As destiny would have it, Naila, (my protagonist) somehow managed to get her foot clamped to a job that involved travelling to remote Cement or Steel industry sites and working in a completely male dominated work environment. Needless to mention the presence of a middle-aged woman on site, with a safety helmet, workman’s shoes and industrial grade safety goggles, always turned heads. (She would have been flattered to receive this kind of attention for another reason!). It was also looked upon with scorn (why can’t she just stay home and look after the family? What is she trying to prove?). Naila was often bombarded with caustic remarks and technically grueling queries in discussions, an attempt to show her, her place. A group of foremen, workers and operators often gathered below to see if Naila could climb the industrial staircase to 50 feet without feeling dizzy or panting. But Naila survived this kind of attention, every time! She continued to travel on trains at odd hours, interact with strangers at various sites, and it all just kept on making her better. It was her sheer grit, and zeal to learn more and be an equal in a man’s world. She often wondered, did ‘work’ have a gender?
Then there was one such visit for a technical audit of equipment operating with obsolete technology. The Customer expected a miracle to come about at near nothing expense. Naila had earned her medal of respect already, after the authorities had seen her work, but she was still not at ease. The technical Director had not given his concurrence to the equipment upgrade scheme, and hence the papers had not moved. A principled knowledgeable man, Mr. Bhanu Sen wanted a one-on-one with Naila before giving a go-ahead. That was going to be the acid test. What more was there to be explained? All the presentations were delivered, schematic drawings submitted, and battery limits of the scope, frozen. The talk was small, crisp, to the point. At the end of the 10 minutes, Mr. Bhanu was smiling, unworried. A cup of coffee helped Naila to relax too. It was a win.
Walking her to the door, Mr. Bhanu shook her hand warmly with genuine admiration in his eyes. ‘This work will be done only by you’, he declared, ‘not because you were the best at work, or because of the price factor, but because of your dauntless perseverance and earnest desire to search for the answer to our problems. Your sincerity gives us confidence’. ‘Remember just these 2 things always, “dost” (that nickname of regard stuck on forever between them, later), he cared to share.
It was dark outside already, but her heart was all lit up. Naila walked down the spiral marble staircase leaving dusty shoe-marks. A white Ambassador car was waiting to take her back to the Guesthouse. She would wash her hands and head straight to the dining hall, where her team was waiting.
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