PenKonnect with Archana Garodia Gupta

About the Author:

With a lifelong passion for books, languages, travel and history, Archana has a knack for weaving delightful nuggets of information into engaging tales.

Archana is the author of the bestselling two volume “A History of India for Children” published by Hachette, which comprehensively covers the History of India from Prehistory to modern times. “The Women who ruled India” details the stories of 20 women who ruled in India. She writes on retail, women’s issues and history for newspapers and magazines, including regular columns for the student editions for The Hindu and Indian Express.

A leading national quizzer, is seen on national television as an expert on Kaun Banega Crorepati. She has won the ‘Champion of Champions’ title from BBC Mastermind India. 

Archana Garodia Gupta is currently the National Chair of the FICCI MSME Committee. She is a member of the Brics Financial Committee from India, leading the SME Task force.

Archana was the President of FLO, the women’s wing of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in 2015- 2016. She has been working in the sphere of women’s development since the last two decades. Among other women empowerment initiatives promoted were Swayam, a handholding, mentoring and consultancy cell nationwide for women, and a number of skilling and employment initiatives under the umbrella WE (Women Empowerment). 

In addition to her role at FICCI, she has been a key board member of the Noida Women Entrepreneurs Association for the last 20 years. She helped promote a successful women’s industrial park along with the UP Government, Mahila Udyami Park in Greater Noida in 1999. 

Archana qualified with an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, in the top 5% of her class with a merit scholarship. 

She is on the Governing body of Indian Institute of Management Sirmaur, and on the Board of Trustees and Governing Body of I.P. College for Women, Delhi University. 

In her business sphere, Archana Garodia Gupta owns and runs a successful gems and jewellery business, which is a pioneer of Indian costume jewellery. Touchstone has a Pan Indian retail presence, and also exports, primarily to USA and Europe. 

Archana is widely travelled, both in her business capacity, and as a speaker in International conferences.  She speaks many languages.

We spoke to Archana Garodia Gupta on December 15, 2019 on #PenKonnect@Penmancy about her book “The Women who Ruled India- Leaders. Warriors. Icons.”

Click the video to watch:

Penmancy: Your engagements are so exhaustive, are 24 hours in the day enough for you?
Archana: Not Really. But life is so much more interesting doing a variety of things.

Penmancy: What inspired you to write this book? And why did you focus on twenty accounts and not a full-length biography of one of them?  
Archana: Women and their story and struggle is something which I have been occupied with. I have been working in the field of Women empowerment since the last two decades. As president of FICCI Ladies Organisation, I launched many schemes to help skill women at the grassroots, and to help create women entrepreneurs.  Women rulers combine two abiding interests of my life – History and the empowerment of women. 

We have had hundreds of women rulers in India, and I wanted to introduce as many as I could in one book. I may later write full length biographies of some.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sittingPenmancy: What kind of research went behind the stories and what sort of challenges did you have related to that?
Archana: Regarding Research, I have been reading books on history for a long time, and as is the wont of quizzers, I mentally store up titbits. Again, as I researched each queen, since they were little known, I had to read up histories and travel accounts written in their periods: reading them was a pleasure, and I learnt a lot of things I hadn’t known before.  We are fortunate that scanned copies of these centuries old books are now available online, in sites like archive.org, and rare books of India.

Penmancy: Since we have established that it is your love for history that made you write these stories. How are they any different from the history that we probably read in school?
Archana: History is a subject that can be really interesting for children, or indeed anyone, because it can be told as fascinating stories. We have so many characters who should be portrayed as real people with their idiosyncrasies so that you can connect with them. Unusual little known facts and titbits create a gasp factor. It is also important to explain the logic of how things happened, and invite the readers to reason with you. It is important to create relatable context, with what was happening in the world, and with what the children are familiar with in today’s world.

Penmancy: How long did it take for you to write all the stories?
Archana: I spent about two years on the book.

Penmancy: What are some of the peculiarities that you kept in mind while retelling these stories? 
Archana: Many biographies tend to be hagiographies – they paint unrealistic portraits which are all praise, and attribute every conceivable virtue. Especially for women, they like to attribute ‘womenly’ virtues like sacrifice etc. I did not want to hold up the women to impossible standards. So these portraits are ‘warts and all’. Many of these women used all sorts of questionable means to achieve their objectives. They often failed – sometimes because of the people around them, but also because of their own flaws and wrong decisions.

Image result for archana garodia guptaPenmancy: How did you derive that these are the stories of women you wanted to tell and not any other?
Archana: To my surprise, I came across hundreds of women rulers when I started looking for possible candidates for inclusion, and it was a tough task to choose. A major criterion I set was that they should have ruled directly, either as regent or crowned king – I did not want anyone who ruled by agency – i.e. by influencing their husband etc. who was the ruler. The only exception I have made is Noorjahan, as she was probably the most powerful woman ruler the world has seen. I have tried to take rulers across all regions of India and over various periods and religions. A constraint was the amount of verifiable information available on them. I would have loved to include rulers like Prabhavati Gupta, the daughter of Chandragupta Vikramaditya, who ruled over the Vakataka empire for 20 years in the 4th century.  But there are very few details available.

Penmancy: While researching for the stories, tell us one thing that you discovered which you were previously unaware of.
Archana: Many many unknown stories and facts. I didn’t know that Orissa had been ruled by the Bhaumakara queens for more than a hundred years. There is a crazy story of Karnavati of Garhwal who cut off the noses of 30,000 Mughal troops when they attacked her kingdom!

Penmancy: Which of these rulers do you think could have ruled present day India and done a better job?
Archana: Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore is of course unparalleled. She seems too good to be true, but the more one researches, the more she seems like the ideal ruler and a Saint– it is almost impossible to find any vices! She was hard working, just, eminently sensible, and good at managing her neighbours, courtiers and the people. The British called her the ‘Philosopher Queen’. In India we would use the term Rajyogi. She ruled the best governed state in India in the 18th century. She was a strong believer in the rights of the Individual.

archana garodia gupta

Penmancy: Which one of these rulers would you wish to meet today?
Archana: This is truly a difficult question to answer. All the women had something fascinating in their characters. I loved the story of Begum Samru, for her sheer audacity and Chutzpah. The Begums of Bhopal ruled Bhopal for a 100 years, creating almost a welfare state, instead of spending on personal pleasures like so many royals. Tarabai truly influenced the course of Indian history, by holding Aurangzeb at bay and allowing the Marathas to survive.

Penmancy: When writing about historical characters what are the things one must keep in mind to steer clear of any controversy?
Archana: Satyameva Jayate – I think we need to focus on the truth and not worry about either deliberately creating controversy by sensationalizing events, or avoiding it by hiding important facts – I really believe in telling all the truth – warts and all!

Penmancy: Who are your favourite authors, national and international?
Archana: It is very difficult to choose – Books have been my constant companions since childhood. On an average I have read a book a day all my life on a varied range on subjects. I have loved reading Historical novels by authors like James Michener, Gillian Bradshaw, and for children, Rosemary Sutcliff.
Indian historical and mythological writers I have enjoyed reading are K. M Munshi, Amritlal Nagar, Dr. Narendra Kohli and Sunil Gangopadhyay.

Penmancy: Tell us something about your next project.
Archana: I am working on more books based on Indian history – There are countless tales waiting to be told!

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