Nidhi Singhal Puri is a business owner by day and a supportive spouse by night. She’s standing strong with her husband, Ranjeev, the first Punjabi candidate for state representative in Michigan history. But it is her role as a mom that drives her to want to make a difference in the community her kids will grow up in. A mother of two boys, Rohin, 4, and Shaan, 10 months, Puri wants to do her bit. “It’s hard for me to just sit and wait for things to happen. I want to do whatever I can do to make our society a safer place for my kids — all kids,” says Puri. She works with the non-profit organization Moms Demand Action, which aims to raise awareness of gun violence and common sense gun laws, and with the Detroit Indian Women’s Association, a women’s empowerment group.
Puri, 35, who owns a construction management and consulting firm called Arbor Corporation, was born in Raipur (today’s Chhattisgarh) and came to the States as an infant in 1984. After two years in Texas, her father took a job in Michigan in a mechanical engineering firm and Ann Arbor became home. Puri’s mother worked, too, as an educator. “There is a special connection to Ann Arbor because I had both my boys at the same hospital where my younger sister, Nishi, was born…it’s just an emotional attachment thing I guess,” she says, reminiscing about her childhood. Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam were a big part of that childhood, but so was Bollywood. “I wanted to be Karisma Kapoor,” Puri chuckles. “Hindi movies were a regular feat in our home and I’m so glad that we were raised bilingual (English and Hindi) else I would’ve really missed out on some great movies and entertainment.”
Puri hopes to act as a bridge between older generations and younger ones. “I understand that our parents’ generation needed to put food on the table and they worked hard to achieve that and unlike millennials, they didn’t put too much focus on their rights and what they can do to bring about real change,” she says. At campaign events, which are now a normal part of her routine, Puri is often confronted by extreme views, many stemming from differing religious perspectives, but that is where she sees “an opportunity to shed more light on how we are driven by similar things rather than focusing on our differences.” Having traveled to over 50 countries with her husband, she feels there is more commonality between people across the globe than not.
Puri has a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) but it was while studying business and communication at Indiana University in 2006 that she met her husband, Ranjeev. “I was coordinating a South Asian Conference called MASTI at the time and the band that was going to perform asked Ranjeev to help out with the bass, since their bassist was unable to join at the time.” Little did Ranjeev know he was going to find his future wife during that conference. Over a decade later, they’re working together to make a difference.
The Indian SCENE talked to Puri about her career, family and inspiration. The conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.
The Indian SCENE: What advice do you wish you got when you were young that you would share with members of younger generations?
Nidhi Singhal Puri: I want the next gen to know to trust yourself and listen to that voice in your head. Time and again we try and overlook what our instincts are telling us, but that would be my advice to all the youngsters out there. Trust yourself!
IS: What is one thing about you that most may not know?
NSP: I’m a huge bookworm — love to read. And I’m a speed reader!
IS: What’s your take on women’s empowerment in the coming decade?
NSP: I believe everyone is equal and everyone should have the freedom of choice. I was fortunate enough to have chosen every path that I’ve taken, and was brought up that way. Whether it be my education, my love, my career path, or my choice to focus on my family. Everyone deserves that, and I hope more in the coming decade everyone is granted that.
IS: What are some of the biggest challenges that you face and how do you overcome them?
NSP: I think for me the biggest challenge is rediscovering so many facets of life. For me, family is goal. So rediscovering the family structure where, both Ranjeev and I, are trying to contribute to the greater good but at the same time to maintain that normalcy at home. At a personal level, I feel like a lot of time is taken away from my business but it’s a shift in chapter of sorts. I would not say that anything is on hold and that we will get through all these chapters of our lives, sometimes the sequence maybe different than what was planned. So, rediscovering all these facets and finding the balance is the biggest challenge I would say at this time.
IS: What is the most valuable thing in our Indian culture that you hope passes on to future generations?
NSP: The strong sense of community and family is a big part of our culture that I hope gets passed on to future generations. But also the arts, the music and the dancing! I was trained in Bharatanatyam growing up and loved Bollywood dancing. Ranjeev was captain of his Bhangra team. So we love sharing music and dancing with our kids!
IS: Who inspires you and how?
NSP: Michelle Obama. She embodies that grace under fire and to me, that is incredible. Not only as a first lady but as a human being, she offers that voice of hope, which is something we all want to hear at some point in our life. I’m very inspired by her and would love to mime that in my life.
IS: Your husband is involved in politics. How has this changed your life? Describe your journey.
NSP: Ranjeev was a staffer on the Obama campaign in 2008. And it was an in-person meeting with Barack Obama that really put things in perspective for him, when Obama said, “I can only take it this far, you have to further what your community needs.” And so, when the decision to run for State Representative was discussed as a family, it felt right. We feel blessed that we have this platform to not just share but also hear what people have to say and understand where their struggles are. As a family, it’s not all rosy because we work hard to keep that structure for our children intact. At the same time, my older son Rohin is starting to understand that papa is trying to do something to make things better for everyone. Rohin even passes out flyers at some events. But like any family, we have easy days and some days are hard with two little kids.
IS: What is next for you?
NSP: I would love to focus more on my business, learn new skills and tap into more opportunities of non-profit work. But above all, I certainly want to spend more family time as just us
Favorite wine: Barolo, an Italian red we fell in love with while living in Northern Italy, outside of the region where it’s grown.
Favorite restaurant: We love Asian and Mexican food! We have celebrated so many family milestones growing up at Mexican Fiesta in Canton, and now it’s fun to bring our kids and do the same with them. We also have traveled all around Asia so from Thai to Japanese to Indian, we love all the cuisines!
Favorite thing to do as a family: Love our Saturday morning tradition of making pancakes as a family. The kids get involved and we wear chef hats, it’s so fun to do all together! And so delicious!
Favorite vacation spot: I’m most at peace when I’m near the water. We love the beach — from playing in the sand to swimming in the water, we really enjoy it all. Some of our favorite beaches are in French Polynesia (Bora Bora), where we went for our honeymoon.
Pallavi Jassi Abbott is a state-licensed mortgage loan originator in Michigan and a former journalist with The Indian Express. She loves to learn about the different experiences of the people she meets and is driven by her strong desire to help those around. She believes in spiritual healing and is certified in Reiki.