On a wonderful woman

Today, I am going to rant about a couple of things I read some time back. And it is about women. I don’t know if all those Women’s Day messages and articles everywhere have got to me, but the feminist in me has demanded a post. And I am obliging her.

Before I shoot off, let me put up a disclaimer. I don’t intend to start any Mars-Venus debates here. I am just putting up something I came across and wanted to express my views on. Secondly, you might have heard of these things already. Being Late Kate as always, I heard of them now. So please bear with me. πŸ™‚

Here goes:

~ An excerpt from Sudha Murty’s book ‘How I taught my grandmother to read’, which has stayed with me in spite of my finishing reading the book a long time ago. Reading part of it again on the Net made me want to post it:

“It was a long time ago. I was young and bright, bold and idealistic. I was in the final year of my master’s course in computer science at the Indian Institute of Science [IISc] in Bangalore, then known as the Tata Institute. Life was full of fun and joy. I did not know what helplessness or injustice meant.

It was probably the April of 1974. Bangalore was getting warm and red gulmohars were blooming at the IISc campus. I was the only girl in my postgraduate department and was staying at the ladies’ hostel. Other girls were pursuing research in different departments of science. I was looking forward to going abroad to complete a doctorate in computer science. I had been offered scholarships from universities in the US. I had not thought of taking up a job in India.

One day, while on the way to my hostel from our lecture-hall complex, I saw an advertisement on the notice board. It was a standard job-requirement notice from the famous automobile company Telco (now Telco Motors). It stated that the company required young, bright engineers, hardworking and with an excellent academic background, etc.

At the bottom was a small line: “Lady candidates need not apply.” I read it and was very upset. For the first time in my life I was up against gender discrimination.

Though I was not keen on taking up the job, I saw it as a challenge. I had done extremely well in academics, better than most of my male peers. Little did I know then that in real life academic excellence is not enough to be successful.

After reading the notice I went fuming to my room. I decided to inform the topmost person in Telco’s management about the injustice the company was perpetrating. I got a postcard and started to write, but there was a problem: I did not know who headed Telco. I thought it must be one of the Tatas. I knew JRD Tata was the head of the Tata Group; I had seen his pictures in newspapers (actually, Sumant Moolgaokar was the company’s chairman then).

I took the card, addressed it to JRD and started writing. To this day I remember clearly what I wrote. “The great Tatas have always been pioneers. They are the people who started the basic infrastructure industries in India, such as iron and steel, chemicals, textiles and locomotives. They have cared for higher education in India since 1900 and they were responsible for the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science. Fortunately, I study there. But I am surprised how a company such as Telco is discriminating on the basis of gender.”

I posted the letter and forgot about it. Less than 10 days later, I received a telegram stating that I had to appear for an interview at Telco’s Pune facility at the company’s expense. I was taken aback by the telegram. My hostel mates told me I should use the opportunity to go to Pune free of cost and buy them the famous Pune saris for cheap! I collected Rs 30 each from everyone who wanted a sari. When I look back, I feel like laughing at the reasons for my going, but back then they seemed good enough to make the trip.

It was my first visit to Pune and I immediately fell in love with the city. To this day it remains dear to me. I feel as much at home in Pune as I do in Hubli, my hometown. The place changed my life in so many ways.

As directed, I went to Telco’s Pimpri office for the interview. There were six people on the panel and I realised then that this was serious business. “This is the girl who wrote to JRD,” I heard somebody whisper as soon as I entered the room. By then I knew for sure that I would not get the job. That realisation abolished all fear from my mind, so I was rather cool while the interview was being conducted.

Even before the interview started, I reckoned the panel was biased, so I told them, rather impolitely, “I hope this is only a technical interview.” They were taken aback by my rudeness, and even today I am ashamed about my attitude.

The panel asked me technical questions and I answered all of them. Then an elderly gentleman with an affectionate voice told me, “Do you know why we said lady candidates need not apply? The reason is that we have never employed any ladies on the shop floor. This is not a co-ed college; this is a factory. When it comes to academics, you are a first ranker throughout. We appreciate that, but people like you should work in research laboratories.”

I was a young girl from small-town Hubli. My world had been a limited place. I did not know the ways of large corporate houses and their difficulties, so I answered, “But you must start somewhere, otherwise no woman will ever be able to work in your factories. You are pioneers in many aspects of life. When I look at your industries, you are far ahead of other people. If you think this way, how will any lady ever enter this so-called man’s domain?”

“Training a candidate costs a lot to our company. You are of a marriageable age. After your training, you will leave this company and shift to wherever your husband works. Is it not a waste of money for us?”

I thought for a moment and replied, “I definitely agree with what you say. I am sure when many of you married, your wives came along with you. That has been our tradition. But is it also not true that many men undergo training, and just for a few more hundred rupees, they shift their jobs? You don’t have any rule for them. You can’t stop them.”

Finally, after a long interview, I was told that I had been successful in securing a job at TELCO.

Impressed. With a capital I. This incident, as well as several others in her books show what a wonderful woman Ms. Murty is. I myself have been asked the you-are-of-marriageable-age-what-if-you-leave-the-firm-when-you-get-married? question at several job interviews. Ms. Murty’s answer is so bold, and logical too.

The book contains the entire story, while part of it has been reproduced here.

~ Another thing that I read on the Net is that some feminists wish to make the English language gender-unbiased and propagate the use of words that convey gender equality. It has been proposed that the word ‘women’ be replaced by words like ‘womyn’, ‘wom!n’, ‘wimmin’ or ‘womben’. ‘Woman’ would be spelt ‘womon’ or ‘womun’. The inclusion of the word ‘man’ in the word ‘woman’ conveys the impression that women are dependent on men. The creation of a separate word for the female community empowers it and provides females an independent identity, distinct from men.

Moreover, language used in Law and other subjects is also proposed to be changed. Statements such as “A part owner can sell his part to another part owner.” would be changed to “A part owner can sell his/her part to another part owner.”

Does making a change in the language we have been using for ages make any sense? Why not be a ‘woman’ and prove yourself to be a ‘womyn’?

Check out this link for more details.

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13 Comments

Filed under Motivation, Musings, Reading Ramana, Sourced

13 responses to “On a wonderful woman

  1. D.K.Suriya

    Any proposed Plan for changing the word ‘She’ which includes ‘he’ in it ? πŸ™‚

  2. Good post. Agree with most points except a few. I particular ‘in real life academic excellence is not enough to be successful.’ Yes, of course, academic excellence is neither a sufficent nor a necessary condition to be succesful in life. Its pretty much widely accepted and demonstrated these days.

    And ‘You don’t have any rule for them. You can’t stop them.’ That is not a justifiable argument. Just because one can’t stop one error from occuring (which, in itself, is questionable as far as this situation is concerned), it doesn’t mean another error is permissible.

    The concluding words by you are very appropriate. What is there in a name? Changing woman to any other linguistically ‘independent’ word amounts to trivialising the issue. It would mean little to improve the situation.

    Sathej

  3. Murthys have been one of the great examples of what humbleness can do to people..and I hate to call them Murthys because each one of them have their own identities and greats ones too..I think you can easily make out how much I am impressed by them

  4. This is a wonderful excerpt. I remember reading is somewhere before many years ago…but I had forgotten it.
    And when it comes to changing various words or even negative connotations attached to some words (spinster vs bachelor) I think this will happen automatically when attitudes change. Changing or inventing new words is of no use and simply a superficial exercise.

  5. swat

    I read this wonderful excerpt long ago. Wonderful lady, isn’t she?
    Good post πŸ™‚

  6. That was a good read. Glad that you shared it here.

  7. priyaiyer

    @sn

    he he! i didn’t read anything to that effect. but, come to think of it, they might! πŸ™‚

    @sathej

    beg to differ with respect to ur second point. i myself hav been asked the same question by many employers and have hated it. what is the guarantee that a guy won’t leave the company in the lurch and move away, while a girl will when she gets married?

    @rambler

    the more i read of sudha murty, the more i get impressed. share your respect and admiration for them. πŸ™‚

    @nita

    hey! welcome back here! yep, agree with you completely.

    @swat

    danks! yep, she is a lovely lady. so bold and honest. would loooooooooooove to meet her once. πŸ™‚

    @hari

    thanks. glad u liked it. πŸ™‚

    @

  8. Point taken, Priya πŸ™‚

    Sathej

  9. priyaiyer

    @sathej

    danks! πŸ™‚

  10. Nithya Sivashankar

    I read this πŸ™‚ Sudha Murty rocks !

  11. priyaiyer

    @niths

    yep, she does! πŸ™‚

  12. Sriram

    there are tons of answers to such q’s ranging from ‘if the job’s good enough i obv will tell hubby dear i wont move’ to ‘i’ll make sure to hunt for a hub locally’ next time someone asks such questions, tell them they’re plain retarded – & if you have the balls publish the name of the firm online & shame them.

  13. priyaiyer

    @sriram

    :)) good answers.

    i dont want to make my blog tehelka.com, so will refrain from doing that.

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