India, one woman at a time

By: Arti Patel
I had spent almost a month in India over the holiday break.

It was my first visit since seven years and this time I had the essentials. I had my notebook so I could jot down what I saw, how I felt and what I could tell people when I got home. I had my camera so I could be snapping away at everything I saw and even fulfilling peoples’ wishes to be photographed.

What I saw in India this year has to be one of the best experiences in my life so far. The culture, the values, the traditions and such a diverse atmosphere makes it so different from what I am used to in Toronto.

One thing that stood out for me, living in a highly populated city of Navsari in Gujarat, a state in India, was how women were seen in the work force. To my western eye, all I saw were women working at home as the housewives and there was, as I imagined, a lot of this. But what I didn’t expect is how much time, effort and commitment women put into their jobs and how these jobs were the foundations of the whole family.

Across the street from me was a beauty parlour called “Princess Beauty Parlour.” I had gone in, obviously amazed at how much money I would be spending to get something like my eyebrows threaded (which is quite popular in India) and how it could cost about $0.50. What I was more fascinated about was the owner of the store. She was a woman of independence and pride. She told me she had been working in the beauty industry since she was an early teenager and was kicked out of her home because she decided to have a career. She travelled from Dubai to India, learning the art of makeup and mastering it when she got home in Navsari. Today she runs her own beauty parlour, has a beauty certificate program and is the only working person in her household. She has three children, one who works with her and the other two who go to college in Mumbai. She pays for it all. She started this business on her own and continues to support her family.

Two other women I met sold fish along the crowded streets of Dhargar Road in Navsari. She came about four times a week, carrying in her arms a bucket of fish guts and a scale while having a trail of dogs following her scent. She always brought her daughter-in-law with her, because she was now part of the family business. She told me she was also the only one in her family who had a job and because of this she had to provide for her whole family. She was used to the smell of fish, used to angry customers but most of all, used to getting the job done.

I was so inspired by these women and more as I wandered around the city, trying to blend in with the never ending crowd of women in colourful sarees. Even though I saw many women who stayed home and took care of children, I felt at peace when I was proven wrong.


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