Today marks the second anniversary of this website: No Country for Young Women launched on October 12th 2009, with this quote by Virginia Woolf: “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman my country is the world.”

These words could not be more appropriate. Today we have a special double feature for you: the riveting, awe-inspiring, moving stories of a mother (Laxmiben) and daughter (Mamta). This material is so engrossing, and its protagonists so fascinating, that it could be easily turned into a novel. I feel truly blessed at the opportunity of sharing Laxmiben and Mamta’s stories with you.

Here’s a little excerpt:

- Laxmiben Jashvantlal Patel, 60s, Business Owner

In my time, forty-five plus years ago, in Gujarat, India, women did not work. And no one liked that I did. I stood up and said “I can do it”. I didn’t listen to society, and I didn’t care that they didn’t like it.

- Mamta Jashvantlal Patel Nagaraja, 30s, Nasa Engineer

I train American, Russian, Japanese, and European astronauts and work in Mission Control for missions that include both the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle.

Thank you for the lovely support throughout these two years. And here are Laxmiben and Mamta’s Q&As…



Laxmiben Jashvantlal Patel, 60s, Business Owner

What is your name, age, and location?


Laxmiben Jashvantlal Patel, 65 years old, San Angelo, Texas, USA.

What is your profession?


Business owner. I own a small family-run motel with my husband. It is called the Park Motel.

What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?


In my time in India (1950s and 60s), women were not allowed to go past high school, which we called SSC. I begged my dad to send me on to college because I loved school. He told me this was not part of our culture. My favorite subjects in school were Algebra and Chemistry. If I had gone to college, I would have probably majored in engineering.

What was your first job?


I worked in the diamond business in Surat, Gujarat, India. Well, my first job was to cook since I was seven years old. My mom used to take me back to her village of Varad because her mother was sick. At these times, my grandmother taught me how to cook because they needed me. Actually, I used to have to go to all of our relatives’ homes to cook because they liked my cooking! Then I got married and still had to feed everyone in my new family in Surat. It was after marriage that I had my first official job in the diamond business. Diamond shaping was my job. Then my husband and our employees would polish. In India at that time, women did not work. My husband told me “no” when I wanted to help him, but I sat down anyway so he taught me. Everyone told him I shouldn’t. But I didn’t care. I wanted to work.

Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?


When we came to America, there were only two of us. We had a job in a factory line in California, and I was pregnant with my third child. I told our boss that I have two daughters in India and I need to make enough money to send them tickets to come to America too. She liked how hard we worked so she gave us overtime over others. But still, my husband and I discussed the possibility of purchasing a business to better our lives. My brother-in-law owned a motel in a small town in Texas, and in my eighth month of pregnancy, my husband took a week vacation to check out a motel that was for sale. He told me he didn’t really like the place, but we didn’t have time to really search. Without any help but from God, we purchased the motel. It turned out we didn’t know what we were doing, but I had no one except my husband on my side, and he was as naïve as I was! But, because of this motel, I educated my five children in these 31 years with very little help from anyone. God (Santhoshima) has really helped me the most.

Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?


Diamond business has made me most proud because I helped my husband and that helped our family. I didn’t get credit for it from the extended family, but my husband and I are proud of me. In 1986, when I returned to India, my husband’s cousin’s brother-in-law was teasing me that they should go and get diamonds so I could make them right then and there. They asked why did I go to America when I could do this in India. I answered that I left India for my kids. In my husband’s family, no one helped him so I wanted to. How can one man provide for 25 people? I started this job in 1968 when I got married and did it until the day I moved to America in 1978.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?


Being a woman never really struck me. I didn’t really care who said what about what women could do. I just did it.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?


In my time, forty-five plus years ago, in Gujarat, India, women did not work. And no one liked that I did. I stood up and said “I can do it”. I didn’t listen to society, and I didn’t care that they didn’t like it. It drove me crazy that my husband had to work by himself without help. Today, everyone works; but, in my village, Digas, three of us girls worked in diamonds. At that time, no one else did. The men didn’t let us. Our job was to cook and take care of the home. But I worked and took care of the home. It was not easy, but I did it anyway.

Please say a few words about your experience with the work-life balance.


Mental power. Just like my mom. Even if I haven’t slept for four days, no one would know. Who knows why. Even I wonder why. I never tire mentally. I am always happy and laughing. Even if I am in pain, I laugh.

I believe in God. God has watched after me my entire life. I will tell you a few stories. After our marriage, we went on our honeymoon. We were walking with my dad’s sister and her husband. My shoes were new, and I slipped, sliding unstoppable and with such power to eventually land between two huge stones. They all thought I had “gone to sleep”-they were sure of it. But somehow I was okay. It has to be God. While working at the motel in America, I once fell off of the roof onto concrete. Somehow, I managed with soreness and scratches. No broken bones. While working in the motel, my husband and I learned to do many things for ourselves. It is too expensive to always hire someone. One time we were changing out a water heater. And, it fell on my foot. But I still was okay. I don’t know why. But God always saves me.

Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?


My mom and dad. They helped me so much in life. Even when we didn’t have dishware to feed my new family after marriage, my parents gave it to me. When my husband’s own family wouldn’t help us, my parents did. When my eldest, Hima, was 15 months old, I had to drop her off at my parents house in Digas so we could manage the diamond business and family obligations. We would visit her every Saturday and Sunday. On our trips, I would often fall off of the scooter. Yet, God saved me each time. My husband could tell I was so upset for not having her with me. One time, I was hurting so much that my husband told me to take the bus and just go visit Hima. So, I finished two week’s worth of work in one week and gave my husband the stock of diamonds I had completed. I took the bus to Digas to visit my daughter and on this trip, I miscarried my unborn child. I tell this story to describe the sacrifices made for family.

If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?


Do your work truly. Don’t view it as a man’s or woman’s job. If you are working, then your health will stay good. Don’t depend on others to do your work. I always told my kids that if you don’t want to do hard work like us, then go to school.


Mamta Jashvantlal Patel Nagaraja, 30s, Nasa Engineer

What is your name, age, and location?


Mamta Jashvantlal Patel Nagaraja, 31 years old, Washington, D.C.

What is your profession?


Engineer at NASA. I train American, Russian, Japanese, and European astronauts and work in Mission Control for missions that include both the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle.

What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?


Engineering. I have a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering (Texas A&M University), master’s in mechanical engineering (Georgia Institute of Technology), and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering (Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University).

What was your first job?


I worked at the local movie theater in the mall. It was great-free movies for my entire family! I started at age 16 and continued off and on until midway through college. It was painful to start paying for movies again.

Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?


My sister, Daxaben (D). D is a naturally talented and a brilliant student who stood to become a successful medical doctor. It is in her footsteps that I followed when it came to school. D is also the person who told me to forget what society/news/whatever said about a field and do what I wanted to do. She told me it was more important to enjoy your major in college than to secure a job at the age of 18. I had plenty of time for that!

Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?


My most rewarding projects would actually be outside of work, even though I have a rockin’ cool job. Training astronauts and working in Mission Control are “sexy” as I am often told. But, what I truly enjoy is my philanthropic side. My husband and I essentially met through our work with Asha for Education, a group who believes education brings socioeconomic change. We founded and coached a program in Atlanta called Team Asha where we provided marathon and half marathon training to anyone who was willing to raise money to fund education programs in underserved regions of India. Recently, on our last trip to India, we co-founded (with his parents) a trust for the Shastri School for the Deaf and Dumb in Bangalore, India to provide hearing aids and other needs for these young children so they may contribute to society.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?


Sadly, even when I was in school at the turn of the century, there were not many women in engineering. As much as I like to believe that my gender is completely independent of my successes, I imagine some of my opportunities knocked because of just that. I will never know for sure, but I will say that being a female in a pre-dominantly male field is a good thing. If you can deal with the few chauvinists (and I have only met very few), you will probably find that men often want you on their team. Women have a distinct way of spearheading engineering (or life, in general). We tend to organize and document. We take multitasking to a whole new level. We are just as (and sometimes more) intelligent but in oh-so-different ways. We naturally bring teams together and are often the glue necessary to make a project successful.

Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?


Again, I am sure this has happened to me in the my field, but I don’t know about it first-hand. To be honest, there is only one thing (being an astronaut) I have yet to get in life, and I am positive my gender has nothing to do with my rejection. I must get this attitude from my mom – I never pay attention to the gender rules. If I want to do something, I just do it!

Please say a few words about your experience with the work-life balance.


Yet another thing I get from my mom. Mental Power: I, too, never tire (seemingly). I am able to multitask numerous obligations and hope that if each one had an opinion, it would be that I do each well. For me, I love my job. I really do. But, I love life more. Work is a part of my overall happiness – I always wanted a job that made me proud and invoked excitement in me. However, my life centers about many other activities. Family, travelling, volunteering, and hobbies really make me who I am. I often think: My parents did not work tirelessly for 31 years so that I can bury myself at a desk, incessantly withering away as a work-a-holic.

Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?


My parents. Really, my family (four girls and one boy). Each one of them has qualities that I admire and strive towards daily. My parents somehow managed to make us best friends, and our bonds are freakishly unbreakable. I often reminisce about the stories my parents have told us over the years. The kerosene lamps, milling their own flour, walking to and from school-barefoot. I recall the images brewing in my head of disease, overcrowding, and hunger. My mind becomes baffled at the thought of leaving one’s homeland to head to a country where you know not the language, the culture, nor the laws. All for a better life – not for yourself but your children. Because, while their life in America was comparably better than in India, it was no walk in the park here in the Land of the Brave. Their diligence rewarded the kids so that we would find success more easily than they did. Recently, I heard my dad say that he only managed to make it through life on some days because he would see one of us playing and realize there was a reason for it all.

If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?


Forget the naysayers and if you want it, get it. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. And if they do, don’t listen. Be strong and confident. Establish your reputation and let it do the work for you!

– Interview by Elena Rossini




You can subscribe to our posts via RSS or sign up to receive them via email.