Kolkata was moving towards its winter season. The weather was misty and cool and city folks had taken out their warm shawls and monkey caps. On the streets, dogs curled up on warm piles of plastic waste and soaked up straggly sunlight rays. The bustling traffic, the women hurrying to work in their bright saris, thin shawls and big bindis… Kolkata was at its best in the first week of December.
Three women, friends and partners in work, crime and banter, dropped into Kolkata for just a couple of days.
These three single women ( by choice or by consequence) and proud mothers of daughters, are always ready for some laughs, lengthy discourses on life or leather bag shopping. All three of us are pursuing our dreams, are focusing on walking our talk, and are very fond of each other, quirky ideas and all.
We had come to the city to select a team which would be able to launch the WOW project for Azad Foundation in Kolkata.
The success stories emanating from Sakha and Azad Foundation do not detail the diligent hard work and solid commitment which goes into the preparation and launching of women drivers. Though there had been a flood of applications , the right person had to be someone who connected to the ideology and the vision of Azad.
This time, Kolkata floored me completely. The interview day opened my eyes and mind to the real world. The world where some women face and celebrate challenges, where others believe in “happily ever after” scenarios, and the world in which every possible situation is accepted.
- A young single mother , visibly derailed by the recent loss of her supportive father, could only answer repeatedly,” I can do it” to all our queries. It struck me that these affirmations were the crutches which were propping her up as she limped through this tragedy. Interviews have to be given, son has to be sent to school, career has to be improved and life has to go on!
- On the other end of the spectrum, was this lady with a string of degrees, and yet, totally tied down by social conditioning. She believed that “happily married” women don’t need to focus on economic independence, but could just contribute to the family kitty, if everyone ( read husband and in-laws) approved. Her salary expectations were based on what would compare to her husband’s earnings, not her own formidable education and experience.
- A confident, charming , career-focused woman who was comfortable with her “holiday husband” and her “childless-by-choice” labels, was the epitome of the modern Indian woman. She talked about the joys of living her choices, the passion which flows into her work, and the desire to be there for her ageing parents. I was impressed with her pragmatic and positive approach to life….and I was even more impressed with the parenting which had encouraged her to be her own woman.
- I heard stories of rebellion, of brothers and sons supporting the aspirations of the women in their lives, of women taking a stand for their career and battling depression and self-doubt, of writing out pages of English in the Bengali script- learning the lines – attending interviews in English and getting that selection letter. I listened to fervent ideas for livelihoods for women, passion and pride for their children growing up with ideas of gender equality, and that fiery desire to make a difference to the world in this one lifetime.
All around me, on the roads, offices, homes and shops,women spoke their minds and moved around confidently. Their mind-sets might have been traditional or modern, their ideas could have been staid or radical…but their confidence and belief in themselves was a good feeling.
But then, this is something which has been discussed around me for decades–the strength and the self-confidence of Bengali women. It may be misplaced at times, it may be loud and obstinate and ludicrous too, but that strong confidence is always there.
I had read an article on how companies launch new products in Bengal..Bengali housewives are ready to go beyond their comfort zone and try out a new product!
My Grandfather had a theory which I endorse too.. Bengalis worship Durga, pray to Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati. After centuries of worshiping Goddesses, it is likely that Their power has come to reside in the women of Bengal. Idols are immersed, puja pandals are dismantled, but the Goddess continues to reside in Her women.
Small postscript…I was born to Bengali parents, and yes, the Bengali characteristics remain in this Ranikhet resident!