Wagging tongues of neighbours should not disturb her familys status when a woman earns more than her husband. Usha behaves unpretentiously so nobody finds out the money she makes. This 30-year-olds spunk in zigzagging through a restrictive social system makes her a role model for millions of aspiring young girls in India.
Her father had 14 cows and 9 children; he raised his family from milking cows and selling milk. Usha was schooled up to Class 7,but stopped when her father died; six years later her mother passed away. Her elder siblings arranged her marriage to a factory worker five years ago. Her husbands take home salary is Rs 20,000 per month. Usha learnt to drive the scooter they bought after marriage. One day a neighbourhood girl asked her for scooter driving lessons. The girl subsequently got a licence. Next,her friend came to Usha,and soon word-of-mouth spread. So Usha started scooter training classes for women only. Its really creditable that she commands a rate of Rs 350 per hour,higher than professional training schools because she teaches with passion and engagement. Students spend up to Rs 7,000 over three months. Usha says with spectacular confidence that shell continue to acquire 7 to 10 students every month.
Before marriage Usha was helping a reputed landscaping professional. She learnt gardening and has diversified into this profession. Shes independently picked up customers whose lawns she manicures,hedges she trims,perennials and trees she nurtures,and garden beds she fills with seasonal flowers and vegetables. She manages her business with broken English,broken Hindi and an array of South Indian languages. Her strongest work tool is her discipline,with time commitment,precision and refinement. As I was curious,she confided that except for her husband,she keeps it a secret that she makes Rs 1 lakh per month. From this she spends about Rs 40,000 for petrol and garden labour,paying Rs 500 a day for superior skills,Rs 250 for basic labour. With no educational degree,Ushas ambition is that her two toddlers become an engineer and a doctor each. She wants them to be proud professionals,and not hide behind societys expectations,the way shes doing today.
As she took leave,the jeans-and-kurti clad Usha took another leap,not figuratively,but onto a new 150cc motorbike. Smiling brightly she admitted shes crazy about this heavy vehicle bought in her husbands name as his permanent factory job entitles him a bank loan. She loves the control she exercises when speeding. Her business will increase she says as women driving motorbikes is a growing new market demand. She latched on her helmet,revved up the engine,and vrrrooommed off,leaving me in admiration of her entrepreneurial spirit. Not only does she earn,with pure guts,triple her husbands salary,shes continuously ideating on how to augment her revenue.
Why am I writing about Usha? Because hers is a sparkling example of what women with sheer willpower and scant education can do. The only encouragement they need is non-interference,no rules to block their dream. Ushas self-taught PR proficiency in handling clients is amazing,as though the hospitality industry trained her in soft-skills. If socially neglected women can rise through their own initiative,its a brilliant sign of our times. Usha has no inferiority complex that the mainstream employment market passed her by. She has ingeniously overcome repression faced by women.
Corporate house discussions on International Womens Day veered around how women should not watch the clock for 6pm as that displays insincerity at work,they should not be too emotional as that portrays gender weakness. I totally disagree with both stances. Women return home to start another full time job of childcare,cooking and cleaning up after everyones gone to bed. Men and womens emotional quotient is not comparable. Womens inbuilt biological sensitivity,including a baby in the womb for 270 days,requires love and patience of a degree incomprehensible by men. If women consider that burdensome,human society will shrink. So how can we ask women to bury emotion at work? Its more productive to teach men to accept womens emotions more positively,and train women to handle insensate male colleagues.
Theres ample evidence of womens performance at critical times. In a WW I documentary film,an elderly French woman recounted her wartime nursing experience of how she excessively poured affection like a real lover on a devastated British soldier whod lost his leg to keep his mental stamina up. During WW II,one-third of US government jobs were held by women. Unfortunately,as per Washington State Historical Society,most were forced to leave because their service was only considered necessary while men were away at war.
Men in patriarchal cultures have formulated social systems to their advantage. When women like Usha are taking responsibility of modern day hunting-gathering,its time to recognise them. If men cannot muster enough guts to admit women can have calibre,they should at least not come in the way of their aspirations in life.
Shombit is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence (www.shiningconsulting.com)