Educating 40,000 workers about aspects of quality and safety standards of a project is not easy. Yet, for the past three years, a woman has overcome language barriers, gender bias and cultural differences to accomplish this task with finesse and grace.
Meet Reiko Abe, the former chief quality supervisor of the General Consulting Group working on the Bangalore Metro project.
A Japanese engineer, Abe has been in charge of all the underground sections of the city’s most ambitious project. She is an employee of Oriental Consultants Co Ltd, part of the General Consulting Group.
Japan extended a 19,832 million yen loan for the Bangalore metro rail project in 2011, with an interest rate ranging between 0.4 per cent to 1.4 per cent per annum through the Japan International Co-operation Agency.
Abe’s name generates a mixture of respect and awe amongst all those who know her.
Generally soft-spoken, her steely resolve comes to the fore when Abe discusses the problems she faced as a woman engineer in getting people to listen to her and to get projects in her initial years at work. Abe has worked on projects in Taiwan, Qatar and on the Delhi Metro before coming to Bangalore.
On India and its characteristics
“I have been in India for six years now. Underground sections are new to India and we provide the expertise,” she says.
Working out of a temporary office near Chinnaswamy Stadium, Abe says she enjoyed her time in the city.
“Bangaloreans are gentle and easy to deal with. English is almost a native language and most engineers converse in English. Communication was never a big issue,” she remarks.
India, however, did catch her on the wrong foot many a time. “Here sometimes people do not care for time. Five minutes becomes 20 and tomorrow never comes. In Japan, we say time is money, but my colleagues here tell me only money is money,” Abe says.
Defeating barriers of gender bias
A firm believer in helping women achieve their career choices, Abe has even spoken at a session for female students at the Indian Institute of Science.
“I was in their place 25 years ago and met many problems because of my gender. I never gave up. I make my presence felt and that is why I was Chief Quality Supervisor,” Abe says, while narrating a story of why Japanese women engineers are not allowed near mountainous construction sites.
“The Japanese believe that a goddess resides in the mountains and that if another woman enters the site, the goddess will be jealous and the mountain will collapse. While things have improved over the years, some places in Japan still hold onto the belief,” she says.
Bangaloreans and ‘Their’ Metro
Abe is proud of Bangaloreans’ connect with the metro rail project.
“I was in an autorickshaw stuck in traffic. The auto driver turned to me and said the jam was because of work on the metro rail project. He then explained that this was Bangalore’s metro and he was proud of it. I almost cried,” Abe said. However, the auto driver’s next question cracked her up. “He asked me if we had a metro rail in my country and I was laughing,” she quipped.
Life in Bangalore has not been too tough with a sizable Japanese community in the city.
“I spend weekdays covered in dirt and concrete. On holidays, I like to go to a nice hotel, get a coffee and a book and relax. With companies like Sony, Toyota and Toshiba, I do have friends here. We meet over a beer sometimes,” Abe says.