‘Even if it hurts, one should listen to the other side’

(I bring to you three stories of people who fought odd to stand tall!)

I had never imagined that a phrase that often my grandfather said, ‘someone’s loss is somebody’s profit and someone’s profit is somebody’s loss but at a cost’ would become part of my life. My name is Bharathi Navi born in a village Bableshwar, North Karnataka with five siblings (three girls and two boys). I don’t have any memories of my father, as he died before a child could understand the existence of fatherly figure. I might seem overtly aggressive in this view because may be father could have helped to have different phrase in my life. His unavailability and mistake of being born in a caste of Hadpad or Navi (barbers) education was given least preference for anyone in the family. I could barely study till third standard and in the name of poverty home became everything till the age of fourteen. People talk on child labor, but just stopping it wouldn’t solve the problem. I know the value of survival and the option for the family to progress that each of us was needed to step out of home to make bread for each day. Some communities are against woman stepping out and some favor it.

At the age of fourteen I was engaged and married by the beginning of fifteen. Within six months of marriage my husband with joy accepted good news of pregnancy. It was past six months of pregnancy, lost my husband in a mysterious death. I was too young to understand that it was mysterious death as several things happened in less than two years. The death seemed only mysterious on learning that my own brother and sister-in-laws wanted to marry me to another man as they wanted to part the property. After several months I learnt that my own brother and sister-in-laws strangled and proved by bribing authorities that husband death was natural one.

Trouble began soon after refusal of marrying second time inspite trying to justify the reasons behind. Firstly, I didn’t get desired happiness (long-term time) from husband marry didn’t seem a good option immediately. Secondly, my mother would become orphan as brother was eyeing in parting away from the property and wouldn’t take care. Thirdly, proposals were only from married or divorced men, wondered if they could be happy with me, as they weren’t with the first wife.

While a woman transits from married to widowhood there is a new era that created for one. I call them as B.M. (Before Marriage) and P.M. (Post Marriage) as things drastically change. Firstly, family and some people in community see widow beautifying through flowers, make-up, and red dot on forehead as a unacceptable. Secondly, there aren’t any invitations to attend function within family and away. Life of women’s is based on B.M. and P.M., an era that only women’s are gifted by traditions and communities.

My non-negotiable acceptance to marry another man began a true journey of Post Marriage. My brother and sister-in-laws also made a non-negotiable decision to starve me to death. Neighbours would come with a piece of bread (roti) in pretext of talking. I would hide it inside the blouse and take a small bite without opening mouth so that it went unnoticed. In some cases family members were away for days, women’s who visited other house for nursing were given rice and I would have food out of such collected rice.

My persistent effort for several months made a neighbor notice and it was silver lining to get help and justice from legal authorities. This ensured to get a roof above but bread was still a concern to earn with a baby in arms. I couldn’t have left baby alone with fear of in-laws or brother (though they didn’t live together) motive to create another mysterious death. I had to convince mother to let me work and she take care of the child. For first three years I worked at construction sites with contractors. It wasn’t a pleasant experience as widowhood brings back all those moments that a lustful man aspires from a woman. There were no unsaid incidents but attempts were several. Construction sites were mostly domain of men, this male orientated work culture often arose that included whistling at passing girl or women, sexual joking that often invited for sex. I didn’t dare to express to mother as it might motivate her to demotivate me from working. Next seven years worked as a vegetable vendor with very few notable incidents but escaped from the clutches of evil eye. Street vendor’s have several challenges that buyer’s would never understand, as I saw both sides of coin. This pushed me to take up a job as sales girl in one of local famous showroom for next nearly three years.

Everyone has a calling but sometime we don’t give a heed to it. My friend wanted to get facial and eyebrows set at a well-known parlor in the local town. I was seated in a corner as an observer to realize that the beautician made lot of money for few minutes. Whereas I worked for entire day with great humiliation from owner and customers end up earning meager amount. This thought triggered to introspections, a question ‘Why did I not pursue a career in beautician being from a community of Navi?’ that helped to listen the calling! My mother was against fashion and women fond of fashion items. A widow dreaming to be a beautician was seen as a sin in the community.

I met Mrs. Sundaram a local well-known beautician for training; she did agree to train at a cost of ten thousand rupees. The training cost was more than I could afford but requested for installments basis for the payment. Unfortunately it didn’t last because she engaged and mentored in English. In search of learning, someone suggested to approach Mrs. Mamta, she mentored learner’s in vernacular languages. She worked out to be less expensive than the former. Getting mentored under her was blessing in disguise, as had lost one eye and this hindered to accept clients that wanted get eyebrows done. All those clients became my clientele. In free time she taught me alphabets of English that helped to learn a new language. The real testing time was starting own beauty parlor. With no help from moneylenders and bank it looked difficult to scale-up. Mamta suggested me to approach RUDSETI (Rural Development and Self Employment Training Institute), which offered focused thirty days training for beautician management that helped to understand the nuisances of running an own business. Training helped me to realize the reasons behind for unable to attract more customers and challenges of retaining the existing customers. Apart from it insights of etiquettes’ such as self-presentation, savings, customer concern and care, technical knowledge of products and mannerism were given through resource people. Among all these etiquette’s I continue to follow one important is Milly (Most Important Lesson’s Learnt Yesterday). This has helped me to evolve as a promising beautician and a humble person.

RUDSETI along with couple of banks collaboration helped me to get a loan. I knew people are observing and waiting to see me fall! I wanted to win their hearts and pass a message that ‘a bird on the tree isn’t depended on tree itself but on its strength.’ From the loan I purchased furniture, promotions were done using an auto in the local area, invited people for inauguration. This step ensured guests to realize my potential. Word of mouth is best way of reaching customers and it worked very well for me. Milly helped me to understand the reasons behind some customers walking away, some expected the beautician to be modern dressed and while some wanted to see always smiling face. I realized that grace on face could attract customers. I ensured to provide desired quality of the customer, sold USP of Navi community (Unique Selling Point) – there is a belief that by getting cut or trimmed your hair from Navi people would ensure to optimal growth of hair and the another belief is cut hair a day before Amavasha day.

In order to engage the customers for more than beauty parlor, I began parallel business such as blouse stitching, sales of saree and other accessories in the same store. This helped to know various people and business moved into a bonding between my work and customers. This eventually lead to add more dimensions to my career, Congress party identified this inner calling and made me as a District President of Jal Nagar. Today I realize that the very people that hated me are now awe of me.

Author’s Milly: During interaction a Milly that we learnt was, how inhumane we are at times that we don’t help or empathize to our family and neighbors. ‘Even if it hurts, one should listen to the other side.’

– Written by Santosh Avvannavar, CCO, QtPi Robotics I Author of She: Ekla Cholo Re I TEDx Organiser and 7times TEDx speaker I Softskills Trainer