Women who chose unconventional careers and… succeeded!

Here are a few stories of women who chose unconventional careers and succeeded moving past all odds and proving everyone around them, wrong!

“I was 24 when my uncle came across an ad by the Mumbai Fire Brigade– they were looking to hire their very first batch of female officers. My father excitedly encouraged me to apply! He said, ‘What an opportunity this is for women!’ I applied thinking it would be a 9-5 office job. It never struck my mind that women were meant to serve as firefighters– I had only ever seen male firefighters in movies! But when I arrived at the centre, I saw the fire fighters swing into action and leave in a fire truck in less than 60 seconds, I was inspired! I was an athlete in school and aced my physical tests! 10 of us were selected to be part of the first batch; my parents were ecstatic! I always wanted a career that was challenging; one where I could give back! And firefighting checked all these boxes for me– I was raring to go! I was always the first to turn up for drills like dealing with heavy water hoses and lifting dummies twice my weight! I’d do pushups and wake up early to practice in the storeroom so I could be at par with the men! Our officers would tell us, ‘Hard times don’t create heroines. It’s during the hard times when the heroines within us are revealed!’ I remember my first fire call; a temple where the ceiling had collapsed. The cement was wet and a woman was stuck in it. I had to react quickly as the cement was drying. I was able to drag her out! After the mission, her mother cried and thanked me! In 2018, I had a close shave with death during the Crystal Tower fire. I saved 13 people and two pregnant women. I was on the 12th floor and the fire was spreading quickly. I saw an old lady lying on the floor. Somehow, I dragged her out before the ceiling collapsed; she survived! But the best part of my profession is that the people I rescue never forget me. Once at a function, a lady I saved recognized me and said, 'I’m alive because of you!’ Through it all, my family has always been supportive! Never did they pressure me to get married. In fact, they’d tell my brothers, ‘Get inspired and serve like your brave sister!’ When I decided to find suitors, I wasn’t ‘womanly’ enough for a lot of them. I’d be asked, ‘Will you quit your night shift?’ and ‘If you serve outside, who will serve the home?’ I was glad when I finally met a man who told me, ‘I wish I was brave enough to do what you do. I’ll always support your dreams.’ We got married in 2016, and a year later, I gave birth to a baby boy. While I’m on duty, my parents or husband take care of him. I'm afraid of the reality that one day I can lose my life in a fire; every firefighter lives with that thought. But when I’m saluted by children when I walk out in my uniform, I feel more proud than scared. And I want other women to feel that too; that they can create their own path. We all have the fire within ourselves to be who we want to be… we just need to strike the match.”

I grew up watching my mom work & take care of the house after my dad passed away. Seeing her, I resolved to be independent too. I worked before getting married & continued after. But it was difficult to manage full-time work with my kids & home, so I took up odd jobs. Then, I read in the paper that women could have taxi permits too. The opportunity was too good! So I passed the driving test & bought a taxi with my own money. My husband was very supportive & said, ‘This taxi is under your name, you need to learn how to drive it!’ Within a few months, I joined the fleet. I remember my first trip from Lower Parel to Worli, with 2 ladies. I was nervous they’d judge my driving; instead they were shocked! They’d never seen a female taxi driver–one of them got me chocolate after the ride! Soon things got harder. Some men in the union tried to ensure I got no passengers. They’d stop their taxis in front of mine & question my skills. 15 days in, I was struggling to make a U-turn around a pothole; so one of them loudly asked, ‘If you can’t get the basics right, how will you ever drive?’ It shattered my confidence & I cried for hours! But another driver encouraged me to prove them wrong & not let their words stop me! That’s what kept me going–no matter how bad things got, there were always those who supported me; whether it was family, other drivers or even a stranger! Once, an elderly man got into my taxi & said, ‘In my village I’d heard that women are making progress in cities; but this is the first time I’ve witnessed it. Seeing you drive makes me proud!’ At the end of the trip, he gave me Rs. 20! Another time, a passenger was so impressed that she interviewed me, which led to newspaper articles & an appearance on a show. Once, a policewoman wanted to take a selfie with me! Her daughter had told her about me. I was so happy! It’s been 3 years now & driving this taxi has put me in the driver’s seat of my life–allowing me to be strong & self-sufficient. It’s funny how this started over a debate. My husband & I were discussing the roles of men & women, when I told him, ‘A woman can do everything that a man can.’ We placed a bet to see who’d win–looks like I did!”

“I used to be a housewife. My husband earned a meagre salary as a railway coolie; most of which was spent by him on alcohol. Whatever was left was never enough for me and our 3 children. Every day he would come home drunk, and beat me. I would clench my teeth, and bear it– I had no one to complain to. I don’t know how right it is to say this, but perhaps God understood my plight, and took my husband away a few years ago. But I wasn’t educated, and had to fend for my kids– I had no idea what to do. But to my surprise, a few days after his death, my husband’s job was offered to me. I was skeptical at first because I had never seen a woman coolie; I would be the only female amongst 50 males! How would I manage? But what choice did I also have? I had to do what was right for my kids and their future–I made up my mind and took the job. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about – the men have been really kind and encouraging; like family. People often hesitate to ask me to carry their luggage, and are amused that I’m a woman coolie. But I just smile and carry on with my work. And whenever I have stressful thoughts, I’ve learnt to drop it and take a break when it gets too heavy, just like my customers’ baggage!”

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