From A Paddy Farmer To A Million Dollar Entrepreneur, Unearth The Story Of Jyothi Reddy
- IWB Post
- November 2, 2018
“It was hard living in an orphanage despite having parents. My father lied that I lost my mother and left my sister in an orphanage due to abject poverty. She was 7, and I was 9. She couldn’t handle staying there for too long, so my father took her away but not me. Other single parents visited the orphanage to meet their kids every weekend; my father barely came once a year,” Anila Jyothi Reddy
That was a part of Jyothi’s harsh early life. Once stuck in a whirlpool of poverty, Anila Jyothi Reddy is now the CEO of a $15 million IT company, Key Software Solutions, based in Phoenix, Arizona, US.
Her life did not turn around overnight. As she narrated, Jyothi lived in an orphanage from the ages of 9 to 14.
“I was a very adamant girl. I scored a first class pass in the tenth grade. I was into a folk dance which was taught to us by our warden and her son. I tried to be as happy as I could there and saw to it that others laughed too. I didn’t get any happiness at home. I would only visit on festivals, but my father would be infuriated to see me there.” Her voice sounded low over the phone as she reminisced the sad old days.
“A famous mimic from Warangal would come and visit the orphanage every year on his birthday and give us sweets and blankets for the cold months.” Those blankets were the best gift she’d ever received in her childhood.
Her story intrigued me so much that I had to cover the conversation with her for two days. Jyothi was travelling to India for her birthday celebrations and mentioned that she visits the country every three months.
At 16, Jyothi was married to a farmer who, too, came from a poor family.
“I remember I went to watch a movie with my friends on Shivratri. We went to the temple and then went to watch a blockbuster love story. That’s when I thought that I would marry someone I love. But a year later, I was married off to a farmer. There was no love or understanding in our marriage. I sometimes feel sad that I never got a chance to fall in love. I respect him as a husband and the father of my children.”
Jyothi’s day began at 5 in the morning inside those grey walls ridden with poverty. She lived in a big family with her husband’s parents, his brother, sister, and aunt’s families. To add more to it, her father-in-law had two wives. Her husband had a brother who had three daughters and by the age of 18, Jyothi became a mother of two girls herself. She would wake up early and clean the porch of her house and inside. She cooked the food for her family on chulha. With a meagre income, she barely had enough to feed her children. She would then go work at a paddy field around 9 a.m. She was paid Rs. 5 a day and continued working at the same pay for three years.
Jyothi’s determination got her out of the distressing job. She soon started teaching at an adult vocational school where she was paid 120 per month on a quarterly basis.
She completed her BA in English from Kakatiya University although she was denied a job there. Now, she mentions that the students at Kakatiya have a chapter on her in their course books. Her voice got pitchy and excited while talking about her story becoming a part of academics.
“That was big money for me. I knew that if I started earning, I could buy basic necessities like milk and medicine. I had to feed cow’s milk to my elder daughter because I was breastfeeding my younger daughter then,” she said.
Soon after, she applied for a teaching job as a part of the National Service Volunteers. She was paid Rs. 195 a month but had to travel to different villages in her district. There would only be two buses to commute in a day. One in the morning and one at night. In May 1990, she left the village with both her daughters.
“I had an iron suitcase in one hand, and I had my younger daughter on my shoulder. My elder daughter was walking with me. I had only three saris with me, and the rest of my bag had their clothes and cooking utensils. My husband said, ‘If you fail, don’t bother coming back.’ I also started stitching and selling sarees to have more income. This was in Warangal Town. I first got a job as a librarian and was paid Rs. 395 per month. I wanted to support myself and not lose a government job,” she said.
While Jyothi was working for the National Service Volunteers, her cousin from the US came to visit her. That was the beginning of her dream to work in the States. Jyothi was fascinated with how empowered and liberated she looked.
“I talked to my Akka, which means sister in my language. I asked her, ‘can I come to America?’ She saw me how I was riding my scooty around and managing the work on my own and said, ‘An aggressive girl like you can easily manage in America.’ So I asked her if she could help me come to America. She said no.”
That’s when Jyothi started giving wings to her dreams. She applied for a Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Application in her town and then for a software course in Hyderabad. After studying for a few years, she put her plan into action and applied to her friend’s brother’s company in California, but her efforts went in vain. That didn’t stop her from trying again. The man that helped Jyothi apply for a work visa helped her get a visit visa. With a thousand dollars in her hand and hope in her heart, she flew to the States on March 30, 2000, leaving her daughters in the care of their school hostel.
“Oh my god, I was so scared the first night I reached there! It was at 9.30 in the night, and I had no one I knew there. The man who arranged my visa was supposed to pick me up, but he did not come. I waited two hours and called him to come pick me up. He put me in a guest house for three days with other men. I requested him to extend my stay for three more days. I then went to my cousin’s house. She was not pleased to see me. I stayed at her house for two weeks and then flew to New Jersey. There I found work at a movie store that paid me $ 6.50 per hour. It was 3 miles away from my house. I was staying at a Gujarati couple’s house and was paying $350 as rent.”
Jyothi also worked at a gas station, as a babysitter and software recruiter. She would have her lunch at ISKCON temple. While working as a software recruiter, she started making clients by visiting them on holidays.
“I was praying at Lord Shiva’s temple and met with a priest. He told me that I would do better if I start my own business,” Jyothi said and laughed.
That’s the story of how her life took off. Now, she owns four houses in the States. She lives with her daughters and sons-in-law in Arizona. Her daughters moved in with her soon after she started her business and they have been inseparable ever since. Like Jyothi, they too, have grown up into strong, independent women.
She drives a Mercedes now and is working on her dream to add Dr. before her name. Jyothi is pursuing her Ph.D. in studying about orphans in Cape Town University.
She’s won a huge number of awards for her efforts such as the Young Entrepreneur Award at Ambedkar Open University and the Bharat Jyoti Award. She is also a part of a number of associations like the Telangana American Telugu Association and North American Telugu Association. Besides that, she is also the Ambassador of the International Youth Foundation.
Jyothi had a harsh childhood and now tries to make sure that other orphans like herself do not go through the same pains. She visits many orphanages including the ones she owns around India on her birthday and celebrates with them. In our conversation, Jyothi also spoke about how there is a lack of opportunities for orphans. They aren’t offered any education after grade 10, and usually, many girls are forced into prostitution. Jyothi has also adopted a young deaf and mute girl named Saraswathi and got her married recently.
How did she reach this far?
“I live on four mantras. Firstly, do not compromise. If you compromise, you will get nowhere. You need to be greedy for what you want. Second, no condition is permanent. I am a follower of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, and I find it extremely inspiring how a paper boy became the President and one of India’s biggest scientists. Thirdly, nothing is impossible. If you want to achieve your dreams, you need to step out of your comfort zone like Dhirubhai Ambani did. Look where he is now. And lastly, there’s a saying in Telugu which translates to, ‘If you have an interest in something, no power can stop you.”
Photo Source: Anila Jyothi Reddy
This article was first published on December 15, 2017.