Sirsha Chatterjee - Power Mothers are here to Stay!
Sirsha Chatterjee is a Partner at a Big Four Accounting Firm, balancing being a working mother, an avid hiker and an amateur home cook. She is passionate about the idea that if women of color bring their authentic selves to work, it makes for a more inclusive and productive work environment.
You look beautiful in that saree Sirsha! Tell us a little about the relationship between you and sarees.
I have always loved draping a saree, right from when I was a young girl. My first saree was at the age of 6. Yes, that’s right, age 6. A special saree for children was a Pujo present from my grandmother in Kolkata. I think I got my love for sarees from my mother and my sister. My sister, who is 10 years older than me, has always been a great inspiration for me. I used to watch her drape a saree for her corporate events when she started a career in advertising in India and would be fascinated. From cultural occasions with family to college fests to commuting to a job in the Bombay trains, I have always felt comfortable and beautiful in a saree. After moving to the U.S., I always looked for excuses to wear my sarees in grad school and on special occasions.
Today my collection is mostly dominated by my late mother’s sarees. She was deeply passionate about them and derived great joy in the buying process as well. When she passed away, there were so many beautiful ones to choose from, and I brought them all back with me. The saree I am wearing today is one of those printed silks she purchased on her annual trip to Kolkata.
How do you stay rooted to your culture?
To me, culture is rooted in memories of events such as Durga Puja and Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday. I grew up surrounded by Bengali music, theater, and festivals. Though I grew up in Mumbai, my parents were actively involved in the Bengali art and cultural networks. However, the greatest draw towards my culture for me lies in the culinary explorations into what my mother and grandmother used to cook. We Bengalis can rarely separate food from the rest of our culture. We are passionate about food and how it is prepared and eaten, and there is great respect for the process of cooking. So one of the ways I have kept in touch is to reconnect with some of the older cooking methods and recipes.
You work full-time as a Partner at a Big Four Firm, you are a mother, and you have other interests, which we will come to in a moment. How do you balance things out?
I think it is a standard challenge for women like us. We are expected to take care of the family as if we don’t work full-time and work full-time as if we don’t have a family to tend to. I am always conscious that you can’t have it all at once, all the time. There are times when family comes before. And there are times when your clients take precedence. Knowing which to prioritize when is the key to a successful life. To me, success is not in large achievements, but in those little moments. Getting that dish just right. Making a client happy on a specific day (not every day, not every client). Trying a new cookie recipe with my son. Enjoying a morning run.
That morning run brings me to your other interests. What do you do when you are not working or when you are not tending to your family?
My two passions are running and cooking. Running is my personal nirvana, a 50-minute run in the park every morning is pure therapy!
Coming to cooking, I spend a lot of time thinking about ingredients, recipes, and how little acts and improvisations can transform ingredients in a wonderful way to create an incredible experience in your palate. Fermenting, soaking, drying, cooking, heating, or cooling can transform a basic ingredient into something fabulous, and it has to be just right to make it so. Similarly, I look at our lives and how little things we do can transform the environment around us. I also have a personal project to document and archive old family recipes from my mother, mother-in-law, and grandmothers, so that just like my mother’s sarees, I can also preserve the spirit of her existence through those flavors she created.
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