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International Women's Day Interview: Priyanka Khimani, Partner, Anand and Anand Khimani

Name: Priyanka Khimani
Age: 29
City: Mumbai, India
Occupation: Partner - Anand and Anand Khimani

ST: Please tell us briefly about you.

Priyanka: I am Priyanka Khimani. I founded my own boutique law firm, Khimani & Associates, in 2014 that soon become known for its celebrity clientele. In July, 2017, I merged the firm with one of the biggest law firms in the country called, Anand and Anand, to form Anand and Anand & Khimani. The merger was unprecedented in the legal circles at many levels. Never before had the law fraternity witnessed a large, family run, almost 100 year old firm, merge its practice with a young, startup law firm, let alone co-brand the firm's name alongside the name of young 29 year old lawyer. It was quite a coup!

ST: Who is a woman that inspires you the most and why?

Priyanka: It would be criminal to pick out "a" woman that inspires me the most! There are so many incredible women around me that inspire me every single day from my mother to my secretary to women co-panelists to female colleagues.

To give you an example - I've spent most of this week working round the clock on a sensitive trademark infringement case for a new client company. One of the co-founders of the company, who is also the CMO, personally flew down for the hearings. Little did I know that I would be in for such a surprise! She sat with me in our conference room and listened patiently, with genuine appreciation, as I filled her in about my background, clients we had acted for, matters we had worked on (I often feel the need to over compensate given my age!). She, in turn, kept her illustrious background hidden and simply worked with us on the matter, patiently tutoring me (and my team working on the matter) about all the technical aspects of the case. Needless to say, we were all blown by the depth of her knowledge and the clarity and ease with which she taught us, non-engineers, technical aspects that would form the core of our arguments in court (given the nature of the matter). But what began to stand out the most for me was her utmost humility in the way she conducted herself, not just with me (and my team of under 30 year old lawyers) but also the Plaintiff's representatives who had dragged her company to court. She greeted them with a big smile and warmth as she recognised most of them were old colleagues or persons she had interacted with in her previous role at different organisations.

Over the course of the time that I would spend with her that week, I would discover that this mother of 2 (doesn't look it at all!) was the alumnus of the most coveted ivy league engineering and business schools in this country, had been the global head of digital marketing of one of the biggest banks and was regarded as being a stalwart and pioneer of sorts in the area that she focussed on within the banking sector. And she impressed all that upon me not through some dazzling appearance or display of flashiness, neither through intimidation or dropping of names of her past illustrious experience but simply through her sheer humility where she put her head down and worked with her team to teach us (like you would school college kids) core concepts about the technical aspects of the matter, coolly uber-ed her way in and out of the city and patiently waited with us in the corridors of the court waiting for her matter to be called out giving me her warm, comforting smile each time I looked at her apologetically for the unpredictable manner in which our courts functioned. It’s a shame that I can't name this remarkable woman since the matter is still sub-judice but she sure has made a long lasting impression on my mind. You know who you are, ma'am... take a bow!

I would be remiss if I didn't state another name here. At the risk of sounding cheesy and Ms. Universe like (pun intended), it is Sushmita Sen! And no, I'm not taking about the sexy goddess that everyone sees on-screen or knows of thanks to the media. I am one of the few people fortunate enough to work with this diva and actually advise her. I went from being one of the contestants in a pageant founded by her (I am She) to today, having the privilege of working alongside her and only she can put this sort of trust and faith in someone and give them an opportunity to prove themselves (yes, I shameless asked if she would let me advise her!). Her grace, charm and wit are for everyone to see. But what stays with you long after you've left her presence is her warmth (she will hug you for an extra 10 seconds making you feel like the centre of her universe in those moments) and a supreme sense of belief in herself. Her enthusiasm for life and everything that she sets her eyes on, is childlike and infectious! She is my booster dose of "believe a little bit more in yourself and the universe will smile down upon you" whenever I'm down and out. 

ST: How are you celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day?

Priyanka: I'll hopefully be at my desk or in court doing what I do best. No better way to celebrate this special day than keeping myself surrounded with all the gorgeous, confident, young women who work with me and make it possible for me to go out there and make our dreams come true!

ST: What is the most important message you want to send out to all the women around the world on this occasion?

Priyanka: I once bought these post-its that had the quote, "Do no harm, but take no shit" written on top, and which somehow resonated with me deeply and became a mantra! And I wish more and more women - young and old, our moms to next door neighbour aunties, troubled girlfriends to household maids - adopted this too. Life would be so much simpler! If someone or something makes you feel unhappy, miserable, uncomfortable; learn to cut it out. The choice is always yours and yours alone! You'd be surprised of how much nonsense you can weed out of our life by doing this and just be happy! No one, absolutely no one, matters more than yourself. Life's too short to live it by the "what-will-people-say" standard. I've learnt this the hard way, and still am, on a regular basis, learning to resist this self-wallowing thought that is unfortunately, so deeply ingrained in our social selves.

ST: What according to you is ‘women empowerment’?

Priyanka: Not surprisingly, the number of women that work in my office outweighs the number of men. So also, given that there is someone this young, and a woman at that, at the helm of affairs, seems to discourage senior lawyers (particularly, male) in the profession from coming on board (and that's also exactly the kind of senior talent you want to avoid!). Be that as it may, as a result of this, I get to work alongside these remarkable, bright, young men and women every single day and am fortunate to be in a position where I can ensure that each one of them (boys and girls) grows with me - personally, professionally and financially. That to me is true empowerment- both, the realization that I am in a position where I can empower other lives, and that doing so, makes me feel empowered myself.  I continue to make a conscious effort at every step, and fortunately, it has already become so engrained in the firm's culture, that every opportunity is equal for all. So also, the more the firm grows, the more we all grow individually. It sure comes with the heavy responsibility that it is me who is responsible for empowering the lives of those around me - from the team that works with me, to the clerks and peons that run our errands, to my assistant who makes my life simpler. But then again, it is that feeling of being empowered and empowering others that keeps me motivated to set the bar higher!

ST: What would you say are the main challenges facing women at present in India?

Priyanka: Unfortunately, WOMEN are one of the main challenges facing other women in India. I see this routinely, at home and at work - how the insecurities of one women inevitably become another woman's nightmare. Be it sister-in-law or mother-in-law insecurities; or insecurities of the woman on the other end of the phone negotiating a deal with you; or insecurities of a friend in school/college/work that makes you hate each other.

I am a married woman and face this routinely, both personally and professionally. Fortunately, I am financially independent, fiercely strong headed and not living in a so-to-say traditional "Indian Society" set up where I must “suck it up” (although, I do pick my battles). But I can only imagine the plight of millions of helpless Indian women, who aren't.

So also, WE are our biggest challenge! Yes, each one of us individually is our own worst enemy. Some of these ridiculous, traditional male-female stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in our minds (millennial minds included) that we sub-consciously keep falling prey to those - at home with a sibling, in a relationship with our partner, or at work when dealing with colleagues or boss.

You know it baffles me when I think that women actually are often the sole bread-winners for most below-the-poverty-line or lower middle class families in India (your household maid is, more often than not, working multiple homes to support either an abusive husband, or a tobacco addicted mother in law or children quick to emulate the same pattern). So also, a large portion of the working class women actually earns as much as, or often more than, their partners. And despite this, we let traditional societal norms and our own misplaced, archaic notions of gender roles (no doubt handed down from previous female generations) get the better of us. I hope more and more young women wake up to the importance of being completely self-dependent and fearlessly, unapologetically, living their lives for themselves.

ST: Where do you want to see yourself in next 5 years?

Priyanka: Doing another interview, on a pool-side deck by a stunning oceanfront, at the foot of a top-notch beach resort!  

Priyanka Khimani, Partner, Anand and Anand Khimani

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