If I thought that life at the orphanage was tough, the next phase turned out to be even worse. From being a schoolgirl, I became a homemaker overnight, at the age of sixteen, when I moved in to live with my husband and his family. Not only did I need to work in my husband’s fields, very often I had to work in other fields as well for a paltry sum of Rs 5 daily. By the time I was eighteen years old, I was mother to two daughters and my life had hit rock bottom. My day was divided between working in the farm and taking care of my home and my daughters. Despite working around the clock, there was never enough money to buy food or basic medicines for them, leave alone clothes or toys.
Poverty often breeds extreme anger and it is sufficient to say that my family life was far from great. One day, after a particularly bitter fight with my husband, I felt as if I could not go on any further. This was clearly not the life I had envisaged for myself and I decided to end it all by jumping into the village well after throwing my daughters in there first, in order to save them from the same plight. I had barely walked a couple of steps towards the well with my elder daughter, then aged only two and a half, when my one-and-a-half-year-old younger daughter, sensing something amiss, cried out ‘Amma’ in alarm. That one word broke something in me and I knew I could not bring myself to kill my children and myself.
That night, I wept my heart out. But it also awoke in me a new-found resolve to seek a better life for my kids and myself. As a first step towards this, I reached out to my father thinking that anything would be better than staying in such abject poverty, but I was told that since I was married, my place wasn’t with my parents. I realized then that I would have to seek out my own path, irrespective of whether I got any support or not. I owed my children a better life
I started seeking job opportunities while continuing to work on the farm. I was fortunate enough to find that break I had been seeking so desperately; I enrolled as an adult education teacher under the Nehru Yuva Kendra scheme. I had to get other adults to join the night school and teach them the basics of reading and writing for the princely sum of Rs 120 a month. I was happy as I could finally buy food and medicines for my children.
My next assignment, after over a year of working as an adult education teacher, was as a National Service Volunteer, responsible for touring villages to teach women and the youth how to stitch clothes in order to help them become earning members of their family. I jumped at the opportunity, especially since the new job came with a salary of Rs 190 a month, a big increase for me at that time. I wanted to send my daughters to an English-medium school, but of course I could not afford the fee. Even to get them admitted to a decent local school, I had to take a loan from a cousin.
While more opportunities meant I was earning more money, it also meant a lot of tension at home. One night, when I missed the evening bus back home after my duty and got very late, the family was livid and starting abusing me. Something snapped inside me that day, and I decided that I was not going to accept this as my fate. The very next day, I left the village along with my two daughters, a small iron suitcase in hand and a mere Rs 120 in my pocket, for Warangal, about 35 kms from the village Mailaram, where I lived. I was told that if I ever stepped outside the boundaries of my home and village, I would earn a bad reputation and it would be difficult for me to come back. But I was determined to make something of my life and remained unfazed.
I took a small room on a monthly rent of Rs 60. I did not waste a single moment of the day in a bid to build a better life for my daughters. Besides continuing with my job, I started stitching petticoats for Re 1 per piece. I, however, knew that if I needed to improve my lot, I had to find a way to upgrade my skills. Around this time, I learnt of a typing class nearby and decided to enrol there. I can still recall how I entered the class on the first day and all the other students, assuming that I had come to clean the room, starting vacating their seats. I didn’t let the incident unduly affect me as I realized that you learn to get past these indignities in order to find your path in life.
One day, I saw an advertisement by Ambedkar Open University for a bachelor’s degree. The one thing that worked in its favour was that the fee was Rs 320, which I could afford. Additionally, classes were held only on Sundays, which meant I could use the rest of the days to add to my income. My husband, who would come to visit us in the town off and on, severely opposed this decision. However, by then I had reached a point where I was past caring. Not only did I complete my graduation, I also went on to do my post-graduation from that university. After I graduated, I got posted as a special teacher in Ameenpeta village and later was promoted as a mandal girl child development officer. It was around this time that fate smiled on me for the first time; I had a chance encounter with a cousin who had come down from the US on a vacation.
One look at the way she carried herself and I knew this was the kind of life I wanted for my daughters. At that moment, I knew that the US could perhaps be my passport out of this cycle of poverty. On an impulse, I asked her if it was possible for a person like me to travel to the US and earn a living there. Her response is still etched in my memory. She gave me the assurance I so desperately needed when she told me that ‘an aggressive person like you can easily succeed in the US’. I so desperately wanted to change my fortune that I went ahead and enrolled in computer software classes based on just this assurance.
It took a lot of effort as I had to make the long commute every day from Warangal to Hyderabad to attend the classes. By then, I was obsessed with the idea of going to the US, as I wanted to live life on my terms. Very much against my family’s wishes, I used up all the money I had saved so painstakingly and somehow got my passport and visa. It was most heart-wrenching when I had to leave my daughters behind in a hostel, with the belief that I would soon be able to offer them a better lifestyle
Landing in the US with only $1000 in my pocket and two boxes filled with my belongings, I was excited and nervous at the same time. However, I had faith in myself-after all, if I could make it this far only through sheer hard work, then I knew I could do what it took to succeed in this new place as well. I managed to arrange PG accommodation with a Gujarati family for $350 a month and I took up whatever odd jobs came my way. From being a babysitter to a sales girl at a cassette shop, a gas station attendant to working in a motel, I did it all. I remember walking three miles every day back and forth to work. That’s when an acquaintance told me about a job opening as an IT recruiter at a monthly salary of $1000.
I faced a lot of problems as I did not understand enough English. So strong, however, was my resolve that I started reading the Bible in a bid to learn the language. However, after working for some time, I was forced to resign since I didn’t have a work visa. I went back to working for just $5 an hour doing odd jobs until the day I finally managed to receive my work visa. Getting the visa stamped in Mexico was really a eureka moment for me. I realized at that moment that I knew the ins and outs of the paperwork involved in getting a visa. Armed with this knowledge and my savings of $40,000, I set up operations in Phoenix in 2001.
From having trouble filling up my passport form due to my poor English skills, I now help technology graduates from the best colleges in India secure a job in the land of their dreams. A feat, I believe, I have been able to achieve on account of my willpower alone. Having started out small, today the business has a turnover of $15 million.
Once I started earning a decent amount of money, I went back home and managed to arrange for my daughters to come to the US. Today, both my daughters are college graduates from US universities, work in the IT industry and are happily married. If nothing else, I am grateful to my husband for giving me the two biggest joys of my life—they are the reason I fought so long and so hard against my circumstances. Without their presence in my life, I might have perhaps accepted my fate and lived the life of a poverty-stricken homemaker.
I am a strong believer in the fact that you control your own destiny. Of course, there is no permanence in life—today you might be living in a palace, tomorrow that same palace might be razed to the ground by an earthquake; but it’s entirely up to you how determined you are and how much hard work you are willing to put in to change your circumstances.
This is the story of Jyothi Reddy, who is the founder of Key Software Solutions Inc., a software development and information technology consulting firm based in US with a turnover of 96 crore.
From being married at the age of sixteen and toiling away as a daily labourer for a paltry wage of Rs 5 to keep her home fires burning to founding her own business empire, Jyothi Reddy’s stellar rise seems nothing short of a fairy tale. She refused to get beaten down by her circumstances – whether it was living in an orphanage as a child or surviving a hand-to-mouth existence post marriage.
She chose instead to build her own destiny when she walked out of the confining boundaries of her village and set out on her entrepreneurial journey. Having witnessed poverty up close, this Global Indian award winner (2012) is now a vocal champion for the cause of orphan girls-her mission being to ensure they have access to opportunities that would otherwise not come their way.