drove her to spectacular actions and blazing results could not have been achieved. They are not built – in resources in any individual, one has to discover and cultivate them.


Varalaxmi, who lives in Kanjurmarg, told MiD DAY, “My father died when I was five. My mother, Shanta, worked very long hours first as a packer in a biscuit factory and then, for 12 years, as a domestic help. She only stopped last year.”


The first objects that assume a distinct presence before Varalaksmi, when looked in the past, into the blank of her infancy, is her mother with her truthful attitude and her eyes so dark that they seemed to darken their whole neighbourhood in her face, and cheeks and arms so hard and red that she wondered the birds didn’t peck her in preference to apples. Mother of Varalaxmi is an embodiment of patience and hard work, who with her tough life and strong principles brought her children with a lot of dignity and integrity.


“As we lived a hand-to-mouth existence, my brother and I missed out on several school picnics and excursions. We borrowed textbooks and stationery from friends. We received clothing from beneficiaries,” said Varalaxmi, who completed her education with sheer grit and some help from Good Samaritans. She graduated from H R College of Commerce and Economics in 2007 and joined Thomas Cook, where she worked for 18 months.  Meanwhile, her brother, Yograjan, too got a job and the siblings were finally able to support their mother.


Varalaxmi Pillai (21), who grew up watching her mother work 12-hour days as a domestic help, is herself a personification of persistence, patience and endurance. The daughter of a housemaid, nurtured by SAGE Foundation, Varalaxmi Pillai obtained a degree from HR College, a prime Educational Institute of Mumbai. She received an Achievers’ Award for the best student at the hands of Maya Shahani, Chairperson of SAGE Foundation, and Indu Shahani, Sheriff of Mumbai. Laxmi was offered a scholarship at the London School of Economics but she opted to work for a year at Thomas Cook to gain some work experience and international élan. She was given a makeover to enhance her self esteem by Queenie Dhody, an expert in personal transformation. Groomed and nurtured by her mother’s loving employer Meher Moos, Varalaxmi has now earned a scholarship to the University of Westminster with the Sheriff’s help and will be winging her way there.
An enthusiastic Varalaxmi is quite excited for her stay at London as she said, “This is the first time, I have traveled in an airplane. In fact, I am the first member in my family to travel abroad for studies.”
Varalaxmi will finish the scholarship course in January 2010, but she has no intention of stopping there. “I will try to earn another scholarship so that I can finish my doctorate,” she said.
Varalaxmi was able to complete her education with the help of several trusts like the Thodumal Shahani Trust and mentors like travel writer Meher Moos.
She is committed and enthralled for her first trip abroad as she firmly believes that her journey to achieve her goals won’t stop thereafter as well. At London she will be completing her one-year masters’ programme in international management, something that no one in her family had ever dreamt of. Her father, a factory worker, passed away when she was five and her mother worked as a domestic help.
She filled out an application for the University of Westminster with her qualifications and wrote out an essay with her goals. “All through my study years, I had to depend on others for my textbooks and occasionally even clothes but now all my dreams have been realized,” she said.
After her father’s death, Meher Moos, India’s intrepid traveler now a consultant with Thomas Cook, became her guardian and helped get her funds for her education. They were borne largely by the Thodumal Shahani Trust and other beneficiaries.
She is also one of the first to receive the Sheriff’s Scholarship, which was instituted by Sheriff Indu Shahani in collaboration with universities in the UK and US.
A belief, therefore, must again be tempered into an irrevocable “way – of – life” under all conditions. If convictions are gathered through study (Sravan) and if they can become our belief through reflection (Manan), then belief can fructify to become a “way – of – life” and this is best unleashed in the personality of Varalaxmi Pillai.


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