Posted on 17-03-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Wagging tongues of neighbors should not disturb her family’s status when a woman earns more than her husband. Usha behaves unpretentiously so nobody finds out the money she makes. This 30-year-Old’s spunk in zigzagging through a restrictive social system makes her a role model for millions of aspiring young girls in India.

Her father had 14 cows and 9 children; he raised his family from milking cows and selling milk. Usha schooled upto Class 7, but stopped when her father died; 6 years later her mother passed away. Her elder siblings arranged her marriage to a factory worker 5 years ago. Her husband’s take home salary is Rs 20,000 per month. Usha learnt to drive the scooter they bought after marriage. One day a neighborhood girl asked her for scooter driving lessons. The girl subsequently got a license. Next, her friend came to Usha, and soon word-of-mouth spread. So Usha started scooter training classes for women only. It’s really creditable that she commands a rate of Rs 350 per hour, higher than professional training schools because she teaches with passion and engagement. Students spend upto Rs 7000 over 3 months. Usha says with spectacular confidence that she’ll continue to acquire 7 to 10 students every month.

Before marriage Usha was helping a reputed landscaping professional. She learnt gardening and has diversified into this profession. She’s independently picked up customers whose lawns she manicures, hedges she trims, perennials and trees she nurtures, and garden beds she fills with seasonal flowers and vegetables. She manages her business with broken English, broken Hindi and an array of South Indian languages. Her strongest work tool is her discipline with time commitment, precision and refinement. As I was curious, she confided that except for her husband, she keeps it a secret that she makes Rs 100,000 per month. From this she spends about Rs 40,000 for petrol and garden labour, paying Rs 500 a day for superior skills, Rs 250 for basic labor. With no educational degree, Usha’s ambition is for her two toddlers to become an engineer and doctor. She wants them to be proud professionals, and not hide behind society’s expectations, the way she’s doing today.

As she took leave, the jeans-and-kurti clad Usha took another leap, not figuratively, but onto a new 150cc motorbike. Smiling brightly she admitted she’s crazy about this heavy vehicle bought in her husband’s name as his permanent factory job entitles him a bank loan. She loves the control she exercises when speeding. Her business will increase she says as women driving motorbikes is a growing new market demand. She latched on her helmet, revved up the engine, and vrrroooommed off, leaving me in admiration of her entrepreneurial spirit. Not only does she earn, with pure guts, triple her husband’s salary, she’s continuously ideating on how to augment her revenue.

Why am I writing about Usha? Because hers is a sparkling example of what women with sheer willpower and scant education can do. The only encouragement they need is non-interference, no rules to block their dream. Usha’s self-taught PR proficiency in handling clients is amazing, as though the hospitality industry trained her in soft-skills. If socially neglected women can rise through their own initiative, it’s a brilliant sign of our times. Usha has no inferiority complex that the mainstream employment market passed her by. She has ingeniously overcome repression faced by women.

Corporate house discussions on International Women’s Day veered around how “women should not watch the clock for 6pm as that displays insincerity at work, they should not be too emotional as that portrays gender weakness at the workplace.” I totally disagree with both stances. Women return home to start another full time job of childcare, cooking and cleaning up after everyone’s gone to bed. Men and women’s emotional quotient is not comparable. Women’s inbuilt biological sensitivity, including a baby growing in the womb for 270 days, requires love and patience of a degree incomprehensible by men. If women consider that burdensome, human society will shrink. So how can we ask women to bury emotion at work? It’s more productive to teach men to accept women’s emotion more positively, and train women to handle insensate male colleagues.

There’s ample evidence of women’s performance at critical times. In a World War I documentary film, an elderly French woman recounted her wartime nursing experience of how she excessively poured affection like a real lover on a devastated British soldier who’d lost his leg to keep his mental stamina up. During World War II, one third of US government jobs were held by women. Unfortunately, as per Washington State Historical Society, “Most were forced to leave because their service was only considered necessary while men were away at war.”

Men in patriarchal cultures have formulated social systems to their advantage. When women like Usha are taking responsibility of modern day hunting-gathering, it’s time to recognize them. If men cannot muster enough guts to admit women can have caliber, they should at least not come in the way of women’s aspiration in life.

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