Born in Salem, Tamil Nadu, to a Sindhi moneylending family who were considered the backbone of local industry, Maya Bathija had an easy childhood as the daughter of “a big man in a small town”. Being the second of three children, she also had a need to be “seen and heard”, which later led her to journalism.
An incorrigible reader since her boarding-school days in Yercaud, and later as a college student in Salem – both one-horse towns without bookstores at that time – Maya got her monthly dose of quality reading through mail-order subscriptions, or through her father who would bring back bestsellers for her whenever he travelled.
Married at 20, Maya moved to Mumbai and, just three months after having a baby boy, went to work at a nearby bookstore on Napean Sea Road owned by Jennifer Kapoor, who founded Prithvi Theatre. The exposure to Mumbai’s intelligentsia opened the young Maya’s eyes to a new world.
Nine years later, when her daughter was born, the family moved to the posh Mumbai suburb of Bandra and Maya once again took up a job at a local bookstore. Her job required her to run to and from warehouses and she developed a bond with godown owners and book publishers.
Her husband – who ran his own software firm – encouraged her to start something of her own. And so, in 1998, Maya’s Dial-a-Book service was born. Within a year, she made waves for her meticulous knowledge of books and ability to source even the rarest ones within 48 hours.
The first of its kind, her small business had a good run over seven years before bookstore chains got in on the act and began offering similar home-delivery services. Then her husband suggested they set up a magazine together, The Sindhian, covering the Sindhi community across the world. With Maya as head of content, the magazine soon took off, and Maya ended up travelling the world, meeting new people and writing about new experiences.
A bout of cancer slowed things for a year. Despite losing her hair to radiation treatments, Maya began to live life with a vengeance, developing new dreams and goals. “I tell people it’s not the scariest thing in the world. There is life after cancer,” she says matter-of-factly.
In 2015, Penguin came calling with an offer to write a book on five billionaire Sindhi families. The topic was right up Maya’s alley. The book, Paiso, was released in November 2017, and the experience triggered Maya to focus more on her writing, especially biographies and her own personal memoirs.
“There is no glass ceiling; we create it with the way we think,” she says, adding, “You need to get out of your comfort zone if you want to grow.”