Women of Worth 2017

Free spirit

In fighting off a patriarchal society to claim what rightfully belonged to her, Lata Bajoria found a whole new meaning to life

Vishal Koul

Dressed in a traditional saree, Lata Bajoria slipped on her chappals and walked right through the gates of the jute mill — a place she owned but was still off limits. That was the day when she truly realised what emancipation meant. Having lived in her husband’s shadow for decades, Bajoria believes every day, since he passed away, has been a step towards finding her true self. Today, besides overseeing the family’s jute business under the flagship Hooghly Mills Company, she is also engaged in social pursuits.

The early days
Born in Mumbai, Bajoria describes her upbringing as liberal unlike traditional Marwari families. So clearly, when she got married into a conservative household at the age of 20, it was a change like no other. She moved to Kolkata right after. “When your husband is so well-known, you automatically have to be in his shadow. You couldn’t say, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that’. You couldn’t ask questions such as, ‘What’s going on?’ or ‘Where are you going?’ either,” she explains. Unlike her childhood in Mumbai where frequent visits to Shemaroo and Kamal Book House to buy comics summed up her life, living by the rules in Kolkata, meant stepping out with a woman every time she needed to buy something.

Before his death in March 2008, Arun Bajoria had made headlines for his audacious takeover attempt in 2000 when he cornered 14% stake in Bombay Dyeing, sending the Wadias scurrying to Sebi and seeking help from Ratan Tata and Keshub Mahindra to fend off the jute baron. However, Bajoria later sold off the stake in the open market. Counted among the most cash-rich barons of Kolkata, Bajoria was president of the Indian Jute Mills Association from 2004 to 2007, and his business once made up for 25% of India’s jute production. Besides jute, his business empire also comprised real estate.

But the sudden demise saw Bajoria, whose daughters were already married, having to assert her authority over what rightfully belonged to her. She was 57 when she first came face-to-face with the empire that her husband had built. “More than half my life was gone before I discover

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