“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards,”said Anatole France, the famous French poet, journalist and novelist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1921.
I consider myself lucky to have found teachers who believed in this philosophy at my alma mater, Bishop Cotton Girls’ School, Bangalore. And the person who personified it was Anne Warrior. She was not just my teacher — she became my friend, philosopher, and mentor!
It was Anne Warrior who taught me to think for myself, to excel in everything I do and to do things differently and creatively in order to make a difference.
Born and educated in England, Anne Warrior brought along her British sense of humour when she came to India soon after marriage. Thanks to her, English Literature classes did not mean dull hours of reading Old English prose. Rather, they were about the discovery of the theatrical potential of Shakespearean drama. Similarly, poetry readings were an exercise in nourishing the soul. In Anne Warrior’s classes, we not only learnt to appreciate literature but also trained our minds and built our confidence in public speaking.
Her unconventionality also rubbed off on us. Once, she got us all to creatively spruce up a wilting garden patch into a designer cactus garden over a weekend to win our class ‘The Garden Patch of the Year’ award! This team effort was one that brought creativity, resourcefulness, and a winning mindset to the fore among us. Now when I look back, I realize that it was experiences like these that led me later in life to break convention and do many of the things that were considered pioneering for young women in the 1970s.
In the 10 glorious years spent in school, I internalized the Cottonian motto of "On straight on!” and the words of the school anthem that exhorted us to fight injustice, unfairness, and corruption.
These values have stayed with me over the years and even today I continue to use every platform available to speak out against inequality, dishonesty, and unprincipled behaviour. In fact, I have gone on to build my company Biocon on the core values of "integrity" and "ethical behaviour."
Inspired by my mentor, Anne Warrior, I have always endeavoured to pass on the experience acquired over four decades as a business leader to young entrepreneurs who are just starting off.
As the chairperson of Biocon, my effort has been to empower, enable, and mentor leaders at multiple levels in my team. I have provided ample opportunities to others to develop their leadership potential and to instill a sense of ownership among them to take forward my vision and mission.
As Chief Mentor of the Biocon Academy, my attempt is to shape the careers of aspiring biotech graduates while developing high-end talent for the Indian biotech industry.
I have also been a mentor to many, many talented women professionals and inspired them to shed their diffidence and break the gender barrier.
In doing all this, I have tried to emulate my mentor, Anne Warrior, who sadly passed away earlier this year at the age of 82.
Anne Warrior taught me the value of mentoring as epitomized in the words of the American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.”