Vaishali stood out in that crowd. She stood out with her large happy smile that
revealed a surprisingly clean (for her class) and white set of teeth. Her smile was
pleasant and motherly. She stood out for her skin too. Not exactly an unusual fair
but hers was a smooth natural hairless skin. She was the head mestri for a group
of 40 laborers.
All of them were women.
It was three years back. I was working on a leather export order. To personally
supervise the quality and design I decided to get into the thick of action and went
to Chennai to make sure these women understood the design.
The owner of the leather factory was a muslim. He had a brother in law who was
in charge of design and prototypes section. It was a shed roofed with asbestos. I
daily used to go there with a laptop, digital camera and Reliance phone for my
Trust me, sitting in asbestos shed during the
faint hearted. You would sweat your digestive juices out.
I fell in love with Vaishali on day one.
Vaishali spoke Tamil. I understand Tamil but cant speak. Razzaq spoke Hindi and
Tamil. My Hindi is extremely rusty. Razzaq understood neither Telugu nor English.
Vaishali never looked into my eyes. She always used Razzaq as the mediator.
On day three I guess, Razzaq was absent. Vaishali finished a prototype and just
placed on my table. I looked at it. Didnt like it.
I said, No. I showed the model to her and said No.
I need a clip on the back. The edges should be of light colored leather for contrast.
By the evening we grew comfortable. One thing I noticed about her was she did not
sweat while I soaked.
On fourth day she asked Telugu? I said Yes. She said in Tamil that she understands
Telugu but she cant speak Telugu properly. I told her that so is my case with Tamil.
Our deal was I will speak in Telugu and she will speak in Tamil and that we can
The women did a laborious and boringly repetitive job. The run starts around 9 in
the morning. All they have is a chai around 11. A twenty minute lunch break in the
afternoon and close of the shop at 6 in the evening.
On the next day she looked a little special. She wore a saree. Almost instinctively
I said Wow and smiled at her. She smiled back. She joined her women and they
Even after an hour when I was talking to her about a new design she was giggling.
Why are you laughing?
She looked back at her team. She covered her mouth still giggling. The team was
Whats the matter?
Those two girls think you look like a cinema hero.
Really? I looked at the girls. Those two girls covered their faces.
Stop this nonsense. Razzaq erupted. Get back to work.
But nothing stopped Vaishali from giggling till lunch.
Just around lunch she finished a design and placed it on my table. I didnt like it.
I also wanted to her work on two more prototypes. The lunch bell rang.
I will come back after lunch. She said.
I cant wait. You can bring your lunch here.
She said, No no, I will eat later. I explained my design to her.
She worked on the prototypes. Around four in the evening. One of the prototypes
came out just right.
Good. This is what I want. I said.
I took pictures and uploaded them to my laptop.
What is it? She asked.
Its a computer.
By the way, did you have your lunch?
I am sorry.
No no no. Thats alright.
You can bring your lunch here and have it.
Show me your lunch.
It was a double decker. Pickle and rice in one box. Curd rice in the other one.
Thats basically crap. Dont you cook?
She giggled again. She said that she cooked some curry in the morning but after
fixing boxes for her kids and husband nothing was left for her.
I got shocked.
You have kids?
She got shocked.
I am married.
How old are you?
And you have school going kids? You don’t look like that. You are actually
kind of good looking.
You dont have scars on your stomach.
She was little offended and covered her stomach with her saree.
Go ahead, eat your crap.
Are you married?
No. No girl is interested in me.
You are a liar. Girls will like you.
Aha. How do you know? Do you like me?
Will you marry me?
Shut up. I am married.
Lets see, what is your husband like? Handsome? Smart? Rich?
No. She said. I noticed sadness in her face. I realized she was not comfortable
talking about her husband.
What about your kids? Are they cute?
My son looks like my husband. My daughter is just like me.
Lets keep your daughter. We can sell your son to an orphanage.
She laughed hard for about a minute.
You are crazy.
Where does your husband work?
At the port. But not on all the days.
How much do your earn here?
Fuck! How much does your husband earn?
He doesnt give us any money.
What is this us thing? What does he do with his money?
He drinks a lot.
Nice pick. Not handsome. Not smart. Not rich. Drinks a lot. Ha!
She got offended again.
Next day I asked her.
So have you thought anything about it?
About coming with me.
Why are you teasing me?
By the way, I cant marry you. I can keep you.
She put her hands on her hips and gave me a strong stare. She waved her index
finger and uttered something and broke into a wild laugh. She ran and joined
Vaishali wakes up at 5 in the morning. She fights for four buckets of water with
about 60 other women. She fights for three jugs of drinking water with another
60 women. She wakes and make up her children for school. She manages to
cook a breakfast and lunch meanwhile getting herself ready for the job. She
leaves house around 8 AM. She takes two buses guarding herself from men
from 15 years to 55 years ogling at her,trying to touch her, making comments
at her. She works nine hours non stop at the leather shop. She reaches home
around eight in the night. She prepares dinner for the family. Once or twice
in a week her husband arrives in the midnight. If he arrives in a love making
mode, he rapes her once or twice. If he arrives in an asshole mode, he
which factories run, institutions spread and intellectuals feed.
Her greatness belittles me even today.
This post is dedicated with immense respect to the great Indian working