Puja Bhakoo: Women Creating Impact
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Puja Bhakoo, founder of Tapestry for Charity, is a ‘multi-potentialite’ par excellence. She is someone who has myriad creative interests and expertise. In her thirty five years long career in advertising & art, she has not just led an ad agency group as a CEO but also surfed through the harsh ebb and flow of life, to treasure every minuteness of it. The adventure continues beyond her early retirement. She now fuses her effervescent energy beautifully, by curating pieces of art that look lovely while also serving the purpose of education and rehabilitation of underprivileged children! Read on to know more about her extraordinary journey.
1. Tell us a bit about your journey into the professional arts space and the history & span of your work.What were the challenges and high points?
As a teenager, I loved sticking my finger into every artistic hobby pie; embroidery, crochet, macramé, carpet-weaving, singing, painting, playing the piano & guitar.
Watching my mom and her friends knit and stitch, I developed a passion for embroidery and stitch craft. My first business idea too came from this passion.
After graduating in Home Science, and post-graduating in Public Administration, I put together a team of 14-15 women and launched my handcrafted winterwear brand for children when I was 21 years of age. My brand, P.J. Crafts, was supplying to leading outlets like Childcare & Intershoppe in Delhi.
Since P.J. Crafts was a seasonal business, I craved additional challenges workwise and decided to get into the advertising and communications business. Eventually, however, juggling two professions with the business of running a family forced me to relegate P.J. Crafts to the status of a hobby, albeit one I kept pursuing with great passion.
Initially, I dabbled in different departments of the advertising profession but soon found my forte in the creative side of the business at Optimum Point Advertising. I consolidated my creative knowledge & skills by training in all art departments like copywriting, graphic designing, art direction and so on.
I also learnt various creative designing software like Corel Draw, Photoshop, Ventura, Dream weaver, Flash etc. This period took me on a tremendous learning curve.
2. Share with us the impact you are making through your work.
After working for 27 years as the CEO & Creative Head of four advertising firms, I retired from advertising in 2012 to pursue my auxiliary interests including tapestry-making and charity. I began to volunteer in various NGOs like The Earth Foundation ( for the old and the infirm), The Learning Ladder & Akshar Gyaan (educating underprivileged children).
In 2015, I decided to use my embroidery passion to fund my charity mission and launched Tapestry-For Charity, an initiative that utilizes majority proceeds from the sale of my tapestries for the education and rehabilitation of underprivileged children.
I'm now working on a project where I intend to collaborate with acid-scar-survivors and make them a part of Tapestry-For-Charity so that they become self-sufficient. I still need to work out the logistics and scalability issues of my project idea.
My long-term vision is to create an eco-system in the art world where untapped and unidentified talent can blossom and become self-sufficient.
3. How do you manage work-life balance as an entrepreneur?
Thanks to my husband’s penchant for creating efficient and elaborate systems in the house, I get buckets full of time to devote to my creative pursuits. Even though we are now retired, 10 am-6 pm is designated as a time for individual indulgences in terms of achieving personal growth. During family hours, however, we keep phones and other distractions at bay. Every day for a half-hour, we play any non-cerebral game like Gin-rummy or Ludo, where we sing on top of our voices and generally behave like teenagers.
4. What are the top qualities that have worked for you in your career?
Three qualities have worked for me in my career—positivity, positivity, and positivity. I am a passionate positivist & an obstinate optimist too.
Interestingly, my most debilitating setbacks have also been the most favourable turning points in my life. I've ended up gaining so much from them that I'm inclined to chanting bromides like ‘everything in life happens for the better.’
A positive mindset has helped me cruise through all mishaps in my life: a career fraud that made me penniless; a broken marriage that left me homeless; the loss of my child on her first birthday, which left me with a deep scar of guilt and regret.
Each time, I was able to take it on the chin, dust myself, and restart. Getting over my daughter's loss took a little longer, but she came back to me a few years later in my second marriage. She's now 25!
5. What is your approach to crisis-management or problem-solving?
I have a 3-pronged approach to crisis management and problem-solving:
· immediate acceptance/zero-brooding
· quick introspection
· instant combat mode.
6. Please share one or two stories or milestones from your career that have been transformational for you & why?
Life is a 10-speed bicycle but most of us don’t go or don’t need to go beyond the 2nd or the 3rd gear. I was around three years into advertising when a string of unexpected personal and professional setbacks marred both my domestic life and my career. I became victim to fraud in my own company where my resignation was forged, and I was unceremoniously ousted from the Board of Directors. A spate of litigations followed.
This challenge forced me to put all my unused gears into action. I started from the scratch and built a new agency, and a new life, brick by brick. I also decided that every single day I would strive to be a little better than the previous day: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The new agency became very successful and I never looked back.
The second milestone in my life was when I reached the golden 50s.
In our mid-forties, my husband and I started to feel saturated with our career-centric and revenue-oriented lives where we had only one string to our conversational violin: how to make more money or where to open our next office — our bucket list was waiting; our foreign travels were waiting; our auxiliary interests were waiting. But all we seemed to be doing was running faster and faster on the economic treadmill. That day we both decided to retire once we reached our 50s. As soon as we turned 50, we brought new promoters into the company and then opened ourselves to all the experiences that a non-regimented life had to offer.
For me, it was as if many colourful unexplored vistas had suddenly opened up and the world was my oyster. For the first time in 32 years, I was time rich!
I started to learn how to sing at the age of 50. I joined dance classes, writing clubs, book clubs. I began to write poems and blogs and publish them in the Huffington Post & Times of India. I also started to volunteer for various charities and finally, in 2015, while looking for funding options for my charity, I decided to launch Tapestry-For-Charity.
Today I export my handcrafted tapestries to the U.S., U.K., Australia & Singapore and use a significant part of the proceeds to fund the education and rehabilitation of underprivileged children.
7. Motherhood, Women at work, and Gender Parity, what's your take on these, and how do you relate these words to your life and work?
Motherhood is undoubtedly a beautiful experience. But, I‘m uncomfortable with this divine halo the society has created around it as if it's the sole purpose of a woman's life – implying that she's somehow incomplete if she doesn't experience it. This social attitude has caused grief in the lives of women who suffer from health issues or other constraints.
I think once children are past the initial years of hand-holding, it’s advisable not to be over-invested in their careers and routine lives. An overkill by the parents can lead to emotional dependence and frustration in children.
A woman is always at work. Only the venue and nature of the work change: home or office. I'm allergic to the term 'homemaker.' Is it some kind of a job description reserved only for women? And does it mean that the woman who goes to the office is a home breaker?
Today, the internet has made geography, history, and so the opportunity to widen your mental horizons through learning is very well possible at home too. As long as I was working in an office, life was a single road where all milestones read the description: 'creative head.' Post-retirement, my life is an 8-lane superhighway, and the milestones read tapestry artist, charity owner, poet, blogger, creative writer, singer, etc, not 'homemaker'!
Reducing a female executive's achievements to "diversity" is a common form of gender discrimination. Men are usually given constructive suggestions whereas women are given constructive tips — and mostly told to pipe down. Sexism is focused on robbing women of status and rights. Gender parity should be made mandatory both in homes and offices. Creating a level playing field for both genders is obligatory on the part of every civilized society.
Today, I remind myself to never call a woman bossy for her ability to lead. To never call her crazy when she expresses herself. To never attribute her success to her clothes, her body, or just luck. To never call her out on her sexual & intimate decisions, whatever they may be.
8. Art and Mindfulness, do you see a link? Tell us more.
Thread craft is an art of passion and perseverance. It is also an education in mindfulness, which is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present.
Being a tapestry artist for over thirty years, I can vouch for such a hobby's physical and psychological benefits.
The best lesson you learn from creating handcrafted tapestries is how a small, steady effort can be transformational and how a little progress each day can lead to significant results.
My passion for tapestry-making is a boon not only for me but also for my family. I have hyper energy levels and cannot stay put in place for more than 10 minutes. Tapestry-making pins me down to a place and calms my senses.
Creating an intricate design, stitch by single stitch, and watching a pattern evolve from the abstraction, can induce a calm state similar to yoga or meditation.
9. What kind of mental makeup does one need to succeed in your line of work?
I believe that we live in our minds, not bungalows or flats. So, our minds are spaces that we need to keep clean and positive to succeed in any line of work. I try to stay away from cynicism because it’s uncreative, non-constructive, and spiritually corrosive.
Secondly, the best ideas come to me when I stop chasing the muse and let the fragments of experience float around my unconscious mind to finally pair up into new combinations. Building pockets of stillness into my life helps me ideate better.
10. What advice would you give to an entrepreneur?
Business is a job of constant decision-making and risk-taking. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. The best thing about failure is that it prepares you to be a winner in the next round. I, too, have made my share of mistakes, and my learnings from these are:
1. Avoid keeping all your financial eggs in one basket; have at least two revenue streams.
2. If things aren't working out despite your repeated efforts, avoid becoming a victim of analysis-paralysis. Just close the chapter and move on. There's always something better waiting around the corner.
3. Use your time intelligently and constructively. Prioritize infotainment over entertainment. Here are a few more ways in which I do this:
-I prefer to watch Ted talks instead of TV serials. I must’ve watched possibly 5 hours of TV in the last 15 years!
-Watching news analysis and online discussions instead of TV news channels.
-Reading at least 2-3 books per month, mostly non-fiction.
-Listening to audio books and discussions for general knowledge, when I do my embroidery.
-Reading books, highlight everything I like and note it down meticulously by creating folders on different topics, to go through whenever I have time.
-I carry a small embroidery kit in the car so that traffic jams don’t waste my time.
-At a salon, I read my Kindle. At a doctor’s waiting area, I write a poem.
-Before ending my day, I play a couple of word games or problem solving memory games like Lumosity, to exercise my mental muscles.
4. Do not get intimidated by people's success. Get inspired.
5. Upgrade and upskill continuously to remain relevant in today's times.
11. Do share your final suggestions for the audience?
Life is such a beautiful and precious gift. We cannot afford to squander time in unproductive pursuits. Developing an intimate relationship with art can keep one on a perpetual high, emotionally.
Another significant benefit of practicing art is that it gives you a sense of purpose — it gives you your IKIAGI (a Japanese concept, which is a meeting ground of what you love (your passion), what the world needs (your mission), what you're good at (your vocation), and what you get paid for (your profession))
I think Tapestry-For-Charity provides me my 'ikigai', although there's some collateral damage such as weak eyesight back/neck issues, insomnia. But, that’s a small price to pay, for enjoying the journey of driving a purpose close to my heart, with all my passion.
Ma’am, it has been amazing to know your journey. It is truly inspiring. Here’s wishing you continued success and fulfillment as you continue to spread bursts of energy wherever you go!
For readers, who are interested in checking out more of her work, do visit http://www.pujabhakoo.com/