“Democracy gives opportunities,” said Renuka Chowdhury. “There I was, a married woman, expecting my second child. I became active in politics, and have now been a member of Parliament for 20 years. I got onto a roller coaster, full of thrills and ups and downs. Sometimes it allows you no control.”
There speaks an Indian woman who sat tight on the roller coaster, kept her nerve and won through to become a minister of state. “What does it take to be a minister? It takes a lot of time, and honesty to yourself. You have to be able to be introspective,” she said.
She is an imposing person, having the trappings of her office, the authority of her leadership capacities and the balance of her natural humility. “I represent people,” she said. “Even when I get my hands slapped, I never forget that I do what I do for them.” Lighting the ceremonial lamp for the presentation of an India evening in Tokyo, she was a dramatic figure in a red-bordered black-and-white sari.
She has been several times to Japan, and traveled with enjoyment around the country. She is accustomed to living a life on the move.
“As the daughter of an air force officer, I was often transported away from home in Andhra Pradesh to other cities,” she said. “I have enthusiasm for places. When we were leaving anywhere, I always thought, ‘I must come back here again.’ “
She changed her school often, completing her postgraduate study in industrial psychology. Then she began her sociopolitical work.
“My parents led by example,” Chowdhury said. “From them I learned to respect and accept. Then after I married, my husband encouraged me. He had more confidence in me than I had in myself.”
When she was first elected to the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of India’s Parliament, she was one of its youngest members. The president of India at that time called her “the nightingale of Parliament,” in a tribute to the beauty of her voice and the eloquence of her speech.
“When my second baby was born, I took her in a bassinet and marched her off everywhere,” Chowdhury said. “It was really not the accepted thing. There was grumbling from some of the men, who said, ‘This is why we don’t bring women into politics.’ Now, I think God gave me a fabulous family, and I have little time to be with them.”
The extended family system in India, as well as democracy, allowed Chowdhury when she was a young mother to take her opportunities. She associated with several social and cultural organizations, giving particular attention to the welfare and development of women and children. She wrote short stories for children, and pursued her own interests in agriculture and music. She served a second term in the Upper House, when she was named minister for health and family welfare. In 1999 she was elected to the Lok Sabha, the Lower House, and re-elected in 2004. In this second term she became minister for tourism.
In 2007, India and Japan will celebrate 50 years of a cultural exchange agreement. Chowdhury came to Japan this time to discuss with Japanese officials preparations they have in hand to mark the yearlong anniversary. She said, “We want to ensure tangible, visible results in showing India in her right perspective. Japan is a huge presence in India in terms of finance and technology, and India is experiencing a rapid growth in its economy. India offers investment opportunities, the skill of our workers, and our craftsmanship. We have the facilities to host international conferences and seminars. Our two countries have mutual respect for each other’s talents.”
Additionally, Chowdhury offers her particular product, under the brand name of “Incredible India.” She said: “India has magic and charisma. It is a journey of the five senses.”
She is gratified that at last year’s Snow Festival in Sapporo, India’s Taj Mahal was re-created as an ice sculpture. She acclaims the virtuosity of Japanese performers of Indian dances and music. She speaks of the diversity of India’s regions, from the mighty Himalayan ranges in the north to the beaches and seas of the south. “Coming to India is an adventure,” she said. “You can go river rafting, trekking, live in a palace. You see camels in the desert, tigers in the jungle and elephants along with cars halted at traffic lights. India is the land of the Buddha, respecting the environment and our creatures. At the same time, India is modern and vibrant, with the world’s largest population of people under the age of 25. Please come to India. Our guest is our god.”
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