She is a lawyer, a yoga therapist, bestseller author, RJ, theatre director, Bharatnatyam and Jive dancer, model for social causes, and an ‘Art of Living’ teacher. Roopa Somasundaran is everywhere, just like salt, as her teachers used to describe her. From a pampered child at home and a star performer in schools and colleges of Kolkata to a struggling student in a hostel of Delhi and then a top professional in the glamorous beauty industry converting into a stressed, indebted and terribly sick person, Roopa has seen the extreme highs and lows of life. But, she never accepted defeat and always fought back to regain the top position in whatever she did. The present exuberant Roopa Somasundaran overflows with energy and joy, that, in her own words, come as a divine blessing from Shri Shri. Being an ardent follower of Art of Living, Roopa’s sole mission now is to spread joy and happiness wherever she goes and whoever she comes in contact with. Her life is an example of the unfathomable potential of a human being. She has proved, one can do any and everything, if only she is willing to learn and go on in life.
Roopa has worked with India’s leading wellness companies like VLCC Group and Shahnaz Husain Group. She has been featured in The Telegraph and Wall street Journal’s online video for her services in the field of Image Management. She has authored some bestselling books- ‘Mirror mirror on the wall’ and ‘Illegally in Love’. She has touched lives by her Seva. Presently she works as Head- Knowledge and Intelligence, Dhir & Dhir Associates. Let’s know how Roopa had been able to do so much and so early in her life and how she is still going on without stopping and without feeling tired even for a moment!
Q: Roopa, please tell us about your Childhood.
Ans. I was born in Kerala, brought up in Kolkata. I am the only child of my parents. As my father is an artist,since childhood, I have been connected to art and creativity always. I think, I learnt to dance first, even before walking. My father always encouraged me to do what I felt like doing, he ensured that I enhanced my creative side. I started learning Bharatnatyam in Kerala when I was in class 2 and by the time I was in class 7, I was a trained dancer. Along with regular dance performances, I also used to read a lot. I used to read Enid Blyton books when I was barely 6 years old and Agatha Cristie books in my teenage. I also used to write short poems. My father sent one of my poems, “Old Man” to the Statesman and it got published. That time I was only six years old and I even got money for this poem, 50 rupees! Everyone was surprised that a small kid like me could write such a deep poem. Even I am surprised to read it now. Writing and dancing came to me naturally. Gradually, it went into theatres.
When I was 16, I did my first commercial theatre production. It was for GSS Girls School where I used to go for dance. That was Rajat Roy Cultural Centre so they used to do different types of dances. He was organizing the silver jubilee celebration for the school and wanted an English play with a bit of dance drama so he approached me. I had just given my class 10 exams then. It was pretty challenging because till then I was an actor on stage with Disha Theatre Group and suddenly I was doing production, direction, facing challenges of lights, sounds, stage setting, copyright issues and much more. But I did that play, Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘She Stoops to Conquer’, which was performed in front of about 4000 people at Nazrul Manch in Calcutta and it went house full, it was a hit. The principal liked my voice and she asked me to also host the event.
Academically also I was good though I never studied a lot. I later realized, it was never mugging up but understanding the concept and analyzing the things in own words that got me good marks.
Q. What about your college days?
Ans. I studied in the City College of Kolkata. There also, I became the cultural secretary due to all my extracurricular activities. So I had the whole day to explore my creativity. I did English Honours and then Masters in Mass Communications from Amity. That was the time, I came to Delhi and that was the changing time in my life because till then, I was a pampered child at home and didn’t have to worry about anything. And suddenly I was here in Amity Hostel where I had to do things, whether I liked it or not. But I started adjusting to my food, waking habits and things like that. It was then when I realized, it is so important to live alone. I felt like as if it was an achievement when I first travelled in a public bus to meet my school friends at Ghaziabad. I realized, how important it is to do things alone, adjusting with people, even to get heartbreaks, then only you value love and relationships.
Q: Please also tell about your professional life.
Ans. We were informed in Amity that we needed to do internship for about 2 months but I was busy writing always. Everyone got internship in the college except me. Then I was like what to do? It was then when I came to know about an internship opportunity in VLCC, it was for corporate communication. Instead of internship, they offered me a job and that too with good salary. They also talked to the Dean of the university and told me that he doesn’t have any problem and that I would be given leaves for examination. My parents were also surprised. However, I joined VLCC and they also gave me a makeover because till that time I was a tomboyish type girl. Gradually, they also involved me in events that gave me a complete makeover.
Meanwhile my first book, “Mirror Mirror, on the Wall” got published by Pustak Mahal as I won a writing competition held by them. It became a bestseller. I also did basic course of Art of Living but back then, I was not that enthusiastic about it as I am now. At the same time, there was a group of jealous people trying to bring me down. I was highly sensitive back then and fell prey to all this.
I switched my job to Shahnaz Hussain group where I headed the entire marketing and corporate communication department, I was the youngest director. But that amount of success at such an early age brought arrogance in me. Shahnaz would hardly sleep and I was also a workaholic working 24/7, I slept barely for 2-3 hours a day. I fell sick due to my eating habits and lifestyle. I had also stopped doing Sudarshan Kriya that I learned in AOL basic course. There was bad company, too much partying and bad debt, I was falling down in the darkness. I had all the luxuries but not a life, it took a toll on my health, I fell terribly sick. I got high cholesterol, my size was zero, I could barely take a step, I had swelling all over, it was a hell. Productivity also reduced and so one by one, all the facilities were taken away from me. I moved to an apartment from the bungalow and shared it with a roommate and slept on floor, I didn’t have a bed. I was asked to go home but I did not want this yet. I don’t know why, I felt like going to Shirdi and went there too. I found peace there. At that time, my publisher called me to Frankfurt as my book was selling well there and he wanted a book reading session but at as I was so sick, I could not go despite getting Visa and all.
As I was struggling to pay off my debt, I was on a lookout for opportunities and that time, I heard about audition for Radio Jockey for All India Radio. I got selected and got a direct show on Monday nights, the Classical Showcase. I never asked for money, even from my parents but was worried about how I would pay off my debt! Then suddenly a miracle happened, just as is told in Art of Living, my PF from VLCC was transferred to my account. It was exact amount with barely a difference of 2-3 rupees.
I now realize, my life began after I started Art of Living, I could write and publish my book without any help or money and then this miracle happened. Then when I got my salary, the first thing I bought was a bed. Then I went back to Kolkata due to my bad health, I was having 23 medicines in a day. Doctor asked me to stop all medicines and start a morning walk in the park.
Q. How did you get married?
Ans. After I went to Kolkata and got some time, I saw Facebook and found out that all my classmates were now married. My Kundli, however, won’t get matched with anyone due to Manglik and Kaalsarp yoga and all that. I was 29 then and by South Indian standards, it was quite late to get married. It was only with my husband Vimal that my Kundli matched and we got married. I met with him in the Mandap (hehehe). He was based in Faridabad and thus I came back to NCR and got connected with my previous VLCC boss Ritu who had contacted me earlier when I was in Kolkata. She was now the Corporate Relations Head in Kocchar & Company which is a Law firm. I Joined this firm and Mr Kocchar there discovered my legal acumen. So, I studied Law then, during pregnancy and after that. Afterwards I joined Singhania & Partners, another Law firm. This was also the time when I wrote my second book, “Illegally in Love.” I attended book fairs and legal conferences all over the world. Now, I work with Dhir & Dhir, another Law Firm. But I also do consultancy for different Law firms.
Q. How did you get into Art of Living again?
Ans. It was when my father had a heart attack two years back. The day when he was in the ventilator and the doctor said, there was no hope, I saw the face of Gurudev in one of my father’s painting, ‘BalGopal’. I sat in front of him and chanted ‘Om Namah Shivay’ whole night. Next day, the doctor said, it was a miracle that he is responding. He came back from the ventilator. That time I decided, I would get into Sewa (service). Now there’s no looking back.
Q: You are a lawyer in a company, yoga therapist, an author, RJ with FM Rainbow, theatre director, Bharatnatyam and Jive dancer and an active AOL volunteer. How do you manage doing so many things?
Ans. Sudarshan kriya, Yoga, Smile, Serve and Meditate gives energy to accomplish anything in life. I get a lot of support from my family members, who have given me a free hand to do anything. I do not understand rest. I am like a child, who is restless and busy. I do not know what to do if there is no aim in life. I keep myself active and busy, with not a moment to think because an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.
Q: You do so many things, so I am excited to know what was that first profession that you wanted to follow?
Ans. I wanted to be a teacher and finally I am ‘one’ with the Art of Living, carrying forward Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s legacy.
Q: Were there any challenges that you faced? Internal as well as external.
Ans. It is always a challenge to take the road less travelled. There were a lot of challenges I have faced. Firstly, it was a challenge to convince family members. My creative prowess was recognized when I was a kid. It was tough for my family members to take a decision between professional calls and school. I had to compromise on school attendance for dance recitals across India. Although my parents gave preference to education, I fought my way to pursue my art. Since, my father was an artist, he was lenient towards my aspirations and allowed me to spread my wings under his protective support. However, they were against ‘modelling’ but I was chosen for ‘face of the year’ by a Bengali publication ‘Pratidin’ (Hehehe).
Self-confidence is very important for success. One must have faith in their own abilities and stay focused, irrespective of negative influences. Commitment in action and hardwork has no substitute. Our powers are limitless and we must have faith in ourselves to fulfil our dreams. Trust me, nothing is impossible if you have faith in yourself and in your creator.
Q. Did you get support from your family members?
Ans. I got a lot of support from family members. However, wherever they disagreed and I was confident about myself, I have broken the rules. My passion for the theatre was against my parent’s wishes. I used to sneak out during tuition timings for rehearsal. When my father got a hint of it, he did not intimate me about it. He quietly slipped into the rehearsal hall and sat silently in a dark corner. When I had delivered my dialogue, suddenly we heard clapping from the corner of the audience seats. It was a dramatic moment and we turned on the audience light and it was my dad beaming proudly at my acting skills. Since then, he ensured I received all support. Hence, conviction is important to obtain support from all ends. I received a lot of moral support. Once convinced of my skills, they motivated me to explore various platforms that would empower me further. I firmly believe that the universe conspires to fulfil your dreams if you surrender completely to the Divine.
Q. From among all the things that you do, what do you feel most passionate about? Why?
Ans. I love doing ‘Seva’ and it encompasses everything I do for the welfare of the people. I am proud to be a ‘Seva Warrior’. Seva is an activity that you do with no expectations and to keep yourself happy. As Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, the way to expand personal joy is to share universal joy. Instead of thinking “what about me?” “what can I gain from this world?” think “what can I do for the world?” Seva brings merit; merit allows you to go deep in meditation; meditation brings back your smile.
I love teaching poor children and poor women in villages. Once, there were two trucks of villagers who came from nearby places to attend my class because they noticed a difference in the lives of people, who had learnt yoga, pranayama and meditation from me.
My writings are also a part of ‘seva’. My books revolve around women empowerment and the struggles they encounter on a day to day basis. My next book, ‘Rise in Love’ is about a woman and how she rises in love, it brings out the battered women syndrome in a romantic story. Women facing domestic violence think possessiveness is love, but it’s not. It’s time to break these myths. I do believe that women have born with certain skills and men with other skills. So, it is not that women become equal only when men will wash dishes at home with her. Men do their jobs, women empowerment isn’t taking away their prerogative. What is needed is to respect each other, not to bring each other down. The woman in this book gradually realizes that these are not expressions of love.
Q. Were their certain specific challenges due to your being a woman?
Ans. Being a woman, in itself, is a challenge. Our heritage hails us as ‘Adi Shakti’ and ‘Mahadevi’. However, men do not respect that ‘Shakti’. Biggest challenge is facing the brunt of inequality meted out towards men and women in our society. Gradually, we are overcoming these inhibitions but there is still a long way to go. Even if you achieve your goal in a male dominating world, you still need a lot of confidence to sustain it and remain unshakeable. In one of the earlier organisations, I was the only woman in the office, heading the Intelligence and knowledge wing. I had turned down the offer when I got to know that I am the first woman to be hired in this department. My father motivated me and asked me join and face the challenges. With God watching over me, I now have a matchless attitude with an unshakeable smile.
Q. How did you overcome these challenges?
Ans. Faith in God and faith in one’s own ability can help you overcome any challenge. Art of Living’s DSN course makes you ‘rock solid’. I emerged as a ‘winner’ after doing this course. Padma Sadhana, Om Namah Shivaye chanting and Sudarshan kriya are like chargers to charge up a draining attitude.
Q. When have you been most satisfied in your life?
Ans. When I am doing sadhana and meditation I feel most satisfied. In those moments I am Nothing, I do Nothing, I want Nothing. I am a Nobody. I am just a light. I am just a candle that lights up the way for all and like a lit candle, I do not discriminate in showing the right path of knowledge.
Q. Do you have any regrets?
Ans. Yes, I wish I had met Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar earlier
Q. What advice do you want to give to other women, working or not?
Ans. Learn to say ‘No’. Follow your intuition to protect yourself. It is devastating to live with a man in your head dictating you to do or not to do things. Follow your heart. Love yourself the way you are and never change. Believe that you are ‘perfect’, even if your man criticizes you. God finds you to be His most beautiful creation. Be deaf to unconstructive criticisms.
Learn to let go. If someone is not treating you right, do not plead for him to stay. Gather your self-respect and walk out with your head held high. You are born to do greater things. So, move on and follow your dreams. Nothing is impossible.
Make a new friend everyday.
Q. What would you like to tell to the women who want to follow their dreams?
Ans. Believe in your dreams and never ever give up, COME WHAT MAY! Get out of your ‘comfort zone’ and enter the ‘courage zone’, which is filled with only joy.
Q. What is that one habit of yours that you think has helped you a lot in becoming a success?
Ans. A rare combination of ‘sensitivity and sensibility’ along with an attitude of ‘never give up’ has helped me overcome challenges in life.
Q. Any specific tip that you want to give to the women who stay at home but want to make it big.
Ans. There are lot of things that can be done from home. Identify your skill and work towards it. Do not let your skills go waste. You are ‘Maha Shakti’, you can convince your spouse and work from home. If you do not use your skills for others, they will be taken away from you in the next birth.
Q. What’s the next thing you are planning to do and What’s the best part of it?
Ans. I am learning guitar and singing so that I can sing my own songs in satsang. I also plan to be a Guru pandit.
Q. What is that one sentence/ word/ quote that describes you the best?
Ans. ‘Aho Niranjana Guru Vishesha!’
Q. Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like the readers to know?
Ans. Be proud of being a Woman. The world can come to a standstill if we use a fraction of our powers.
Travel outside India. There is a marked difference and every country offers avenues of learning, which empowers you. Simply loved Geneva and Dubai. Ironically, both had opposite cultures and we increase our capacity to accept people as they are.
Q. Last question. Because you do so much in a day, I would like you to describe your day’s schedule so that readers can take some inspiration from you.
Ans. The way I live my life; I ensure that not a single moment is left vacant. Every minute is precious and productive.
I wake up at 4.45 am, take a bath and do group sadhana/yoga, meditation, Om Namah Shivaye chanting and listen to bhajans. All the yoga pranayams are complete till 7 am.
Then I cook tea and breakfast for the family. Although my maids do most part of the cooking, I enjoy assisting them. They are also equally fond of me and we keep talking about service, spiritual knowledge. Whenever I am back from my travel, they are so excited to meet me and they cook something special for me from their home in a nearby slum.
Then I get my daughter ready for school and leave for work at around 8.30 am. On my way, I circulate Ashtavakra Gita chapters to a target list of interested devotees and I read a book. Currently, I am reading the Ishavasya Upanishad.
I am a lawyer and work with a leading law firm in Defence colony in Delhi. Most part of the day goes into taking care of people, their problems, art of living devotees woes, legal matters and pro-bono cases especially women oriented cases, for the welfare of the people.
In the evening, I attend an art of living satsang nearby, I coordinate all the upcoming Art of Living courses across Greater Faridabad, make the invite designs, draft the promotion mailers and distribute pamphlets in a ‘door to door’ exercise. My daughter also accompanies me everywhere and loves satsang. She is the next devotee in the making. Most of my shoes have worn off in the process and the only shoes surviving the ‘door to door’ seva are the woodman boots bought from Germany (Laughter).
We return by 8.30 pm and finish schoolwork. I again do padma sadhana and meditation. Finally, after dinner, I read and respond to all the emails, messages I receive.
Weekends are more hectic. I go for long sudarshan kriya follow up at 6 am. Post that, I head to FM Rainbow to host my show ‘The Matchless Music Hour’ at 9 am. Then I conduct Bal Chetna Shivir class/Nav Chetna Shivir till afternoon. These are yoga and meditation course for the underprivileged section of the society. I write for two hours in the afternoon and then I conduct Sri Sri Sanskar Kendra class followed by knowledge sessions on the Shiv Sutra in the evening, where devotees, knowledge seekers from Greater Faridabad come, have a discourse over meditation and impromptu satsang. Sri Sri Sanskar Kendra is a course for teaching yoga, meditation, Dadi Ma ke Nushke, shlokas, mantras, dohas, motivational games and inspiring stories to children from the age group of 6 to 11 years old. I firmly believe that hard work has no substitute and there are still miles to go before I sleep…….