Building bridges across the seas

Building bridges across the seas

Building bridges across the seas

Human Dynamo: Meena Rao (centre), who currently heads the Kaveri Kannada Koota in the US, is brimming with ideas to nuture art, culture and community service among its members.

As a five-year-old studying in St Joseph’s Convent in KGF, Meena Rani was the little fairy, who ushered in the New Year at the BEML Club, with a huge smile, 30 years ago. Now in Virginia, USA, she is not only a busy software engineer, but also the dynamic president of the Kaveri Kannada Sangha, and her cheerfulness remains intact.

The global recession hasn’t dampened the enterprising spirit of this computer engineer, who has been successfully juggling a demanding career with her responsibilities as wife, mom and daughter-in-law. Her most recent visit to Mysore with husband Sanjay Rao and children was not one of those routine NRI vacations. It’s been her own dream and her husband’s to renovate her father-in-law’s landmark bookshop called Geetha Book House, at KR Circle in Mysore. And Meena ensured that the renovation and inauguration went off without a hitch.

The IT girl
Crediting her keen sense of community to the environment she grew up in, she talks of the time when she constantly dreamt of becoming a doctor. “Since my maternal aunt and uncles were doctors, I wanted to follow in their footsteps.”

Though she scored really well in PUC, she narrowly missed getting into a government medical college, and joined the National Institute of Engineering in Mysore. NIE not only sowed the seeds of self motivation in her, but also gave her an opportunity to meet Sanjay Rao, her senior by two years, who was to later become her husband.

“At NIE, we discovered that we shared many interests. We enjoyed watching plays and staging them, and we loved to read. Contrary to popular belief, ours was an arranged marriage which happened with the blessings and participation of both families,” she says with a chuckle.

Meena says when she completed her engineering course in the ’90s, she had not imagined that the IT sector would soon boom. “I remember taking home a salary of Rs 1,800 when I started working in Bangalore, and I also recall that I spent the entire amount on paying the rent for my PG dig!”

Battling the blues
After marriage, she left for the US. “My husband had a job offer but I spent the first six months in a new country, battling loneliness. Thankfully, I got over my low phase when I began working as a software engineer and got my masters degree too,” she says.

But memories of those early difficult days remained, and she wanted to do something to ease the pain of transition for others like herself who had relocated to the US. When Sanjay was elected president of the Kaveri Kannada Koota in 2003, and secretary of AKKA (Association of Kannada Kootas) in 2006 in the US, Meena was by his side, making  the US a much warmer and more hospitable place for visiting Kannadigas.

Community service
In 2009, Meena was elected unopposed as president of the Kaveri Kannada Koota. Her love for books and plays led her to organise naatakotsava and saahityotsava—festivals of drama and literature—as part of the Kannada Koota’s activities in Washington DC during May 2009.

“Our organisation also celebrates festivals like Sankranti, Ugadi, Ganesha Chathurthi and Deepavali, during which we host cultural programmes. We provide a platform for people from various walks of life to meet, build a network and stay connected to their motherland,” she explains.

Before her term in office ends, she hopes to get the koota involved in social work.
“For example, we may take up providing food for homeless Americans as a token of appreciation for a country that welcomed us and gave us plenty of opportunities. The youth wing of the Kannada Koota will organise blood donation camps. We also intend to adopt a school near Mysore,” she says.

Though affectionately addressed as Rani (queen) by her friends, Meena Rao insists, “There is no royal road to learning and it’s never too late to achieve one’s dreams.”

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