I spent the last 2 days in Kolkata, the land of the fiery Mamata, the land of Kali and Durga maa. It is perhaps the only city where one can still see the good ole Hindustan Motors Amby on the road. But I am not writing due to nostalgia for the city that I lived in, 20 years ago.
I met a woman yesterday that blew me away. I was meeting entrepreneurs who had applied to become Apollo Clinic franchisees, and I was scheduled to meet Mrs Mukherjee, from a small district HQ that is 3 hrs from Kol. I had been briefed that she runs her own business in the town and is a single mother, but that did not prepare me for what was to happen next.
A middle aged woman walks in, wearing jeans and a shirt. She has already caught my attention. She begins her story. She left her husband in Mumbai and returned to her hometown, Birbum, a small town not too far away from Kolkata. She began by setting up an artisan workshop to supply handicrafts to Government emporiums. Wanting to grow, 5 years ago, she took a motorcycle dealership. She is the sole dealer of the district now, does revenue of 25 crs and has grown the company’s business from 50 motorcycles per month in the district to 750 ! A few years later she setup a hotel. And now she wants to setup a clinic, with an investment of 3-4 crs.
Handicrafts, auto dealership, hotel and now healthcare,……I asked her why she was diversifying so much ? She said: “Arent the Tatas a diversified company, so why not me?”. She added, “I need to put managers in each of my businesses, which I do, but I have to keep growing”.
We talked about the investment and the profitability of the Clinics model. I explained to her that it could take 2 years to break even. She said she will do it in 3 months ! And she added, “I don’t do business to make a loss. I am very clear that I will make it profitable in 3, max 6 months”. Her tone was not boastful. And she wasn’t speaking out of ignorance either. I quizzed her enough on the model and economics to figure out she knew what she was talking about.
Here was a woman, who could speak passable Hindi, practically no English but had the self confidence that is rarely seen. She was not intimidated by who I was. She gave me a firm handshake, spoke without hesitation and was not fidgety when I probed her. She was the Indira India needs more of.
Three things stood out – empowerment, self-confidence and economic independence. I don’t know which sequence they came in, and hence, what is the cause or the effect. Circumstance clearly played a role.
She is the empowered Hindustani woman we need in this country. Can’t we do something, in our own small locus of control, to be the trigger that creates more such empowered women? Can we create the circumstance that enables women to empower themselves ? How do we give women the self confidence that they can do what they dream and aspire to ? How do we give them the courage to dream, without forcing circumstance to make them do it ? I am still seeking answers to these questions.
Till then, Mrs Mukherjee, you are the Tata of the East for me !
We all should have this courage, motivation and confidence with the clear pathway. Nothing is impossible..
Circumstances yes. That is the way an individual would have created this. I think half the women would be liberated if boys from a young age could atleast make tea, maggi and it would be lord divine if they could pressure Cook and make food. Patriarchial attitudes are very difficult to break and women are not allowed to explore their potential. On the ground , Inheritance rights , property etc are issues which will help women have right to economic access and security. Reading this article bought back fond memories of a Japanese story called ” Oshin” on doordarshan if you were a 90s kid. The girl fights poverty and builds an empire for herself by untiring hardwork, I don’t know how many would remember . I used to adore the story as I used to sit and watch with aji. Kolkata is a great city and my time spent living there took me more to my history books than none another. Plassey , Victoria memorial , Bengal famine, murshidabad , belur math. A city of joy trying to breathe on its own but broken. I was elated when I took a tram in 5 taka from shyam bazar to esplanade. And the rickety metro to rabindra sadan. I am sure east India is a difficult wicket and more for women to make on their own. I did brood when I walked on a ” Rash” behari road ( was he the revolutionary or do I pronounce it rosh or he was a Bengali who drove rashly in kalighat ). I shut down these intellectual questions when the lovely pabda sorshe , misthi doi, rajbhog and a long warm langcha ( Bengali sweet) melted and settled in my tummy. Oh where are hand driven cart men I saw in pather panchali.