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Women’s Day special: These Pune women are proving that the future is female

From a horsebreaker and a food app delivery executive to a mechanic and a priestess who performs last rites, Hindustan Times follows the journey of four women with unconventional careers. These women took the path less travelled because they chose to not get stuck in a rut, and that made all the difference.

pune Updated: Mar 04, 2018 16:26 IST
From left: Chitra Chandrachood, Rasika Reddy, Deepali Vijay Dharmadhikari and Sonika Mangalwedhekar.
From left: Chitra Chandrachood, Rasika Reddy, Deepali Vijay Dharmadhikari and Sonika Mangalwedhekar.(HT PHOTO)

‘Mother’ of horses who teaches them manners and more

Rasika Reddy, track work rider and horsebreaker (HT PHOTO)

Coming from an army background, while growing up, 50-year-old Rasika Reddy was one of the kids who was obsessed with horses. She admits that she literally lived in riding schools and did everything from riding to show jumping when she was young.

Her real journey with the horses began when she moved to Bengaluru and married a veterinarian, whose family owned a stud farm.

“My mother’s maternal uncle thought I would fit perfectly in the family. This is when my life sort of went from the ring to racing. We moved to Pune when my son was born and I started to ride on the track and work as a rider. Somewhere along the way, I did apply for my jockey licence, but it did not happen for several reasons. I was extremely disturbed and it was a sad time for me. However, this phase helped me think and find another way. I became curious about why young horses behave very badly. That’s when I realised that we had to do more with these horses than just jump on to them,” said Rasika.

With her husband’s support, Rasika went to Australia to work with a horsebreaker. “Initially, my husband was sceptical, but eventually he supported my passion and I came back and started Basque Training Centre in Pune in 2003,” she said. A lot of families from Pune and other surrounding areas placed their trust in her and gave their young colts and foals to Rasika.

“I would have to say that my ability to just intuitively communicate with horses is what kept me going. I don’t have to say anything, yet they respond and do what I ask them to do. This is purely out of all the respect I give them.”

She added that any animal can be taught to behave and can learn without being harmed. She works with horses before they turn two or those who have just turned two. The process involves getting them used to the equipment, familiarising them with the track and training them to be an athlete. Her day starts early when she is training in other parts of the country, but when in Pune, it is a balance of work and home.

“I have a home to run too and I always try to strike a balance between cooking, entertaining and looking after my babies at the farm. There is a lot to do, but I enjoy every bit of it,” she said.

She admits that today, her profession is better because people’s mentalities have changed. “It will keep changing for the better. Each and every horse has taught me something. The most important thing they have taught me for sure is the necessity for introspection and how to react to situations. They have shown me how it is important to take a step back and think before reacting and think from another person’s perspective before making up your mind.”

Pune’s first delivery-woman who decided to become the boss of herself

Sonika Mangalwedhekar, online food app delivery executive. (Shankar Narayan/HT PHOTO)

Thirty one-year-old Sonika Mangalwedhekar found her independence in the first gust of fresh air that brushed against her face while riding her own pre-owned scooter, around four years ago. That was her first step out in the world as an independent working woman in a society where most women are bound within the four walls of their homes.

A resident of a slum in Yerawada, she took up a job as one of Pune’s first delivery-women with an online food delivery company, Swiggy.

“It was a huge step for me, not because I had to go to work, but because I opted for a profession which would need me to really step out of the four walls of my house and meet new people every day. It was indeed a daring job and I knew that I was meant for this,” said Mangalwedhekar.

“I wanted to be my own boss and in my previous job, that was not the case. This job, however, gives me the flexibility and freedom I need,’ she added.

However, her journey was not devoid of judgement. “When I first joined Swiggy in 2015 on a friend’s suggestion, there was a lot of friction. People were surprised and even I was a little unsure about the move.

“With time, I began to shed my inhibitions and started loving my work, but I know that people in my area and many among my relatives still judge me for my work.

“For that reason, most of the time, I don’t even wear the company T-shirt or carry their bag. Now, most of them know about my job and sometimes stare and talk behind my back, but I don’t care because I believe in myself and have the support of my husband and my son. It makes me different, it make me feel like an independent entity and I want to continue doing the work in the future,” said Mangalwedhekar. She also works part-time for Ubereats, another food delivery portal.

When questioned on who her inspiration was, she said that she really didn’t have anybody to look up to as she was one of the first few to take up an unconventional occupation.

Her husband played a pivotal part in her career. “I owe a lot to him. He has truly been the equal half I always needed. Most of my in-laws were against me taking up such a job.

“They were even against me riding a bike, but he always took my side and stayed strong. So if anybody is an inspiration, it is him,” she said.

As a woman who has taken a bold step to define herself, Sonika had a message for the rest of the womenkind; “Be bold, be daring. The world outside will be ready for you when you push yourself and make it ready”.

For the love of bikes and interiors.. Meet Pune’s renowned lady mechanic

Deepali Vijay Dharmadhikari, mechanic and owner of Shakti Auto garage. (Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)

For 46-year-old Deepali Vijay Dharmadhikari, life is all about her love for bikes and interiors. At the age of 13, she used to accompany her father to his vehicle repair shop in Navi peth.

Today, she along with three other mechanics, handle Shakti Auto, which repairs two-wheelers. An early learner, Deepali is currently overlooking the renovation of the store.

“Our garage completes 40 years on March 20. I thought it would be a good time to revamp our store. Most of our tools had to be piled up because of the lack of space. I am ensuring that they get the space they deserve. “Having started riding bikes at an early age, my father gave me an option and said ‘if you want to ride, you should learn how to repair a bike too’. That is when I started taking a keen interest in repair work.

“Eventually I had to take it up as my father’s health deteriorated and the responsibility fell on my shoulders. I don’t regret it because I enjoy my job,” said Deepali.

However, a few years ago, Deepali met with a major accident and has a rod in her right leg.This does not stop her from continuing with her passion. “The rod does restrict my movements and I cannot sit down and work on bikes like everyone does. But, I have not let it affect me. I use a chair or even stand and get the work done. I don’t believe in letting obstacles hinder my work,” she said.

Recalling her early days, she added that relatives and customers did give her a hard time because of her gender. “People never let me touch their vehicles. It took a decade for people to accept me as a mechanic. Education was a luxury because financial constraints in my family were such that I could not attend college regularly. Also, a full-time job would not have given me the money that I made through this business.”

Priestess who helps the departed in their final journey

Chitra Yashwant Chandrachood, probably is the only woman in Pune to perform last rites besides all the other religious rites. (Rahul Raut/HT PHOTO)

Chitra Yashwant Chandrachood lives near Hirabaug Ganapati. At 71, there is a spring in her walk, in her salutation and dedication towards her work, which Chitra says, gives her a lot of satisfaction. Chitra is probably the only woman in Pune who performs the last rites of a person besides all the other religious rites.

In the class of 30 in Jnana Prabodhini Prashala, a multifarious institution working in the fields of education, research, women power and health, only four perform the last rites with Chitra being the only woman.

According to her, many people say that women shun away from performing the last rites of a person because of their fear of being among corpses. “I am not afraid and one should never be. Everyone has to die someday and we will need someone to facilitate a smoother journey into the afterlife,” said Chitra.

Post the marriage of her sons, she started studying at Jnana Prabhodini in 1997 about their concept of performing rituals. Before she joined the course, Chitra had read a book called ‘Gargi Jeevant ahe’ (Gargi lives). This book was her inspiration to learn more about last rites and of performing them. “The girl in the book, Gargi, has been performing the last rites of various people on the Banaras ghat and lives there too, which made me look at the performance of last rites with a different perspective. Why are women afraid of dead bodies? What frightens them? Some say that once a person dies, he leaves behind some spirits and they hover around people, but I didn’t feel any fear. I never feel fear while being around dead bodies,” she added.

The first time she was called for performing the last rites of a person, many people were surprised and stunned to see her in the Vaikunth. Once she began with her rituals, where she also explained each and every mantra, she could see relief on their faces. Till date, Chitra has performed over 100 last rite ceremonies.

Chitra also advocates the use of electric furnaces/ crematoriums as it is environment friendly. “You will save many trees by doing this. For making a traditional furnace, almost 13 kg of wood is required.
Therefore, using an electric furnace is better,” she added.