Women and work - two stories
It's unreal how hard women in Chennai work. It's difficult not to be inspired.
Valli is tiny. Her skin is the colour of ebony and her shiny white buck teeth flash as her face breaks easily into a smile when she cheerily greets patients, their family members, medical representatives, service people and couriers into that busy polyclinic in the heart of the city. Specialists and dentists rotate in and out sharing space. The dermatologist shares space with a family physician, the cardiologist with an internist and so on. So people call incessantly into the main line which Valli answers. They call to book appointments, enquire if the specific doctor is in, if their lab test results are in and on and on. The steady flow of people who walk through that door never abates and the little space is always brimming over. She is the sheet anchor that manages the traffic - receptionist, operator and overall communications coordinator. Her clothes are cheerful, befitting her sunny demeanour. Colourful sarees with matching jewellery, necklace, earrings and bangles. Flowers in her hair, bells in her ornamental anklets. Today she has worn an art silk lavender saree with gold thread border and a blouse to match, fresh white jasmine and orange firecracker flowers in her hair and chunky jewellery. I saw her once in the morning and again later in the evening and asked her how long her work day was. Well she left her house at 6 am and following a 2 hour and 3 buses commute arrived at the clinic at 8, she said. When did she finish? She flashed a smile and said, " at 7:30 pm and I will reach home after 10:00." In the afternoon when the doctors are not in and she has a couple of hours to spare she does cleaning and dishes at two homes nearby. While the clinic is closed Sundays, she has to commute to work all 7 days at those homes. She has two teenage daughters whom she never sees and whom her unemployed and de facto stay at home husband, a recovering alcoholic, cares for. She has successfully managed to get him into treatment and he is sober going 4 years. Her aging mother cooks and packs her food for the entire day. She is the main breadwinner and earns Rs.10,000 per month, all told, which has to pay for her transportation and all other expenses! How does she do it all so cheerfully?
Jayashri is a single mother of two boys. They are both in University. Jayashri is tall, attractive and very youthful looking at 45. She commutes by two-wheeler hazarding horrendous traffic and the killer Chennai heat. She has singlehandedly raised her sons from her earnings cooking in people's homes. Not one or two but 4. So every morning she cooks a traditional South Indian meal from scratch consisting of 2 different vegetables, a stew and soup in 4 different homes. Then she gets home to cook for her kids. On festival days she cooks all the mandatory sweet and savoury items along with the regular meal items. And if you don't know anything else about Tamilnadu, you should know there is some religious festival or other every week mandating the preparation of special foods to mark the occasion. Then every evening she goes back to each of the homes to cook 4 different suppers, lighter than lunch but all requiring prep and cooking time, nonetheless. She earns a total of Rs.28,000 at the rate of Rs. 7000 per month per home. Wow how does she do it cheerfully everyday, rain or shine 7 days per week?!
Terribly exploitive- inhumane - but proof of human resilience and the will to succeed at what could have been a losing game.
Both Valli and Jayashri want to give their kids post secondary education to ensure their lot is better! They don't think too much - they just do.