THE WRESTLER DIVYA KAKRAN, 18, UTTAR PRADESH
My family is originally from Purbaliyan, a village just a few miles east of Salawa. That is where my father learnt wrestling from my grandfather. My older brother Dev and I were very young when we moved to Gokulpur in Delhi.
Our financial situation was really tight back then; my mother stitched langots (cotton loin-cloth worn by male wrestlers) and my father sold them at dangals. As a five-year-old, I started accompanying my father and brother to akharas in Gokulpur. There, I began imitating other wrestlers, and that is when my father realised my true potential.
`THE REVOLUTIONARY ROAD “Kushti has always been a men-only sport. As a girl, it’s certainly not easy to challenge boys and leave them pinned down, but I wasn’t ready to give up. Society has always been, might always be, of the opinion that girls are not meant to practise a not-so-dainty art like wrestling. But it’s as if they don’t want women to progress lest they overtake the boys. “There have been times when fathers bribe officials, just so that their sons don’t lose against me. At one instance I won thrice against one such boy, but the referee claimed it wasn’t clean. Finally, the boy got tired, and the referee declared a draw.
THE TIMES OF CHANGE
“Once, my father’s wares were stolen during a train journey. I promised him that we’d go to every dangal we could and win back the money. I managed to make 65,000/- in a span of three months. “I was initially under a lot of pressure, also because I had to prove my physical prowess to the villagers. Not anymore. If I start considering myself inferior to my male opponent or be bothered when he pulls my T-shirt, I’ll lose the game. My family has done a lot to support my career, especially Dev, who dropped out of school and gave up his wrestling career to focus on mine. Dev is now my key sparring partner at the Guru Premnath Akhara in north Delhi, where I train. “As far as society is concerned, there has been a noticeable change after I bagged the gold medal at Asian Cadet Wrestling Championship 2015. Women are increasingly stepping into the akhara. But families must give their daughters a change to identify their talent and nurture it, be it wrestling or something else “Of course, there are occasions when I want to be the girl-next-door, like other girls of my age. I want to go to the movies, dress up and grow my hair, but at this point, it’s important for me to focus on my dream to become an Olympian. Making my country proud is far more important to me than those smaller joys. For now, I’m preparing for the World Championships 2016.”
-As told to Priya Chaphekar
ON THE BOUNCE
MEHRUN NISHA, 29, NEW DELHI
I always wanted to join the Indian Army and even was a cadet in the National Cadet Corps through my college. But my father was never encouraging, not even keen on getting my sisters and I educated. It was with my mother’s support that I did my MA in Hindi. My father was to marry me off at 17, but I fell sick and my younger sister was married off instead. By the time I recovered, my father’s business ran into loss and we shifted from Saharanpur to Delhi for better opportunities in life. I began working as a sales person, but it didn’t pay well. “Then, someone informed me about a vacancy for a part-time job at the Jamia Millia Islamia College. I did not even know then what a bouncer meant and went for the interview assuming I had to conduct surveys. There, I was asked to stand at the gate of the college, and I almost walked out of there thinking they wanted a gatekeeper. But someone explained to me that I was to be a bouncer, to ensure the safety of women on the campus, so I stayed.
BOLD IN HER BEING
“After working with a few event management companies as a bouncer, I now work with a University during the day and at a pub in Hauz-Khas in the evening. My job at the pub involves forbidding any illegal drugs inside while ensuring the safety of women. I love my job and am very proud of what I do. Now, both my sister Tarannum and I work as bouncers. “But I had never known any female bouncers, so I would watch how male bouncers walked, talked, what they ate, etc., and I walked like them, with my chest wide out, arms on the sides of my body. At first, people made fun of me but I never cared; I never liked being considered delicate, anyway.
THE FLIGHT OF A LITTLE FAITH
“My father does not really disapprove of my job as a bouncer. It may be partly because I was his favourite among all his kids and partly because we needed the money. But of course, he still rambles about living off his daughters. To that, I tell him that there is not much difference between sons and daughters, and to have some faith in his daughters like he does in his sons. Women can do everything men can do. Am I not a living example of it? After all, I earn well enough with these two jobs to buy things for myself and manage the house expenses, too.”
-As told to Anisha Suvarna
THE WOMAN IN BLUE
MITHALI RAJ, 33, HYDERABAD
Cricket was literally a wake-up call for me. I used to be a pampered child and so hated getting up in the morning, so my dad put me into cricket to inculcate that discipline in me. I began playing the game at the age of 10. Added to that, my brother, who used to play cricket at school level, dragged me with him to the grounds every morning for practice sessions. “My brother’s camp was an exclusively boys’ team. But being the only girl there, I used to get many privileges, including a preference in the order of batting, which was almost always first. That must have created the enthusiasm in me, for I felt a rush to play well even back then. This is probably what got my parents and coach to lead me into professional cricket.
THE GENDER MIND GAPS
“It took a long while for my relatives to accept the fact that I am in a highly male-dominated profession. In fact, it had upset my grandparents immensely because, as a traditional South Indian family, they were naturally tuned to think about my marriage before anything else. They had even tried to discourage me from pursuing cricket because they worried that I would find none to marry if I did. Of course, those were difficult times, and it hurt deeply. “Thankfully, my parents shielded me from all that negativity, not letting any of it hamper me in any manner. “But I strongly believe that playing a male-dominant sport shouldn’t change you anyway as a person or in your outlook, especially for the sake of acceptance from society. Because with success comes acceptance. And so it was in my case. Today, my relatives accept my profession and are quite happy with the level of success I have achieved in it.
THE POWER RING OF SUCCESS
“Being a cricketer demands one to be out on the field and under the sun for about seven hours. Among other things, that means you get tanned—a big no-no for traditional Indian families because it is not something people see as a natural outcome of sports. “But, thanks to the kind of popularity women’s cricketers have gained in the recent past, things have also turned around. If you play good cricket, you will be looked after; it’s just a matter of accepting that women’s cricket is a career oriented, lucrative sport. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it’s a good time for women’s cricket in India.”
-As told to Poonam Ahuja
HOT ON THE TRAIL
BHAVNA PALIWAL, 39, NEW DELHI
Bhavna, a private investigator and founder of the Tejas Detective agency, spends most of her time tailing ugly truths and unravelling bitter realities. But the sense of fulfilment waiting for her at the end of every case makes every chase worth the trouble.
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a detective. I was trained to be a journalist. But 15 days into my job as a reporter for a small publication in South Delhi got me bored. Around the same time, I spotted a recruitment advert by a detective agency. On a lark, I appeared for the interview and got selected. My family didn’t question my unusual career choice; those were difficult times for us and it was enough that I was financially independent. I was the only woman in my team, but fortunately, I never faced any discrimination. I realised that there are strengths that are unique to both men and women—women excel at extracting information and men are exceptionally good at long hours of surveillance. In 2003, I set up my own agency. Even today, 13 years since, there aren’t too many people who know of my professional identity.
GAMES OF SUSPICION
“On an average, I handle around seven cases a month. The bulk of my assignments these days come from parents seeking a prenuptial check on a prospective groom or bride for their child. A significant number of cases revolve around marital infidelity. I am often stupefied at the human callousness that unravels with each case, and the touching vulnerability of both men and women. But one of my most fulfilling moments as a detective was when I helped Delhi Police rescue a 13-year old girl from a trafficking racket in Orissa.
CLOAK AND DAGGER
“With each case, I end up in a different disguise—a socialite, an IT professional, a banker or sometimes a gossip-loving homemaker. Of course, the most exciting stint was when I posed as a domestic help—I did the dishes and mopped the floors in a house for 10 days before I nailed the suspect! I surreptitiously record conversations, click pictures, track chats and delve into private documents. I need to be ruthlessly intrusive to get to the facts, but don’t regret any of it. I cannot imagine being anything but a detective.”
-As told to Rajashree Balaram
HIGH ON SPIRITS
SHATBHI BASU, 55, MUMBAI
From penning the can’t go wrong book of cocktails and hosting in high spirits on a TV channel to heading ‘stir’, India’s first institution for professional bartending, and being the American whisky ambassador, Shatbhi Basu dons many hats. She tells us how she made her mark in a ‘men’s only’ profession.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
“About 35 years ago, there weren’t any hotel management courses. So I joined the Dadar Catering College. Initially, I wanted to learn to cook Chinese cuisine, but it turned out that professional kitchens then were not very happy with women invading their domain. So I quit and decided to work in restaurant operations. That’s when I discovered that my practical knowledge of the bar and making cocktails was quite poor, and that knowing a recipe was quite different from actually making a drink. It was also a time when not many international products were accessible. Bartenders already in business were not happy about sharing information or skills, and so learning was difficult. Hence, it became a challenge—as also my mission—to find out as much as possible and be as good as I could be in it. In fact, I learned to be a bartender after I became a manager.
“In the beginning, male bartenders were sceptical of my ability to make the ‘perfect drink’—there really were hardly any good, trained bartenders. But soon, they began accepting my techniques and creative ideas. It also helped that I willingly covered their shift when they needed to bunk. They went on to become my biggest allies. As for my customers, though the younger guys took their time to break the ice with me, older men and women loved to tell me how refreshing it was to see a smiling face. The women were definitely my champions.
THE COCKTAIL PROFESSION
“The reason cocktailing still remains a male-dominated field is the lack of awareness and exposure to bartending as a skilled profession. Moreover, societal attitude, skewed perceptions and family pressures still prevent the urban Indian woman from taking it up as a profession. I strongly believe that every society is patterned on its people. Its constant evolution depends on the changes we bring about in ourselves. So if we want to be accepted by the society, we should not be afraid to let them know that we choose to exercise our rights to make ‘unconventional’ jobs conventional.
A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
“There’s no secret to success—it’s all about passion because when you enjoy what you do, you find ways of extending yourself and striking the perfect balance. The trick is to give your 100 per cent and keep reinventing every time. That also helps get rid of the monotony that sets in after a point. Believe in yourself, visualise the future and keep learning. My tip for getting it right is to understand the palate of your customer and work towards getting the perfect balance of flavours, at an ideal temperature, in a really nice glass.”