This happened during the time I was working for a public sector insurance company. I was actively involved with the trade union in those days. The women’s day celebration of the union that year was given special emphasis that year because of the increase in the number of women employees in the company. In fact more than fifty percent of the staff was women and so the trade union had more things to fight for now. The days of the annual closing of accounts always warranted us spending more time in office and there would be a skirmish every other day when a lady employee had to stay back to finish an urgent schedule or something else. The overtime spend by the ladies in office was on the main agenda in the day’s discussion. There were umpteen suggestions on how the ladies should be compensated.
The discussion went on from one issue to the other, and the lady members were now getting restless. It was nearly six o’clock in the evening and it was a Saturday. I had had a tough time bringing them to the meeting on a holiday. Most of them were on ‘parole’ from their half-holiday duties with the family and wanted to return. After concluding the session, as organizing committee members, a few of us had the duty to accompany the members who stayed far away, to their homes. Their families were not in favor of their women attending a trade union function within family hours. It was hoped that the presence of senior persons like me would placate their spouses or in-laws and lighten their burdens for the evening.
I had a tough time at one or two places. One mother-in-law gave me a lecture on how women should confine themselves to their home and if she wanted to work, she should just work and come home. All this activity was unwanted in her eyes. I finally convinced her that if I heard more of her lecture, the rest of the group waiting in the taxi would find it hard to explain their late arrivals. At the next stop a husband literally blasted me in keeping all these ladies out at ‘unearthly’ hours. It was just 6.30 pm, for your information.
I finally went back and attended a ‘committee’ meeting where the issue of ‘late-sitting’ figured again. This time someone mentioned the software guys and gals and their plight and their lack of trade union support…The meeting was concluded at last and I was dropped home in a hired car by about 8.30 pm.
It was the weekend and guests were expected, so hubby and I left home to do a spot of shopping about 9 pm. The markets would be still open and the best bargains waiting, it being quite late hours. We did a merry round of shopping and came to the fish market area. There were lots of vendors there yet, in spite of the time being past 10 pm. I was just wrapping up my shopping when I saw heard a familiar voice in the crowd. It was a man’s voice and urging a fish vendor to include cutting the fish in the bargain he had managed to make. The fish vendor was arguing about the late hours and it was time they all went home. The man was urging that it would take just a few minutes for them to do it and it was only 10 pm and not midnight. He declined to hand over the money till the fish vendor cut the fish for him. It was then that the paradox of the situation struck me. The fish vendor was a woman in her early forties and the person arguing for the bargain was none other than the husband who spoke so vehemently earlier about our taking his wife out for trade union activities in ‘unearthly’ hours!
How we do forget to don others’ shoes when we point fingers, don’t we? As a freelance writer I work all sorts of unearthly hours now, but in the security of my home, and hence don’t look for a trade union’s support, but there are still millions of sisters in the unorganized sector out there working any hours that their dole- giver pleases to make them work. This story is dedicated to a moment of empathy with them
Suneetha is a writer by passion, profession and hobby. She writes fiction in English, poetry in her native tongue Malayalam and journalistic features in both. She can be contacted at email@example.com