I wrote once before (a long time ago) about various women I admired. For a while now, I’ve been thinking of two very different women who – loosely – also fall into the category of Women of Substance. Unlike the women I wrote about earlier, I don’t know these two women very well. I know their story from the outside, but I don’t know what they’ve gone through to get where they are. What I do know – or believe – is that each of them is living out a modest success story.
First, there’s R, the kids’ daycare co-ordinator. What’s most impressive about R is that she’s slim, young, single, and apparently enjoys being with kids. And this is impressive because it’s not the sort of personality you’d associate with a businesswoman. Not that being slim in itself is any ground for not being a businesswoman – it’s just the whole package that looks so unlikely. You’d think of R as being a very junior apprentice teacher in a school – not as someone who has successfully managed to set up a school and is running it with apparently no great effort.
To run her school, R has rented the ground floor of a house in a quiet residential area with very few residences nearby. She has installed basic infrastructure like chair, tables, boards, small slides, cycles, games etc to play on/with. There’s an outdoor sandpit, which she has recently had covered to keep the rain off. There’s a long strip of artificial grass. There’s a good-sized outdoor playscape. She has brightened up the place by decorating the walls of each room with kid-friendly themes. There are three functional bathrooms and a fully-equipped kitchen. She has got good staff, and plenty of them. I never see either R or her staff flustered or rushed. When you’re dealing with kids, this is very important. The premises serves as a preschool in the morning, and some of the kids stay on in the afternoon for the daycare. Mrini-Tara and a few others join in the afternoon for post-school daycare. There are about 15 kids in the daycare session, though there must be more in the preschool session. There are vans – with the preschool name and logo painted on them – to drop and pick-up the preschool kids. Not only does R run the whole show, she keeps a good supply of fresh fruit and not-too-unhealthy snacks, which she replenishes fairly often. And then, of course, she got birthday cake and birthday gifts for Mrini and Tara! Behind the scenes, she must be handling all the logistics as well – paying bills and managing whatever else goes into keeping a business of this sort running. And she still finds the time and energy to spend with the kids, so that she usually knows who’s been doing what to a frankly amazing degree.
When you consider all this, the fact that she’s single, stays away from her parents (and quite far from her place of work), looks to be about 25, and is thin as a wisp and quite pretty to boot is relevant just because it is so incredible. It seems quite evident that she’s made a business of what she loves doing and what she loves doing is working with small kids. To have followed her dream and made it work, to have found her place in the sun, as slim, young, and charming as she appears – is both admirable and inspirational. I wish I’d had that clarity of thought and strength of conviction at that age.
On the other hand, is another amazing woman whom I’m a little terrified of. She’s a fisherwoman, who runs a large and successful fish business on a very busy main road. She is about as opposite to R as it is possible for any woman to be. Where R is wispy and soft-spoken, the fisherwoman is big, tall, dark, and loud. She’s ruthlessly efficient and is quite capable – big and tall as she is – of staring down (or shouting down) any man fool enough to stand up to her. One day I reached her shop at the same time as a large consignment of fresh fish. In front of me, she directed several men to weigh out the fish and aggressively negotiated terms with them. In the end, some boxes of fish were returned to the vehicle because either the quality or the price did not meet with madam’s approval. Meanwhile, three or four of her minions moved the rest of the fish out of the way, while others weighed, cleaned and cut fish for a couple of customers like me.
Running a roadside shop on a busy main road in Bangalore is clearly a man’s job. I can’t even imagine the kinds of tasks involved, but it’s surely not as simple as paying rent and electricity bills, and shopping for artificial grass online. It can’t be easy for a woman to make her way in that world. Yet, like the prototypical fisherwoman, she stands there and bellows and things get done. I wish I could learn something about authority and assertiveness from her, about standing my ground, and making the world move the way I want it to.