Meet The Golden Girl
Shivani Agarwalla, India’s first international Kettlebell Athlete and four-time world champion in Kettlebell Sport, believes in living life by her own rules. MARWAR shares the enriching journey of this golden girl.
Kolkata-based Shivani Agarwalla, 35, is a shining example of how dedication and perseverance helps you soar the highest skies. A young girl who set extraordinary goals for herself and defied the odds is basking in the glory of her success today in the fields of sports and chartered accountancy. There is more to this Marwari girl than meets the eye. She is acknowledged as India’s first woman athlete and four-time world champion in Kettlebell Sport—she represented India at the International Kettlebell World Championship in Uzbekistan in 2018, winning the first gold medal for India in that category. In 2019, she outclassed her own achievements and won the second gold medal in Australia followed by the third in France in November ’21. In July ’22, she won Double Gold for India at the 29th IGSF World Championship held in Greece, where she got the coveted rank of Master of Sports— the first by any Indian Woman Athlete. Shivani has been instrumental in building India’s robust positioning in Kettlebell, and the same has been acknowledged by the Indian Government. Time and again, she has been vocal about the need to promote new forms of sport. Shivani is also a renowned Chartered Accountant, a practising member, and on the National Faculty for Indirect Taxation from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), having delivered more than 250 sessions about Indirect Taxation across the country. Besides these achievements, she dons multiple roles— of a wife, daughter, mother—and aces all of it. A proud mother to a six-year-old, she wears her pride up her sleeve.
In her own words, Shivani talks about growing up in a joint Marwari family, and representing India in Kettlebell Sport. It all started with the quest to lose my postpartum weight!
From being someone who has never participated in a single sports event back in school or college, to representing the country for a sports event it has been a journey of sorts. I am a proud mother, wife and daughter, a practising Chartered Accountant, and an International Kettlebell Athlete. As a child growing up, I don’t have any memories of indulging in any sports activity. As I stand today, basking in the glory of my success as India’s only four-time Woman World Champion and Master of Sports Rank holder in Kettlebell Sport, it makes mewonder what was it that I did right?
I am a child of the 1980s, where gay was another word for being happy and lesbian meant the capital of Portugal. We were, perhaps, the last generation that played on the streets; we were the first to play video games, last to record songs off the radio on cassettes; we were the pioneers of walkmans and chatrooms. We did not have flat-screens, surround sound, MP3, not to speak of Ipods, Facebook or Twitter, but we were so happy! If I were to recollect a single bad memory of my childhood, I would fail. Growing up in a joint Marwari family of 35 members for a good 20 years of my life, I learnt many life lessons early on. It taught me that there is no way to be a perfect human, but a million ways to be a good one! We had four generations living in the same house with a common kitchen. This was largely because of well-knit family ties which was a result of sacrifice, resilience and adjustment made by each member. It taught me that you cannot change what you refuse to confront. Looking up to my father and his brothers running their businesses through ups and downs, I realised you always have two choices in life: fear or faith. I am glad I chose the latter. I qualified Chartered Accountancy at the early age of 22 years. A lot of the hard work, dedication, and discipline that the course required was a way of life for me; I grew up seeing examples right in front of me. I did not need to scout for inspiration outside of my big Marwari family. That, I think, laid the very foundation of my life. After working for two years with a big company, I started my practice in Indirect Taxation under Shivani Shah & Associates. The Marwari entrepreneurial gene kicked in rather fast and I can proudly say that we are doing some exceptionally good work in Indirect Taxation in Eastern India.
In 2009, I got married to Mayank Agarwalla, a tea planter.
His work keeps him in Assam and like any other Marwari girl, I thought I would follow suit. I shifted to Assam and would keep coming back to Kolkata occasionally to our house here. While in Assam, Mayank saw my practice as a CA suffer. He stood tall, against all societal norms, and asked me to shift back to Kolkata and pursue my career. Our marriage is an equal partnership. We take all important decisions together as a team. Be it financial or household chores, we do not have gender roles in our relationships, and that is the beauty of this marriage. Fast forward to 2015, I delivered our son, Lavik. That was the turning point of my life in many ways. Motherhood came with no instructions. It was a particularly extraordinary feeling to have brought life into this world, a life that changed my life. When I looked at Lavik, I realised that I need to be a better version of myself. That it is not him I need to raise, I need to raise myself for him. It made me strive to find my mojo. With the pressures of raising a child in a nuclear set-up, my Chartered Accountancy practice, fitness, was nowhere on the radar. I had postpartum weight and Mayank inspired me to get fit and lose the extra weight. He himself is an avid trekker, a marathoner, and a guy with rock-solid determination.
Six months into delivery I hit the gym.
This left many aghast. It almost felt like sacrilege. For a while it felt that mothers are not allowed to lift anything but babies. As luck would have it, at the gym I chanced upon my mentor and coach, Arnav Sarkar who introduced me to the beautiful equipment called Kettlebells! We started lifting Kettlebells for the sake of recreation and adding some variety to my gym routine. Gradually, I got more serious about the bells. The idea was to live to stay fit. In 2017, he sent me for an Asian Championship to Malaysia and I did well. I still have a vivid recollection of my initial days of training. I had never travelled alone before, let alone for a sporting event. A Marwari girl with no background in sports, travelling abroad for a sports event was unsettling for a few in the family. To maintain calm, I took my brother as my bodyguard. I cannot deny the fact that I was myself nervous and thought a little company would do no harm. I got back from Malaysia with the best lifter’s trophy. That was my eureka moment! As a Chartered Accountant, I get to interact with the best brains in the country. More often than not, in courtrooms and boardrooms I am the only woman and hence I have had my taste of glory and success on that front. But this was different—something no one in my family had ever been associated with. Hence, this was special, and this event paved for many more laurels. I had no idea that in 2018 I would create history by becoming India’s first Woman World Champion in Kettlebell Sport.
As some rightly say, you make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give. He did exactly that. As a mentor, Arnav made me see a higher side of myself, of which I wasn’t aware. The two key principles which guide my journey are persistence and consistency. If you are persistent, you will get it; if you are consistent, you shall keep it. The journey has never been easy. Being a mother, daughter, wife, being a practising Chartered Accountant and an athlete representing the country can be daunting at times. But I always tell myself—it is not about time, it is about priorities.