In conversation with highly successful, passionate and always free-spirited Pooja Podar Jain, principal and owner of Podar Jumbo Kids, Pune. Pooja is full of life who always finds good in people and positivity balances work and personal life. She follows and implements Infinitism is her daily life and school. Pooja’s thirst for learning leads her to travel around the world to attend educational conferences and panel discussions. Pooja shares her views on women empowerment, education system in India, importance of healthy eating for young kids and her favorite restaurants.

Tell us about your professional background?

I am the owner of two preschools in Pune- Podar Jumbo Kids (Aundh and Baner.) I opened my first school back in 2002 making Podar Jumbo Kids the first preschool chain in India to adopt the UK based EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) curriculum. I am lucky to be the daughter of the Podar family, running one of India’s most trusted education system, PEN (Podar Education Network) since 1927.

How do you balance your work and children?

I am a working woman with two kids and I have never pitied myself nor do I think anyone should. I try my best not to think of either as a burden, although work sometimes can be! However, with the encouragement and support of a proactive husband and my late grandparents, who introduced me to my field when I was barely 26, I have successfully balanced both my professional and personal life.

Your 11-year old son recently spoke about parenting from a child’s perspective at a Ted Talk event. How was his journey and what challenges did he face?

Shiven authored his first book in 2016 when he was nine, called “Look Who’s Talking… Parenting Advice from a Child’s Perspective!”  His journey began much before when he was seven, very curious to read about parenting. I was more than happy that he was interested in my field of education, and so he read until his knowledge was sufficient to write a book. He wanted a platform to speak, and it took us 2 1/2 years to find one. Being a child no one took him seriously until the team at TEDxSIUKirkee did and gave him the opportunity to speak at the conference. His talk is known as Parenting from a Child’s Perspective by Shiven Jain. From trying to get in touch with (non-receptive and competitive) mothers of other young TEDx speakers to making him attend public speaking class, it wasn’t quite easy. It was a beautiful journey for Shiven and he grew tremendously throughout.

What is your advice for children to succeed in this competitive environment?

My advice for every child is to dream, and then try their best to make that dream successful. If somebody tells you that you aren’t good enough do not pay attention because they just don’t know you well enough. You are you, and that is what’s important. Don’t spend your childhood trying to be someone who you are not, but love yourself. It’s good to have role models, but even they aren’t perfect, even GOD isn’t perfect.  Be you, because in the words of R.J. Palacio, “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out”.

What are your views on woman empowerment?

I believe that women are empowered from the time that they are born as they have to play multiple roles and multitask by being a mother, homemaker and working woman at the same time. I believe in planting seeds of growth in every young girl and make her aware of her potential. Women should never believe that their gender holds any bars for them in which they’re imprisoned. Making my team and female students realize that they’re no less than the opposite sex and they should explore their abilities to the fullest. In India’s patriarchal and male-dominated society, it is essential that a woman knows her value and power regardless of her being a tea-seller on the road or the CEOs of the biggest companies. Every woman, in India and around the world should have the ability to stand her ground and live life to the fullest. Long gone are those days where working-women were looked down upon.

Tell us about the education system in India

The Indian Education system is more on the traditional side which comes with advantages and disadvantages. In our country, we still believe that the teacher is a Guru and don’t just limit our knowledge to Google. Our education is strongly built on the philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi who believed learning happens through the 3 H’s- Head, Heart and Hand and Rabindranath Tagore who said nature, music, and arts is important for holistic education. India is abundant with rich philosophers like Gijubhai Badeka who said storytelling and drama is a very important part to facilitate learning and reinforcing concepts. This is the system that our ancestors set for us. However, the world is going towards a point where children require more application and practical education than rote learning.

Today, most schools and universities believe in bookish knowledge and standardized testing. Rote learning limits the potential and so does studying in just one field. Teachers are often unaware of teaching methods and how to handle students, hence hindering quality learning. A lot of undiscovered potentials sits in the classroom as teachers and parents don’t know how to appropriately take it forward. Indian Education has evolved over time and yet has a long way to go. The government of India must regularize and have one kind of education in all the states for better growth and development in children. I do believe that the education system in India will become far better.

What do you love about Pune?

Pune is quite the balanced city, it’s not a metropolitan city nor a village, which means we don’t suffer the pollution of Delhi, traffic of Bangalore or the undeveloped standards of many towns and villages. The city has its own charm and nothing is extreme. Pune’s residents aren’t over-friendly like Delhi nor bare the ‘Let me keep to myself’ attitude of Mumbai. Living here, I feel like I have turned into a personified version of the city- peaceful, calm and balanced, and so are most Punekars, because after all, it is your environment that makes you.

What is your inspiration in life?

My life has been full of up’s and down’s but I’ve overcome them with bravery and a positive attitude. My mantra is “Work hard in silence, let success make the noise.” Smugness aside, I am unabashedly proud of what I have achieved in my professional life. My role model was my grandfather, a staunch believer in excellence in education and how important the early years were for the development of a child’s mind. He was always the wind beneath my wings and always told me to keep soaring higher!

Which are some of the inspiring books that you have read?

I love reading self-help and non-fiction. Recently I read Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, and it changed the way I looked at my problems, passions, and priorities. It’s an eye-opener which I would recommend everyone to read. I also love reading about early childhood settings and improving my vision and mission.

Which is your favorite healthy snack?

My favorite healthy snack is Sooji ka dhokla.

Does your school promote healthy eating among children?

Yes, my schools have a healthy snack menu for students. We at Podar Jumbo Kids believe that children should be introduced to healthy eating habits from the early years to avoid obesity and other diseases.

Your favorite restaurants around the world?

There are too many to name! You can check out my daughter’s Instagram handle @pinch_of_yummm for some pictures of the delicious food we have eaten. I recently visited Sydney and had an amazing dinning experience.

The Malaya – It is tucked into the heart of the city and offers an excellent harbor-view. The Malaya is hands-down one of the best Malaysian restaurants I have visited.
Icebergs Dining Room and Bar – This place is more about the experience than the food. With a great view of Bondi Beach, Icebergs has a scrumptious variety of American food.
Mr. Wong – It has a mordern Cantonese styled menu with everything, I mean everything, at its best!
Zaafran –  If you are bored of eating Pizzas and Pasta, eat food from Sydney’s best Indian restaurant. It’s Butter Chicken, Dum Aloo, and Paneer Makhani will make you find Indian food in India incompetent.
My top favorite restaurants around the world:

China Garden (Mumbai)

Buddakan (New York)

Sofra (London)

Tolache (New York)

Nobu (Budapest)