Ramna Sharma: from software developer to poet
Sharma shares a lifetime of experiences in gender bias in her recent collection Gritty Girl
As a software developer and engineer manager, Ramna Sharma has had her fair share of success. In 2005, she created a patented word processing software, called “Wordecor,” and sold it to Google. Sharma has also been fascinated with writing poetry since her early school days—it’s a passion that she’s recently been able to explore and cultivate.
Her recently published collection, Gritty Girl, is divided into four sections that address gender bias and the traumatic experiences of women Sharma observed while growing up in Northern India. Also the mother of a young daughter, she uses short-form poetry rich with imagery to explore themes of grief, healing and strength, all with the purpose of inspiring girls and women to take control of their own destinies.
SN&R chatted with Sharma to learn more about her experience and the story behind Gritty Girl.
What inspired you to write this collection?
While growing up in a small village in India, I witnessed I would say subtle, as well as extreme, gender-based discrimination and violence first-hand. … I initially thought that this was an Indian phenomenon, that maybe that’s our social structure, that girls are not considered equal to boys. … When I came to the U.S. many years ago, I thought it would be a different place.
And, of course, in many, many ways the state of women here is far better—we can’t even begin to compare with what we see in India for example—but some things troubled me here, too, like how STEM continues to be an issue. We don’t have enough of the girl population pursuing the tech discipline, and it’s all because of those inherent biases or stereotypes. It has nothing to do with the ability of girls. Similarly, equal pay continues to be an issue.
So I felt that no matter where you go on this planet, the attitude toward girls and women is pretty much the same. And it was really pretty heartbreaking for me to see that, even in the U.S., we are still fighting for equal pay and better representation of girls in science and engineering fields. So I would say that this book was a reflection of that anguish.
I always loved writing. I used to write in different forms from my school days, so it was just something in the making, and I finally decided to write it in a book so that the message could reach more girls and women that should feel empowered. No one else will change the world for them, but if they can stand up for themselves we can, hopefully, spark some change.
Who are some of the women depicted in your poetry?
[The first section] “Tears of Grit” is derived from events that happened very close to me. They were some friends, some relatives who were closely related to me. Some of them were ladies or girls from my village, the community I grew up in. And one or two are in fact very personal, it’s either touching my mom or myself.
So it’s people that I know directly. There is one poem that’s about rape culture … a very popular event that got a lot of media attention that happened in New Delhi. It’s gruesome, where the victim [Jyoti Singh Pandey] did not survive, and it caused major protests in India.
What are some of your poetic influences?
There is a legend in India, Shankaracharya, and he had these small poems on morality. I just loved them. They were just two lines, and you could write pages of description of what the message was in those two lines.
Similarly, some Sufi poets like Kabir and Rahim, their poems have been turned into eternal songs in India, and they use couplets, you have two lines and it’s like an ocean of wisdom in those few lines. More recently, I love a lot of poetry by modern, popular poets like Rupi Kaur. They are, again, reinventing the same approach to poetry.
Do you have a favorite poem from your collection?
Considering the times today, I like the one that talks about using the voice—the only tool and instrument and emanation that each one of us has. It’s titled, “Let that gold glitter.” [It goes] “Wear your voice / like an ornament prized, / there are few things / as precious / and as powerful.”
What does your daughter think of your poetry?
I usually read the second to last section to her, which is the “Power of Grit.” … She’s into reading, so she loves listening to all these poems. Obviously, she can’t at the moment make a lot of sense out of it—she just learned to read—but she memorizes very easily, and she can recite some of these poems. But all she’ll say is: “That’s great!” I don’t know what it means to her at this point.
What does it mean to be a “gritty girl?”
To me, a gritty girl is someone who’s a fighter. She refuses to tolerate gender inequality silently. She’s courageous. She chooses her dreams fearlessly. She cannot be tamed by biased traditions and norms. She loves herself. She’s proud to be who she is, and she’s not apologetic for being so. She’s a gritty girl to me.