Jyothi Reddy has a story which seems to be the stuff of fiction conjured up by a shrewd novelist – inflicting numerous sufferings on his protagonist to eventually make her a winner. Except here, Jyothi altered her destiny, herself.
Born to abject poverty in a rural village in Andhra Pradesh, Jyothi rebuilt her life from an orphanage, to establishing a software company in the US. Jyothi’s story is one of perseverance, determination, and building success brick by brick.
Growing up orphan
Jyothi was the second among five siblings in a poor family. Their father sent them both to an orphanage, lying that they were motherless, as he could not afford to look after them. While her sister returned to their father, Jyothi held out. Despite missing and needing her mother, she lived in the orphanage from grade 5 to grade 10.
The child bride who grew up
Jyothi’s parents married her off at the age of 16. By the time she was 18, she was a mother of two girls. Her husband was a farmer who had not passed high school . From 1985 to 1990, Jyothi had to work as a daily wage laborer, earning 10 cents per day at farms and mines.
“There was never enough money to buy medicine or toys for my children,” she recollects. When the time came to admit her children in school, she opted for Telugu medium because the fees was 50 cents a month, while at an English medium school, it was 1 dollar per month.
The joint family lived in a one-room house, with no toilet, where Jyothi was in charge of household chores. . Besides poverty, Jyothi also faced clashes with her husband and in-laws, and was often physically abused. “I had tried to commit suicide with my children twice; but their crying made me stop,” says Jyothi.
Fighting hard for survival
Since Jyothi was one among the few laborers who could read and write, she started teaching night school as part of the Nehru Yuva Kendra’s mission, for 3 dollar a month. She would also visit every village in Warangal to train the youth to stitch clothes.
Simultaneously, she started stitching skirts for an extra income and working as a librarian, travelling 43 miles by train every day. But Jyothi was thirsty for more – in 1992, she sold her mangalsutra (is a necklace that the groom ties around the bride’s neck in the Indian subcontinent), the only gold she owned, to sell sarees and skirts on a train. She was just 22 at the time.
“I needed Rs.2000-3000 ($40-$50) for capital to buy sarees. My sister’s landlord used to sell sarees at her house- so I asked her for sarees to sell. After many refusals, she gave me 10 sarees, and I sold them for a profit of Rs.20 (25 cents). Even though the bag was too heavy to carry in a train, I sold 4-5 sarees every day and made Rs. 2000 ($40) per month,” Jyothi recounts.
Glimmer of hope
Once she managed to get a BA degree from Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Open University in 1994, Jyothi’s salary rose to Rs.398 ($8).
Jyothi recounts that the first time she bought herself anything was when she was working as a teacher. “I had only two saris. I needed a third one. I bought a sari for myself for Rs 135 ($3); I still have it.”
A chance meeting with a relative from the US gave Jyothi an escape from the vortex of poverty. Her cousin told her, “An aggressive woman like you can easily manage in America.”
Jyothi immediately enrolled in computer software classes. “While teaching, I used to run a chit fund for the other teachers. My salary in 1994-95 was Rs. 5000 ($100) and I used to earn Rs. 25,000 ($500) from the chit fund. I tried to save as much as I could so that I could go to the US.”
Jyothi took the help of relatives and friends to apply for an American visa. She went to US and left her two daughters in a missionary hostel.
The American dream
However, when Jyothi reached the US, she had very little support. She was not fluent in English and had to work odd jobs, while staying as a paying guest with a Gujarati family in New Jersey for $350 per month.
Jyothi worked as a sales girl, a room service person in a motel, a babysitter , a gas station attendant, and a loading-unloading worker at a warehouse, over the first few years.
With a relative’s help, Jyothi was able to join CS America as a recruiter in 1998. After a short stint there, with her savings of $40,000, she started a consulting company for visa processing in 2001. Key Software Solutions grew to be a huge success, and made over $23 million last year in revenue.
Once she found stability, she took her husband and daughters to the US – both of whom are software engineers now. Jyothi owns six houses in the US and two in India. A girl who walked barefoot to school, now drives a Mercedes Benz, owns over 500 sarees and has more than 30 pairs of sunglasses. She is the CEO of Key Software Solutions Inc. in Phoenix, US. She was forced to work in the paddy fields to earn Rs 5 (10 cents).
She always remembers to help the needy- – Jyothi supports orphanages and old age homes in India, and works with governmental and non-governmental organisations to further the cause of orphan children. Jyothi also backs vocational training for underprivileged youngsters.
Jyothi’s life may not have been a bed of roses, but due to her resilient spirit, she turned her life around into something straight out of a fairy tale.