BOMBAY TIMES (March 8, 2017)

Breaking norms is second nature for her. She hasn't had it, ever, but who said the road to success is an easy ride home. While keeping the nation's flag flying high in another country, Priyanka Chopra speaks on the International Women's Day, offering her point of view on why we should all be the women we want to be...

It starts with a bigger conversation around feminism, which is about making decisions for ourselves without being judged, and with the same freedom that men have enjoyed for so many years. And just like men, no condition should be placed on women before letting them make their own decisions. It's the freedom to be who you want to be despite the gender. Be the person you want to be...bina sharton ke.

I don't walk around with a mashaal saying that life should be a war. But no conditions must be placed on any human being that stops them from being who they want to be. This applies to girls in India, too. It's a small percentage of women, who are privileged to not have conditions placed on them. I'm grateful that I am in that lot. When I think about being the woman I want to be, I just want to be the best version of myself. And I use every opportunity that comes my way in that direction. I want all the girls without an exception to have that space for themselves where they have ample opportunities to be the women they wish to be.

It is unfortunate that we're discussing the price women pay to have their way in life. I've seen this in other parts of the world, too - women have to pay a price for whatever they want to do. I don't think that women have to or they must pay a price to follow their heart and mind. We shouldn't create such norms for anyone. Why should she pay a price? It's a freedom that we, as mothers, sisters, daughters and achievers of this country, have and must enjoy. I'm progressive about this. I want to educate people that women shouldn't have to pay a price to begin with. That is an important debate to have. It's not the right thinking. It's not okay, even though it happens too often around all of us.

A career in any field that sees success or records moments of triumph and glory, will have its fair share of ups and downs. You just have to believe in yourself throughout. That's the key. Miss India and Miss World kick-started my journey into show business. I wouldn't have been here had these key events not happened, as I was pursuing engineering. Andaz was one of my breakthroughs. Fashion and Aitraaz positioned me and helped me evolve as an actor and eventually, I played a gamut of incredible characters. So, it's a career, and it will have its highs and lows. You have to accept everything and keep going.

I don't think I emerged stronger from my personal losses. I just made peace with them. Grief is my companion now. There are some voids that cannot be fulfilled. You have to move around, knowing that a piece of your heart is gone forever. That's the way I see it. I accepted that grief will be with me all my life. As soon as you accept it, you can start focusing on life. My grief and I hang around together. It's my friend now.

I am never aware of what people say or write about me. My career is just for me. I don't give 'opinions' any importance since I don't pay heed to them to begin with. Your career decisions should be your own, not pulled out of what someone else thinks is great for you. I've never paid heed to my detractors. Who are these people and what are their achievements that they sit at home and talk about others? There will be haters everywhere you go. There will be that tiny group of people who love to tear off anyone in the spotlight. I don't give them credence. I walk a lone journey and make my own decisions with my family and dear ones by my side.

It was a scary idea to take up an international TV show because I didn't know how it would all fall into place. But what was perhaps more difficult or me was to live in another country and start afresh. Living alone, away from family and creating a brand new world around me was tough. It was difficult shuttling industries in India and America. The magnitude of multi-tasking was something else. But when I commit, I don't let anyone down. My word is my bond. That's the way to be in any profession or any space in your life. Don't let your word go empty.

I am used to scrutiny as a public figure though it's never been important for me. Women everywhere are scrutinized, but that shouldn't be given any credence. When I made my first international award show appearance, I was nervous about putting my best foot forward as I was representing a nation and an industry that made me who I am. I had to be the best that I can be. I was a bundle of nerves at the Oscars when I presented for the first time. This year, it was a lot more comfortable and easy.

It is a dichotomy that we live in. The world tilts towards the male ideology. It is harder for women to prove their worth here. I have been told by people that I am too outspoken. I should step back because it's good for me as a girl. It's the advice people give you. But my parents always taught me to have an opinion and follow my instinct. They showed tremendous faith in our upbringing. A lot of girls don't get that kind of support and I hope to fight for girls who need it. Life is hard for everyone. Each one has trials to go through. You can either become cynical or focus on positivity and its acceptance - women can become achievers either way; whatever motivates them to work twice as hard as a guy and prove their worth. The steps that I take today, the field that we plough today, will create a better ground for the next generation of women. They wouldn't have to go through what we went through. Only then, will we make a difference.