She’s a Mom of 5, High Achiever, Cancer Survivor – But That’s Not the Only Reason She’s My Feminist Icon

She was a CA rank holder, set up her own chartered accountancy firm back in the day, and raised five children. They don't make them like Rupa Debi any more, says her daughter Reeti Roy.

In our three-part series ‘Her Blood in My Veins’, three women trace their mothers’ lives, and see a mirror to their own truths. This is part three.


By Reeti Roy

In 2008, when I was in my second year of college, my mother was diagnosed with renal carcinoma, or cancer that afflicts the kidney. I remember sitting with my brother, both of us holding each other, and sobbing, because we did not know what to do, how to react in that situation. I also remember my mother asking me to take my exams that year, no matter what.

Incidentally, for the first semester of my English literature examinations, I had topped class. But when my mother’s cancer was diagnosed, studying and getting a good grade was frankly the last thing on my mind.

When I think back about it now, the entire year was a blur. I did not fail, but ended up simply scraping through the exams. It was a sureshot setback in my academics. But as far as I was concerned, I had pulled through in what was one of the hardest moments of my life.

My mom Rupa Debi is my biggest inspiration. Born and brought up in Kolkata, she studied mathematics in Presidency College, and was one of only five women in her batch. She also accomplished another rare feat: she was a CA rank holder and set up her own chartered accountancy firm, which has worked with several pioneering organisations since.

Along with all this, she has raised five children, looked after her own parents in their old age, has a large number of friends who turn to her for love and support, and is a true moral compass for me.

Reeti Ma historical
Rupa, 1986

She introduced us to art at a very young age. She’s also taught us the value of compassion, kindness and hard work. She would give us all books after our exams ended as a reward for trying hard.

She was a true feminist, and created an egalitarian environment at home that was not gender-specific: both my brother and I played with the same toys. Our mother even made fake shaving-foam beards for both of us together!

She’s also had a very tangible hand in shaping my career, for it is my mum who still does all my taxes! Were it not for her, launching a startup would definitely have been super difficult for me. What most people don’t realise is how difficult and isolating being an entrepreneur can be. Having a positive, strong force in your life can really shield you against the outpouring of backlash, criticism and negativity that comes your way.

I’ve just learnt so much from her just by observing how she conducts herself: with grace, with dignity. She’s also one of the most spontaneous people I have ever come across in my life – with a passion for life, a love of travelling and learning new things, and striving to make the world a better place every single day.

My mother healed from cancer, and is doing well. She always told me to absorb and observe and learn from each experience that came my way, good or bad.

What I’ve learnt from her is embracing failures and the curveballs that life throws at you with as much dignity, courage and strength as you can muster. Tell stories, and help others around you tell stories. And so I’m starting with hers.

Read part one and two of this series.

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