Women of Pune
I do not need to be a celebrity to prove my worth. I might not have a certificate for the work I do, or an award to show my popularity. I might not be good at marketing my deeds, but that does not mean that what I do is insignificant. I am one in a billion as is my friend, my mother, my teacher or the stranger standing next to me in a queue. We are the Women of Pune
I recently did the most thrilling activity of my life - that too in uniform. I flew a Sukhoi! I wasn’t afraid but had a lot of excitement. The moment I wear the uniform, I feel there is a change in my persona. It gives me tremendous pride to don it. I feel more empowered. I learnt very early that I have to inculcate the art of time management and prioritise my roles according to the need. A family is like a team. I draw energy from my teammates, my powerhouse, and delegate it back to them. Women can multitask but when you have team, you can excel in your daily task. Similarly, I won’t be able to do everything in my house, but manage it with my team members. The nursing profession in army is full of women. Women are mentally and physically ready to face combat, we have to make our country also ready.
— Maj Gen Madhuri Kanitkar, dean of Armed Forces Medical College, Pune
In the seven months that I have driven an autorickshaw, I have had just one bad experience while dealing with customers. An elderly passenger once started touching me inappropriately and I had to ask him to get down and threaten him of dire consequences if he continued. I started driving an autorickshaw because my income as a nurse was too less. I have done all odd jobs, I have worked as a housemaid and a construction worker also. Now, driving for at least twelve hours is necessary to earn a decent income. I have a son who lives with my inlaws in Umbraj. My daughter who is appearing for SSC examination dreams of becoming a fashion designer but I don’t know if I will ever able to pay her fees. — Sharada Sawant, Rickshaw driver
I had enrolled for Teach for India project when I was studying in Lady Shri Ram College for Women in New Delhi. I was among the 10 percent graduates who got a chance to work in education sector for underprivileged children. I drew inspiration from my mother, also a teacher, who used to travel 35 kms one-way to reach the school in some remote areas, conducting classes in Army tin bunkers. I and my brother would often ask her why would she took so much pain when she could live a better life. “You would understand one day,” she would say. I remember when I first entered a classroom - Std II in a Mumbai-based school, I had to teach them how to say yes and no and it all started from there. I realised this was where my heart belongs.
— Anagha Padhya, Principal of Ahilya Devi Holkar school
I am cleaning the garbage that residents of Kondhwa spread. Kondhwa used to one of the most filthiest areas in Pune and had 90 chronic spots. My team’s hardwork has brought it down to 10. Earlier people used to demean my work, but now they have realised the importance of a cleaner and treat us nicely. It never deviated me away from my job as it was my responsibility to deliver the expectation of my seniors. Kondhwa area is like my home and I make sure that it is clean. I also make rangoli in this area with my money to beautify it. Cleanliness is very important and I want my daughter to also be a part of it. Soon she will be appearing for exams of Sanitory Inspector with PMC.
— Surekha Davare, Supervisor of cleaning staff in Kondhwa
I started riding a bike ten years back for commuting to college. It was my father who encouranged me to ride a bike. What started as a necessity has now became a passion for me. Gradually I got associated to women biker associations on social media, followed by many road trips to different parts of India from Ladakh, Karnataka and Rajasthan.
Even today, whenever I ride my bike to office and stop at a traffic signal, there are people who give me wierd looks because when a woman is riding a bike, somewhere it challenges the male ego. I never cared about it, I keep following my passion as I have great support system in my family.
— Sharvari Manakawad, media professional
In 2014, an advertisement in newspapers inspired me to join the driving classes organised by Solid Waste Collection and Handling (SWaCH). This opened a door for me, allowing me to earn more than what my work as a ragpicker fetched me. People would stare at me whenever I drove my vehicle, but I would stare back, and they would then stop. I had joined my mother who was also a ragpicker after my husband left me with two children and no money. After the driving lessons, I used to borrow my neighbours car to learn driving precisely. I have been driving tempo collecting waste for SWaCH from last six years. My children are pursuing education in Vidya Niketan school. Looking at my journey, three ladies from my area are now self employed by working in SWaCH as a tempo driver.
—Manisha Bhandare, a SWaCH ragpicker
My friends don’t believe I have a 15 year old daughter. They laugh saying we look sisters when seen together. I am just 32. Her SSC examination has started, so I come to work early so that I can leave early to drop her to the examination center at 10 am. I studied only till Class VII, and now working as a housemaid. I don’t want my daughter to be deprived of any opportunity in life so I work hard to make her education happen. It becomes difficult to arrange school fees of both my children but I know the value of education. ‘Main usko bahot aagey tak padhaogi, shaadi nai karaungi’. Even though I am not educated, I courageously keep working and take no tensions and don’t fear anything.
— Reshma Gade, househelp in Morwadi
I still remember the time when we did not take our son’s request for joining a skating class seriously. “Baghu,” my husband and I would say when he used to bring up the subject. It was only after he won a medal at a local tournament that we realised that our son was a gifted skater and needs a good coach. But the problem was who would drop him to the skating class in the evening, we being a working couple. Gradually, he started doing well in state-level and national-level competitions. We realised that as a family, we would have to manage the finances wisely. We could only send him for one international tournament in a year. I have realised how much a sportsperson’s mother also contributes and sacrifices for an athlete’s success. This year my 22-year-old son Saurabh won the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Award and I feel proud of his achievements.
— Swati Bhave, a sportsperson’s mother
When we treat an injured animal at our centre, the trust and love that we see developing in their eyes for us is the most satisfying part of my work. When we release a stray animal back to streets, the joy of seeing them running happily is unparalleled.
A few years ago, my husband encouraged me to take up my passion for working for animals as a full time service, and that’s how, we came up with an idea of starting a free shelter-cum-hospital for animals. The way people look at street animals has changed a lot today. Many parents and schools now take initiative to sensitise youngsters on dealing with animals with care and love. However, there is a need to spread awareness and education about animals, specially among people living in slums who are in greater contact with the stray animals. They need to be taught to live around them, considering the safety and well-being of both.
— Priya Kailad, founder, Karma Foundation
People take it lightly when they come to know that I belong to Bombay Blood group. One even said, “I belong to Nagpur Blood Group”. There is no awareness about this rare blood group, which is named so since it was first identified in Mumbai, and needs to be included in the school curriculum. I came to know about my blood group during my first Cesarean operation at Belapur. The entire team of doctor was surprised and conducted multiple cross-checking of my blood samples just to be sure. My operation was kept on hold till the hospital got a donar. Luckily, Vinay Shetty came to my help and brought Santosh Waradkar who belonged to this blood group. I ensure that I maintain my hemoglobin levels so that I can donate blood. I am one of the two people in Pune who have this blood group. I have donated blood to a person in Bangladesh and Yavatmal. — Priti Mhabadi, blood donor
I am very vocal about my sexuality. I was recently asked at my workplace to tone it down, given a reason that people are still not open about it. I was also once indirectly told that few girls who left the office recently was because of me. It’s not right. Because I am open about it, you don’t get a chance to blame me. I am a proud woman and lesbian. Being a woman itself has its own challenges, being lesbian just adds to it. I have to earn my living with more difficulties. The society has a typical unchanged mindset, so I don’t really have freedom of choice. And women - straight or lesbian - don’t get much freedom to make choices in our society. This is one of the reasons I never felt like celebrating Women’s Day. I work for the empowerment of Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans women because I feel very few are working for them.
— Srishti Dixit, Digital Marketing professional
A few months ago, my husband went to Ireland to pursue MS. When I tell this to people, I see a hilarious question mark on their face, that I am the earning member of the family and my husband is not. When I got married two years ago, I, and probably everyone around me pictured that I could be like that ‘Superwoman’ who is circulated on every Women’s Day. The one with multiple hands, who takes care of work, family, friends, home, at once.
Very soon I realised that it’s not practically possible to take up two full-time responsibilities simultaneously with perfection. It’s okay, not to be a Superwoman. But society still finds it odd when a woman chooses to prioritise career over family. If a woman says she doesn’t want a baby, it’s considered blasphemy. It’s like they have a checklist for us - job, marriage, baby, then another baby. The choice to want all these things or not needs to be left to us naturally.
— Manali Walimbe, German language specialist
I once interacted with nursery children in a Khadki school and told them a story about a boy who went to the park with a banana, a mango and a packet of biscuits. He ran home when it started raining, but forgot these three things in the park. He returned after some weeks days to find the banana gone, a mango sapling and the biscuit packet intact. On hearing this story, they understood what goes back into the nature, and what doesn’t break down, like the biscuit packet made of plastic. Everytime I talk to children of different age groups, I find that explaining the concept of composting kitchen waste - vegetable peels and leftover food - to children is very easy compared to adults. Converting kitchen waste or dry leaves into manure is a very simple process. I realised children are convincing parents ever since I started selling composting units.
— Pradnya Alate, avid composter and environmentalist.
I see more women in the field of social work as compared to men. It’s said that women might be more inclined because we are more compassionate. However I believe that we need to encourage more men to talk about women’s issues.
Working with women in slums is challenging at times, as their lives are still riddled with superstitions and rigid rituals. Child brides and teenage mothers can still be found here. The only way to help them out is to keep having conversation, and that’s exactly what we do at the Foundation. I am a clinical psychologist by profession. But following my penchant for social work, I decided to turn it into a full-time profession. Through my Foundation, I work for women and children in Pune’s slums. The inflow of little more funds will help NGOs like ours to make much more difference for the people.
— Shraddha Deo, social worker
I am outspoken and express my opinion confidently. This intimidated few boys in high school, so they would attack me by commenting on my skin color and body shape. When everybody is constantly talking about how one should look, it starts affecting psychologically. Even though one may look the same after losing some weight but we feel that we look much prettier like this, because we are constantly told about how to look, which body type is the best or skin tone is right. We recently held a gender conference focusing on middle class urban women. Many suggested that instead of middle class who are still privileged, the target audience should be poor women. But we fail to realise even middle class women face challenges despite being highly educated and empowered. I have to prove my capabilities, earning a living or explaining my opinion to men.
— Shreya Prasanna Kumar- Liberal Arts student of Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts
A lady approached me as I finished my speech on parenting. “ I have realised that I have not connected with my daughter who is now 12,” she said with tears in her eyes. I simply told her that she can start even now. When my husband and I decided to adopt a child, we did a lot of reading and attended several workshops on parenting and adoption. But realised parents were under some kind of pressure. Being a journalist, I personally knew several child development experts. In 2014, we started a study group for parents, Palak Abhyas Mandal.
Initially, I had to make 200 calls to invite parents to attend sessions by experts on discipline, improving communication with kids, stages of development, temper tantrums, use of gadgets etc. 10 would turn up. Today, we have six WhatsApp groups for parents. Many members are unable to attend these interactions but share that they benefit through discussion in these groups. It’s indeed a rewarding feeling.
— Smita Patil - Valsangkar
I turn 31 on March 8 this year. I was a media professional before I took the leap of faith to become a dancer at the age of 28. For me, dance is a way of expressing myself. I can express much better through my body, than I can through words. It was difficult. At Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bangalore, all my batchmates were hardly 20-23 years old. But I coped up.
Contemporary dance is usually misunderstood and judged. I have immense respect for classical dances, and the stories they tell. But I want to break free from the same old tales narrated through the dances for ages, and tell new stories through new perspectives.
After 30, a dancer’s body goes through changes. I’ve returned after two years in Bangalore. I now find Pune a little scary as the Contemporary dance scene here is not well-exposed. However, I am going to continue doing what I do the best.
— Sayli Kulkarni Joshi, dancer-choreographer
I started my business almost 25 years back. My line of business was male dominated and it required dealing with manufacturers, suppliers, clients, service staff, etc. I hardly ever met a woman in course of my work. The male force had apprehensions and few discouraged me to take a plunge.
As time went by, my personality was reshaped, as I became a single parent suddenly and had to manage a home and two growing children alone. I became more aggressive if required, assertive, confident for sure and for me no task was impossible. The change in me happened unconsciously.
I would have so much on my plate at the start of the day that at times I would think whether all will get accomplished but at the end of the day it was all done. Today, work remains same but home jobs are less as children have flown the nest. I am much more confident to lead my life and take on challenges of different kind like living life on my terms.
— Anjali Pagnis Malwade,businesswoman and single parent