The first time I looked at her, I just kept looking for few seconds with eyes wide open. There wasn’t anything extraordinary about her. Spotless white uniform, grey hair neatly tied into a bun, a simple look with not even a trace of makeup, yet she looked graceful and radiant in her own right.
She was the lady traffic controller at the traffic signal near my office.
We had recently relocated from Delhi to Mumbai. I was anyway dealing with a sea of cultural change; however, a lady traffic controller was a sight I don’t remember having witnessed in Delhi. The first day I saw her, I called up my husband after reaching office.“You know what, they have lady traffic controllers here!” I told him with enthusiasm and surprise. He seemed equally surprised. We briefly discussed how it would be if we started having the same in Delhi. Delhi is already known to be very unsafe for women and almost every rash driver has his HiFi links protecting him. Even if they have women traffic controllers in Delhi, I wonder if people would let them do their work in peace. Being born and brought up in Delhi, I knew that women traffic controllers would just become new eye candies and who knows the brats would break rules just to strike a conversation with a good looking lady traffic controller.
I thought of telling her this and asking about her opinion, perhaps know more about her and how she manages this predominantly men’s job. But, fearing that she might get offended, I decided to stay mum.
Few months passed like that. She became a part of my daily commute to work and often, when I crossed the signal on foot, I gave her a smile which she promptly reciprocated. My appreciation for her grew more on a particular morning when the signal lights stopped working due to some technical default. Her male colleague might have gone to check the matter as she was alone. There she was, managing a chaotic and busy traffic signal, sans traffic lights all by herself, that too during peak office hours! For a moment, I stood nearby, impressed by the discipline she maintained, for not even a single person dared disobey her orders.
I was in my 8th month of pregnancy when I finally had a chance for a tete a tete with her. She used to notice me cross the signal with a huge baby bump every morning and often, ensured I crossed the road before she let the traffic open.
One afternoon as I was out for a stroll post lunch, luckily she was on a break while her male colleagues were managing the traffic. Not wasting a moment, I walked up to her and appreciated her for the good work. “Madam, main to bas meri duty karti hai” (Madam, I just do my duty) was all she said with a smile. I then told her I was from Delhi, the safety concerns of women there and what would happen if women started manning traffic signals there. She listened to me with a smile, and then told me that in her tenure of 11 years, not even once had she faced any trouble for being a woman – something that increased my respect and appreciation for the people of Mumbai.
A mother of 2, Durga (name changed) came from a humble background. The sole breadwinner of their family, her husband had succumbed to a road accident. Burdened by financial troubles, this mother of 2 decided to maintain her dignity and raise her children on her own sans any financial help from her parents. Choosing this profession was more of a personal choice, since Durga wanted to ensure no more lives are lost to violation of traffic rules.
But it wasn’t a cakewalk for her. Long hours of strenuous duty left her completely drained. By the time she reached home, there was a pile of housework waiting for her attention. Since those were crucial career years for her daughter, she didn’t want to burden her with house work and somehow managed everything by herself. However, her colleagues were more than happy to help. After all, God helps those who help themselves. The male colleagues deployed with her often swapped places when she appeared tired and let her take breaks. Also, the wife of a colleague staying nearby offered to help the kids with their studies by charging a nominal fee for tuition. For Durga, a headstrong woman with oodles of dignity, a complete waiver would have anyways been unacceptable.
Today, her daughter is studying in college and her son is preparing for IIT entrance exam, she tells me with a proud smile.
Not all people come triumphant from adversities of life. Women like Durga command even a higher respect. In a situation where an ordinary woman would have gone blank with shock, she thought of taking it on herself to erase the cause that not only took away her husband, but also poses a threat to other lives.
For me, she is no less than goddess Durga herself, with her many hands managing many responsibilities, and ensuring that the good wins over the evil.
On my maternity break now, I can’t wait to meet Durga again and tell her how she continues to inspire me everyday!