CHENNAI: S INDIRA, NURSE: I always wanted to serve society, and that’s why I stepped into this field 11 years ago. My husband and I share our responsibilities. But, I never depend on his earnings for my personal needs. I am a mother of two boys, and I don’t need anyone’s monetary help to raise them. My day starts at 4.30 am — after preparing food for my family and sending my children to school, I reach work by 8 am. After my 10-hour shift, I go back and tend to the chores at home. It’s difficult, but at the end of the day, there’s a sense of satisfaction.
The only regret I have is not spending enough time with my children. I enjoy listening to music, especially Ilaiyaraaja's. In fact, if I am on my periods and have a lot of work, I take a quick break to listen to songs — it relaxes my body and mind. Sometimes I’ve to work at odd hours, and I feel afraid to even step out at night. I hope that the party that comes into power next mandates strict rules to ensure women's safety.
DEEPALAKSHMI TS, RECEPTIONIST: I got my first cellphone when I joined Sree Clinic as a receptionist. When I am at the clinic I man the landline, too. Some patients call me on my phone to fix appointments. I don’t mind picking up calls even at night. I work two jobs — in the morning as a staff nurse and in the evening as a receptionist. I’m financially independent, but my husband takes care of all my needs. I have two kids and they leave for school at 8 am.
I work when my kids are in school or when my husband is with them. I work in the clinic from around 5 pm to 8 pm. As a receptionist, I am the first person the patient meets and talks to before going to the doctor. Till date, I haven’t missed a single message. Sometimes patients blow their steam off on me. But, I try to calm them down. It is difficult when I am on my period, but I try hard to not show my anger to the patient. The government has done a lot in terms of maternity leave for women. But I still think that in workplaces, men have more advantages when compared to women. It’s time that both are treated equally.
KUMARI, FLOWER VENDOR: Come rain or sunshine, I am up at 4.30 am every day to sell flowers. Till about five years ago I was doing construction work. But, age caught up and I was forced to quit working. I am not one to sit idle. So I took up the job of selling flowers. Initially, I had set a shop in Anna Nagar, but it was not profitable. So, I decided to go door-to-door to sell flowers. I go to Koyambedu market by 5.30 am to buy flowers. I sell them on the stretch from 10th Main Road in Anna Nagar to Thirumangalam. I try my best to be punctual, as I don’t want to lose my customers.
It’s also the reason that I work until it is absolutely necessary for me to take a day off. I go along that stretch in the evening too. By the end of the day, I am exhausted, but I am not ready to quit yet — I am just 60! This way I can support my son, who also has a family of his own and is in between jobs. I also have a daughter. Whatever I earn is for them. I don’t have any needs. I expect the government to give all women — educated and illiterates — a job. I am part of a women’s forum near my house. But, we cannot help others as much as the government can help them.
S JAYANTHI, AUTORICKSHAW DRIVER: I began driving an auto in 2003, after my husband passed away in 2002, to support my family. Back then, people used to judge women who drove autos. Even children were embarrassed if I stopped by them for a ride. Eventually, people got over it. The male drivers helped me a lot and treated me well. That’s not to say that it wasn’t difficult. I’d be out the whole day. During my periods, I’d keep a packet of pads with me and use public toilets when necessary. I make around `500 per day, and with that, I need to put my three children through school.
I have two sons, one doing his BCom and the other is in class 12, and my daughter in class 10. This job is good. I earn money through my own effort, not through crooked means like robbery or theft. I am proud to earn money for my family. However, I feel that there are people who have it worse — the unemployed — also need to have avenues to earn. I know that the political party I vote for will give women equal job opportunities, and help downtrodden people. They will also make sure that my children do well in life.
ANTHONI A, HOUSEKEEPING STAFF: Until my husband was alive I did not have to work. He died ten years back. I have two girls, both of them are married. I started working in 2008 at a government school. My job is to prepare healthy mid-day meals for kids, take them for classes and involve myself in the awareness programmes we conducted for pregnant women. We have to collect data, and also keep pregnant women informed about preventive care and diet post-childbirth. Then I eventually joined an organisation one and a half years back as a housekeeping staff.
I go to school at 6 am, after 4 pm, I come to this organisation. I hardly sleep for three hours. I’m also an active member of my church and take part in religious services. Our children should not bear the same fate that we did. I also participate in election activities. It’s an opportunity to learn about the outside world. People from lower strata must be identified and given job opportunities. There has to be a surveillance committee to ensure the monthly progress made by slums. It’s a slow process but that’s what we vote for.
MARAGADHAM K, CONSTRUCTION WORKER: I have been working as a helper at construction sites for the last six years. Working in the blistering heat, sometimes, I wonder why God is punishing me like this. Then l remember my seven-year-old son and I get the drive to work more because I don’t want him to suffer like me. I started working because my husband is also a daily wage labourer and we realised that we were not able to manage the expenses. I carry bricks on my head, arrange them, sift the sand and help the masons. It is physically taxing and I often wake up with pain in my neck and back. Since I live in Parrys, most times the sites are far off, so I have to leave early to get there.
On a typical day, I wake up and cook for my family at 5 am and leave to get to work by 9 am. I am at the site till 6 pm after which I get home and cook dinner. One of my biggest regrets is that I do not get much time with my son. There are days where he asks me to stay at home. It breaks my heart, but I just tell him that life is tough and if we want to be happy, I have to work. I cherish the time I spend with him between around 8 pm and 10.30 pm where we watch something or the other on television. I earn `400 to `500 a day now, and while it is not much, I feel like I am doing my bit to pay the bills and laying the foundation for a better life.
THANASELVI SUNDARAM,GROCERY SELLER: My husband and I started this departmental store in 1988. Robbery, manipulative crowd, economic hardships — name it and we’ve seen them all in this 30-year journey. I grew up in a joint family with five siblings and managed to study only till class 10. My only goal in life was to give my children good education. I have a son and a daughter, and both have a Masters degree. I know my customers so well that I tend to remind them of what they need to buy for their homes. I come to the shop after completing household chores around 2 pm and attend to customers until 6 pm. Periods or illness was never an excuse.
In fact, I work more then to keep my mind off the pain. There’ve been several instances when I wanted to quit and shut down the shop, but the pressing situation of my family kept me going. It would be great if the government could grant a pension amount for widows and senior citizens who don’t have government jobs. I’ve saved money for myself so that I don’t have to depend even on my husband. Saving small amounts can be of help in times of distress.
GAYATHRI S, BEAUTICIAN: The job of a parlour woman comes with a sense of responsibility and attention. I accidentally opened a parlour of my own in 2004. I had no idea about make-up or hair spa. I’m a self-taught beautician who picked up the art through daily services. I shut down my shop and worked in different parlours. It gave me new experiences and taught me different techniques. It’s been eight years and I feel confident about the work I do.
I’d have trouble touching someone’s feet for pedicure and waxing someone’s underarms. It definitely wasn’t an easy job. But, you cannot make it big if you restrict yourself. Even on my periods, I make it a point to have a smile on my face. Your pain must not reflect in your service even if it demands standing two hours at a stretch. As time goes, you develop a bond with your clients. Sometimes they even share personal stories. All I want for myself and my fellow women is job opportunities and a safe environment. Literacy must not determine a person’s capabilities. There must be a body to identify individual talents and offer them employment opportunities based on their strengths.
AM MALATHI, PRIVATE DETECTIVE: I have been in this field since 1990. It has taken me years to get recognition and for people in the fraternity to accept me, a woman, as a detective. Even now, many people are not forthcoming with praises because they have some preconceived notions, but I’ve never been one to give up. Even as a child, I was always taught by my father to question and to be bold. Those are the two qualities that have helped me in my work as well.
Not many women take up this job as it is very taxing. Balancing work and home is one of the biggest challenges. When I was on the field for cases, I used to take my children with me. I think women make for great detectives because of their extraordinary intuition and unparalleled presence of mind. I believe women have the ability to think things through and make calculated decisions. I run a women’s detective agency with two other full-time female detectives, but I do have male detectives. I have many detectives who work with me on a parttime basis on pre-marital and post-marital cases in addition to child monitoring cases and so on.