For Indra Nooyi, the first executive skills lesson was at home

The women’s living room in my childhood home had only one piece of furniture: a huge rosewood swing with four long chains that were anchored to the ceiling when my grandfather built the house, on a leafy road in Madras, in India in 1939.

This swing, with its gentle back and forth in the heat of South India, set the stage for a million stories. My mother, her sisters and cousins, dressed in simple fuchsia, blue or yellow sarees, rocked each other in the late afternoon with cups of sweet latte, bare feet stretched to the floor to do so. to move. They planned meals, compared their children’s notes, and pored over Indian horoscopes to find suitable matches for their daughters or other young people in their vast family networks. They discussed politics, food, local gossip, clothing, religion, music, books. They were loud, talked to each other and kept the conversation going.

From a young age, I played on the seesaw with my older sister, Chandrika, and my younger brother, Nandu. We were swinging and singing our school songs. We dozed off; we fought. We read British children’s novels by Enid Blyton, Richmal Crompton and Frank Richards. We stumbled across the shiny red tiled floor and rushed over.

Ours was the big, airy house where a dozen cousins ​​would gather for parties and vacations. The swing was a centerpiece for elaborate pieces we wrote and performed, based on whatever we liked. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles gathered to watch, holding pieces of torn newspaper scribbled with the words “one ticket”. They felt free to criticize our shows, or to start chatting, or just to walk away. My childhood was not a world of “great work!” It was more like, “It was so-so.” or “Is this the best you can do?” We were used to honesty rather than false encouragement.

Critics didn’t matter on those happy, busy days. We felt important. We were on the move, laughing and continuing our next game. We played hide and seek, climbed trees and picked the mangoes and guavas that grew in the garden surrounding the house. We ate on the floor, sitting cross-legged in a circle, with our mothers in the center ladling sambar sadam and thayir sadam – lentil and curd stew mixed with rice – in clay soup tureens and distributing Indian pickles over banana leaves which served as plates.

In the evening, when the cousins ​​were visiting, the swing was taken down – the large plank of shiny wood detached from the silver chains and carried to the back porch to be stored overnight. Then we would line up in the same sleeping space, boys and girls lined up on a large colorful rug, each with their own pillow and cotton sheet. Sometimes we were under a mosquito net. If the device was on, a fan spun lazily above his head, pretending to break through the heat even though the nighttime temperature was 29.5 ° C (85 ° F). We sprinkled water on the ground around us, hoping that its evaporation would cool the place.

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