Being a mother taught me to be patient and use time effectively: Bindu Subramaniam, Founder & CEO, SaPa
As a Founder & CEO at SaPa- Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts, Bindu is currently focused on the incorporation of music in every child’s life. In a tete-a-tete with SME Futures, Bindu opened up on her relationship with her mother (playback singer Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam) and how becoming a mother has inculcated some upstanding values in her.
Anushruti Singh May 10, 2021
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She is a professional singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, author, and music educator. For Bindu Subramaniam, a third-generation prodigy, being a mother is like being an upgraded version of oneself. She is passionate about using intercultural perspectives and trans disciplinary education to create systemic change, and develop social equality, cultural democracy and 21st century skills in children. With that in mind, she co-founded the SaPa in Schools program with her brother Ambi Subramaniam in 2014.
As a Founder & CEO at SaPa- Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts, she is currently focused on the incorporation of music in every child’s life. In a tete-a-tete with SME Futures, Bindu opened up on her relationship with her mother (playback singer Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam) and how becoming a mother has inculcated some upstanding values in her.
You don multiple hats at the same time. How does motherhood contribute to your success?
Honestly speaking, the things that I have learnt most from being a mom are how to be patient and how to utilise time effectively.
I know they say it as a joke that if you think you are tired or overworked before you have kids you have no idea what is in store for you after they are born. So, I believe the two things that have helped me the most are being patient, because we are often not in control of things around us. And the fact that motherhood has enabled me to figure out what is important and how to make time for that.
How is your relationship with your mother and what are the similar traits you both share? Can you re-collect any good stories?
I love my mother. She is amazing.
Talking about the similar traits we share is that we both love food. I know it’s not exactly a trait… but I think we both have a strong work ethic. Another thing that inspires me most about her is—a yearning for learning. Even at this stage of her life and through her entire career, she has achieved everything that has to be achieved; yet she thinks she is still learning.
She still thinks that she needs to work hard to achieve her goals. So, even today I often see her in her room listening to a song, learning, and practicing or figuring something out about that song. And I think that it is such a powerful thing to always be willing to learn and work hard.
Tell us about the evolution of SaPa and how working alongside your mother works out?
I haven’t worked with my mother at SaPa. Though it was my parents’ idea that we should teach music to kids, it wasn’t really something that they were involved with on a day-to-day basis. So, I don’t think I have ever worked alongside her at SaPa or as an entrepreneur.
But I have worked alongside her a lot as a singer.
Again, I must say that the most amazing thing to me is how she is so focused on perfection. Her dedication and hard work are always very inspiring to me. While the terrifying thing for me is—when I am working with my mom, and she thinks that I have not done a good enough job. And at that moment, she will not mince her words, no matter who is present there at that time. That is one thing—I won’t say it’s a challenge, but it’s interesting. When you work with family, they don’t need to mince words. Your family will always be 100 per cent open and honest with you even if it feels harsh sometimes.
Work and home lines have blurred for most people due to the outbreak of the pandemic. What is your best advice for balancing business and home life or creating intentional family time?
When we first went into lockdown 14 months ago, my first reaction and feeling was—okay, this is a great opportunity for me to spend time with my family. Which was something that I haven’t always had time to do as a travelling and performing musician. Even as an entrepreneur, I spent most of my time working and travelling. So, during the first phase of the lockdown, I felt it was an amazing opportunity for me to spend more time with my daughter, Mahati.
Also, I got time to upskill myself and learn new things that I have always wanted to do. I have always been excited about cooking, but I never had time to cook on a day-to-day basis. It was kind of empowering in that sense. But empowering can be overwhelming if you let things go out of hand. So, for myself, I firmly believe that the most important thing is creating an early morning routine for myself that allows me to fill my cup.
I also feel self-care is critical for everyone, but especially for women who are mothers as they tend to put their needs last. And if you are empty, it’s really hard to keep giving to everybody else.
For me, the thing that has kept me sane throughout the current scenario is creating a morning routine for myself. My morning routine unfolds like this—waking up, making my own coffee and when I am doing that, I spend a few minutes with my cats. With this, I am on a constant journey of self-improvement, I am either working on some music or on something else.
I also enjoy gardening and taking care of the plants and flowers that I have around my house. Then I look at some mental centring when my daughter wakes up. We do things together, like playing and reading. Then I work out with my wonderful sister-in-law. Afterwards, I allow my day to start, I mean my workday. My morning routine allows me to stay calm and centred before the madness kicks in. It makes me feel like I have more time in the day. The day I skip my routine, it feels like I have less time.
What were the challenges you experienced as an entrepreneur and what are some of the lessons that you have learnt?
I have faced challenges just like everybody else.
It is a challenge, when you try to convince people that music education is important for every child. And this continues to be a challenging aspect of the work that I do. But I think that the one imperative thing that I understand now is that not everyone is as passionate as I am. Music education for kids may be my calling, but it may not be every other person’s calling too. So, there is a lot of convincing that must be done. For doing so, you have to be thick skinned enough to not to get beaten down, irrespective of what people say.
When I wrote the first SaPa baby book, my intention was to figure out how to distribute it in the bookstores. It was 2014, physical books stores were still a thing and people were slowly getting introduced to online platforms for baby oils or subscribing to baby products.
I spent almost six months trying to get distribution in bookstores, cold calling them, going there myself and figuring out whether online stores would carry my book. I spent a long time listening to everyone saying ‘No’ but I did not give up and that’s what I have learnt from this experience.
I had to change some of my ideas. It was not about just selling books anymore or the programmes we were doing, things were different then and they were important. I have learnt to not get beaten down when someone says ‘no’ and also learnt to be able to take feedback from people and channel it positively.
India has innumerable successful mom entrepreneurs, yet we are still battling with subtle stereotypes. How do you see this as an issue? What needs to be done?
The only thing that can be done is to be empowering.
Women know that they are not on a level playing field. But that just means we must work hard, and women are good in doing so, thus ultimately, we will rise. There is no point in feeling sorry for ourselves, but when we rise, we need to make sure that we lift each other up and help other women around us.
All the women entrepreneurs that I know are so focused and dedicated to working hard. What I really love about them is—they are open, supportive, and really willing to hold someone else up. I think if we need to succeed as women, as entrepreneurs, we need to hold each other up and not tear each other down.
Music as an education sector, what is the current scenario?
Obviously, my opinion on music is that it is imperative for every child.
Till now, through SaPa and various school programmes we have been able to reach 30,000 kids a year giving them access to high quality music education as part of their school curriculum, irrespective of whether those students belong to private, government or NGO governed schools.
With the transformation of the education sector and it going online last year, there have been many challenges. Figuring out everything in the online context was not easy but we have adapted well and mapped out our curriculum elements of social and emotional learning. We have tried to figure out what learning outcome makes sense in the given environment and what is the purpose of teaching music to children.
However, I am currently noticing a huge surge towards holistic development. People are now realising that mental health is important and their child should learn other things besides Math and English. So, SaPa is also moving towards holistic music education where the focus is on mental health. With this our focus is on building a curriculum which also inculcates teamwork.
Business wise, we are seeing a lot more support for the idea of music education in terms of numbers. Our enrolments have gone up drastically, given the online model because children are at home, and parents are looking for ways of meaningful engagements for their children and helping them to uncover their passions. Overall, it has been a challenging time, but we have witnessed significant growth.
What is the current focus of and the roadmap for SaPa down the line?
We will continue to innovate.
For us, we always had content at the heart of everything that we do. We started with the book. We have the audio-video and teacher training materials. We really hold content as the key to everything whether it’s global music or Indian music or anything else.
As we continue, down the line the focus will remain on content. Currently, what we are looking at are different ways of presenting this content. So, we have gone from teaching solely in person to teaching online through various platforms like Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meets etc.
The institute also launched its own learning management system called ‘SaPa Learning Platform’ which you can access at www.sapaindia.com. Our plan is to build an app and work on a subscription box that will bring music education to various age groups such as babies.
Moving ahead, there will always be innovation. Once things are normal and safe again, in person education will make a comeback, as it is always something that we value. Right now, we are educating students via a blended model, where we have online classes and classes in person as well. Our vision for SaPa is to be a friend to anybody who wants music to be part of their life.
What will be your message to mothers who dream about being entrepreneurs or want to get back to work, but just can’t get started?
It’s hard out there for mothers.
You need to accept that it’s hard and don’t let anyone tell you that you are not stronger. As a mother, choosing between your family and your job is not a choice. It is harder for women. But if you find a support system or if you are able to create a support system around you then the sky is the limit.
Don’t let anyone tell you the word ‘no.’ Find a way that works for you, within your ecosystem. If you have 30 minutes when your child is taking a nap, take those 30 minutes. Take help, if you have the luxury of having someone who can look after your child full-time, for instance if you have your mother-in-law who lives with you; I don’t have this advantage but if you do, take advantage of that. If you have friends who are willing to support you, take advantage of that. Try to look around and build your own ecosystem and if it feels like it is difficult, you should acknowledge that as well. But always keep trying and you will succeed.