‘The capability of the individual matters. Not the gender. As a woman you need to have the confidence that your gender cannot hold you back.’
—Meena Ganesh, former CEO of TESCO Hindustan Service Centre
How does an item girl tackle sexual harassment at her work place? Why does a highly paid woman software engineer pay a dowry? Breast pumps and BlackBerry phones … do they go together? When a woman focuses on her career, does she lose out as a wife and a mother? Is there a female model of achievement as distinct from a male one?
These and other similar questions are explored in Unbound: Indian Women @ Work through a series of interviews conducted by the author with women from all walks of life and from different parts of the country. Icons like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon Ltd, and Meena Ganesh, former CEO of TESCO Hindustan Service Centre, rub shoulders with Rachel the hair designer and Sumathi the call-centre employee who comes from a family of domestic helps. Women engineers discuss insidious gender discrimination and working mothers speak of the difficulties of balancing motherhood and work.
The stories in this book are of real women who spoke out candidly about their concerns—their families, their love lives and marriages, their victories and defeats. Together they provide a valuable guide to the brave new world of today’s women professionals.
In an article she wrote in 2013, author and journalist Gita Aravamudan mentions this book’s genesis. After writing “Disappearing Daughters: the tragedy of female foeticide”, she wondered why women were so unwanted, despite being talented and able.
The reason, she found, was that they were perceived as economic burdens. She then had the idea of writing about women who generated wealth.
The result was Unbound: Indian Women @ Work, a book that presents a comprehensive overview of Indian working women who live in Tier-1 cities.
Aravamudan interviewed women between the ages of 25-50, one of the exceptions being a 97-year-old doctor. Most were middle-class women from the metros Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Chennai.
They included journalists, doctors, entrepreneurs, teachers, salesgirls, beauticians, software engineers, item girls, chefs, and actors—ordinary women with great grit and grace.
Some were well-known, such as Biocon Ltd chairman and managing director Kiran Mazumdar Shaw; former CEO of Tesco Hindustan Service Centre Meena Ganesh; Radhika Bordia, NDTV journalist; VJ Sophie; and talk show hostess Lolakutty.
The stories of these women give you different perspectives across various fields, classes, social structures, and industries. They also shed light on some lesser-known conflicts, archaic laws, and legal impediments working women face.
Regardless of their work or wages, women have to contend with many common issues, such as family support, domestic commitment, marriage, dowry, bearing and rearing children, safety at work, and discrimination.
This book shows how women are achievers and wage earners, despite these innumerable impediments. It reveals the positive changes at workplaces and in society as well as the areas where progress is lacking.
Aravamudan’s extensive research also brings forth what she calls a ‘feminine pattern of achievement’, wherein people consider their domestic responsibilities and professional commitment equally important.
Although I had heard of Aravamudan and read some of her articles, I was not familiar with her books. I ordered this book under the impression that it was part of a series about Indian women called Unbound.
I realized I was wrong when I was reading Unbound by Annie Zaidi, the book I thought was the first in the series.
I do not regret buying hard copies of either. I am always interested in reading about Indian women pursuing careers. After all, I am one of them.
As Aravamudan mentions in this book’s preface, the unbinding of middle-class Indian women happened gradually. It went rather unnoticed until its impact reached far and wide. As a woman journalist who experienced it, she was able to document its impact skilfully.
The book could have been much better in structure and language had it been edited well. However, I appreciate the effort that went into its research.
It provides you with a lot of information and snags your interest with real-life stories. The writing style is simple and easy to comprehend. Yet, it reads like a long article or descriptive thesis.
Although it is repetitive at places, I didn’t mind it so much because I read it over a long period starting from last year.