This strength works quietly

This strength works quietly

As International Women's Day approaches, I find myself reflecting on my own life...

I grew up in feisty cosmopolitan Mumbai, brought up on a healthy diet of equality with my two male siblings. As a young woman, I 'stepped out into the world' looking forward to what life had to offer. Educated, but ignorant about realities beyond my own life, I took for granted opportunities that came my way. So I was shocked when I first realised that for many women life offered few opportunities - to choose, to dream, to have aspirations.

In the years since, I have balanced family, work and everything in-between. My convictions about gender equality are unconditional, but I am still discovering nuances. I now appreciate that I was able to use opportunities, exercise choices because of the support I received. From my husband, my family - definitely. But there are others... women who have been there for me.

My husband and I fondly remember Latika who helped us look after our toddler son when we were anxious first-time parents. When our daughter arrived, I went back to work within three months because we had access to the baby-care services of efficient Pavithra. Later, there was Annamma. Her wise, reassuring presence helped me concentrate on my career. She made sure there was food on our table, especially when the kids got home from school. At her own home, she looked after her disabled husband, while making sure her son and daughters were educated.

Vanita cooked our meals for several years. Just 30 years of age, she is a single mother to a 12-year-old boy with special needs, and also supports her disabled mother. An enthusiastic learner, she works hard as a cook in five households. She gets to work on her scooter, takes English lessons on her smartphone, and sends her son to special school. Sprightly Reena used to come, also riding her scooter, to dust, broom and mop our home. Functionally educated, she works shoulder to shoulder with her equally hard-working husband. Their son is in college, daughter in school, both bright kids.

Some years ago, my mother reached a stage where she needed full-time care. Initially, we hired Jayalakshmi, an elderly widow, who came in to help part-time. She lived in a rented place with her bachelor son and shared household expenses with him though she had no savings, no assets. Her generosity of spirit and ready smile was a source of great strength to me at a difficult time.

When my mother's care requirements became more intense, we contacted an agency that, over two years, sent us several trained home-care helpers who stayed with us. At first, this made me nervous. I insisted they send ladies who were at least 40 and therefore, as I believed, mature. The agency sent whoever they could and simply told me she was 40! Barring two, they were all under 25 and proved me completely wrong.

My mother's caregivers were all young women from poor rural homes who had dropped out of school and moved to the city to earn. The agency trained them, then placed them in homes like ours. Providing live-in care to a totally dependent senior is really tough, but none of them dodged work. They went about their job professionally, even indulging my mother's varying moods. In between work they had long giggling phone conversations, listened to music and watched movies on their phones. They sent money to their families and I heard them argue vehemently with parents and siblings about money or marriage decisions.

I have not used real names here, but the way these women have touched my life is real. They live tough lives. Feminism and notions of equality are not part of their conversations. Working and supporting their families are realities of life. But they haven't remained spectators. They have grabbed opportunities, created choices, and the younger among them are daring to want more.

This Women's Day, I want to salute them; say 'thank you' for enriching my life, for illuminating deeper layers of strength that make each one of you an amazing woman of substance.

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