It wasn’t as easy for them as ‘she came, she saw and she conquered’; it was more like she fought, she established herself and dreams to conquer the world now. Ahead of International Women’s Day, CT got chatting with five young women of Kolkata who have dared to step into professions that are quintessentially considered male dominated. They are a determined and awe-inspiring lot. They comprise a firefighter, a cinematographer, a percussionist, a DJ and a bartender. Excerpts:
Has stepping up for yourself and altering how people perceive women professionals been easy?
Taniya Sanyal: Being the first woman firefighter in the Indian aviation industry was a dream come true for me. Since childhood, I aimed to do something out of the ordinary and it was this love for challenges that drew me to this profession. I’m fortunate to have supportive family, friends and colleagues. It’s nice to know that I’ve been able to break the glass ceiling. But we need more women in professions like these to make it count.
Tishya: It was not a pre-planned journey for me. I studied hospitality before becoming a DJ. But as luck would have it, there was a recession in 2009 when I graduated. I used to party a lot and that’s when a friend asked me to try out DJing. It was a challenge I took up because 10 years ago, there was hardly any woman DJ in Kolkata.
Why do you think there is this dearth?
Tishya: Event managers and club managers are sceptical about women DJs. It’s a strange mindset. The common perception is that we are just eye candies. It has been a difficult journey.
Tsalila, did you face any resistance when you decided to take up bartending?
Tsalila Sangtam: Handling my family was never an issue. But though there are many women around the world in my profession, the number is low in India, and even lower in Kolkata. Even the hotel had reservations about calling me a bartender and designated me as a bar associate. But slowly, people are opening up to the idea of a woman serving and mixing drinks at bars. I’ve also been promoted to the level of a bar captain. It makes me proud.
Are there many men working under you? How easily do they take to orders from you?
Tsalila: There are quite a few of them and I haven’t faced any problem. They are happy to help.
So, was it a smooth ride for you?
Tsalila: Initially, some mindset adjustments were required. Most people would consider me as someone meant for entertaining them. Now, things have become a lot easier. Also, with experience, I’m learning to deal with all kinds of guests.
Modhura, tell us about your journey of becoming a cinematographer.
Modhura Palit: My journey has been quite fun actually. I was the only girl studying cinematography across three batches in my film school.
So, were you the apple of everyone’s eye or the eyesore?
Modhura: Somewhere in between, I guess.
Were they curious about you taking up the course?
Modhura: Yes, they were. The general view was, ladki hain, kya kar legi? Cinematography is a job requiring extreme physical effort. I call it manual labour. There’s a lot of weight lifting and handling heavy equipment. It requires a lot of physical as well as mental strength. Primarily, I was trying to make others take me seriously at the institute. People do open up to accepting a woman cinematographer but at first, you invariably will be met with scepticism.
Did that mean some compromises?
Modhura: I didn’t want to forgo my gender specialities and become a tomboy. They had to accept me for who I am. After all, I do my craft well and that’s what I should be known for. There are many physical differences between men and women and we can’t do anything about that. For instance, I’m down four days a month and can’t help it. No matter how mentally strong I am, I’m unable to do things that require stamina during those days. I’m on my toes, but they too have to understand that I’m at a physical disadvantage then. Understanding how nature works, makes them respect you.
Respect is earned but doesn’t a lot depend on personal equations?
Modhura: It does, but when I’m on the floor with 50 people, I don’t know each one personally. I have to make them understand that I’m part of the team irrespective of my gender. My physical disadvantage should not be seen as a weakness.
Do you think it’s only the job of the women to create that space for understanding?
Modhura: Definitely not. Men should voluntarily come forward. But it’s a big ask from Indian men.
Why do you say Indian men?
Modhura: I’ve worked with men from France and Spain. They accept you readily. So, I felt this difference. At the institute, we had to carry weights during training. I used to carry double — 20 kg. It became a joke that the only girl would beat them in strength. The boys had their fun, but later, accepted that I’d won the challenge.
Rimpa, for women, their physicality often comes before their capability. Being a percussionist, did you face any such challenge?
Rimpa: I’ve been playing since my childhood and there’s a man behind my achievements — my
father. Initially, he had doubts, but later, he taught me a lot.
Is this because your father is a renowned percussionist?
Rimpa: Though he has always guided me, I left no stone unturned to excel.
Taniya, you had to go through intense physical training to become a firefighter. Tell us about it.
Taniya: Yes, I trained really hard. I didn’t look for an easy way out. But my physical parameters for running, ladder climbing and carrying weights differed from the men’s. It was tough.
Was it just the passion or an attraction of being the first woman firefighter that propelled you?
Taniya: There was a little pressure of successfully completing the physical training. But because I had the fire within me, I managed it well.
Rimpa, why do you opt for male clothing during performances?
Rimpa: It’s mostly for comfort. Saris are cumbersome. But yes, we can think over it.
Source: Times of India