Maami has an idea – 2
And so they came, Jayati, Archana, Susila, Shanti, Kanakavalli, Malati, Sobiya, Nisha and Rakhee (the last two were Rohit and Reena’s mothers)… dinner cooked, dirty dishes in the sink and preparations for the next day pushed aside for an hour. Dinner with their families would have to wait… for maami’s idea beckoned… creating a tiny flutter in their hearts and perhaps, a sense of impending freedom. For after all, wasn’t she the wisest person in the chawl?
The men were amused and sought to linger close to the group but were shooed away by some stern remarks from maami. The day-night match between India and the West Indies seemed more exciting and so the menfolk retreated… after all, what would a bunch of gossiping women be up to? Ramya and Nitya sat on the steps… wondering what their mother had up her sleeve.
“I heard that argument between you and Joyda,” began maami, addressing Jayati. “And I understand that you are frustrated because you are educated but are not allowed to work. I have a solution not only for you but for every woman sitting here.”
“What is it, maami, I’m so excited… are we planning something against the men?” asked Nisha.
“Then, please involve me as well… I have a game plan… why should women always suffer,” started Ramya and maami immediately cut her short with a, “Nobody wants an activist here…. Ramya, this is not another of your demonstrations!” Ramya scowled but did not say anything in reply… no amount of slogan-shouting at morchas would prepare her for a confrontation with her mother. So she decided to keep quiet, at least for a few minutes.
“The other day, one of maama’s friends came home and I gave him some home-made murukku that I made by hand. He liked it so much that he suggested I make and sell them to the stores in the Sitabuldi market where there is a huge demand for snacks. I did not take his suggestion seriously. But now when I saw Jayati’s frustration, an idea came into my mind. Why not pool all our talents together and start a small home-based enterprise? We could make different types of snacks, pickles, chutneys and powders and sell them to the shops under our own label.”
“How can we do all that? Where do we have the time for it?” blurted out Susila.
“We have 24 hours in a day. Are we busy all this time? What do you do after the children go to school at 7am? Finish your chores and gossip… why not utilise that time to do something productive and supplement the family income?” asked maami, a bit indignant at Susila’s tone.
“Archana makes delicious pickles and chutneys, Kanakavalli and I can make the South Indian snacks, Nisha and Rakhee are famous for their sweets and cakes, Shanti’s makes masala powders for different types of cuisine while Sobiya is so good with her crochet work and make beautiful bags and purses.”
“And what will I do?” asked Jayati, her eyes brimming with tears. After all, it was her ‘fight’ that led to maami’s outpouring of ideas.
“Arre, Jayati, you will be our team leader. When will your M.Com honours come into use? You will manage the administrative and financial part of it. You will help in applying for the licence… and other stuff.”
Jayati was thrilled. But she had a practical mind and so plenty of questions came up. “So will we go selling door to door? Who will take the orders? Who will deliver them? What about the initial capital?”
“Yes, yes, all these are very relevant questions. No, we will not sell door to door. We will spend the initial few weeks going to shop to shop with our samples and taking small orders. We will send samples through our husbands to their offices. We will participate in small exhibitions. For taking orders and delivering stuff, we will ask the pool of auto drivers at Rani Jhansi square. We’ve known them for decades now. We can work out a financial arrangement with them. We can utilise the empty garage in front of the chawl for this purpose. As for the initial capital, I suggest we pool in two thousand rupees each. Maybe, we can look at a loan later under the Cottage Industries scheme.”
Since it was maami at the helm of affairs, the consensus came quick. Every woman had her personal stash of money saved from household expenses kept as a buffer. This could be utilised for their own empowerment. It was agreed that the work would be done when the children would be away at school and they nodded in agreement, when maami said, “Time management is very important!”
The women became animated and voiced their thoughts aloud. But maami shushed them again, “Wait, there’s more!”
“What else, maami, is there more we can do?” asked Archana, wondering about other ways to supplement her income beyond charged telephone calls and a women’s enterprise.
“Yes, we can do more. And this time, we will not be taking anything back. Jayati, I was thinking of starting classes for children in the nearby slum, maybe four times a week. You, Archana and Rakhee are the most educated of the lot. I can also accompany you for help. Giving back to society is also important.”
The women agreed and thus the process of receiving and giving… began in a tiny little chawl in the bustling city of Nagpur.
But wait, where did the men of the chawl figure in all this? What would their reactions be? Maami was ready for all the questions, bickering and sarcasm…