An Unexpected Journey

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(Topic: An Unexpected Journey)

The only reason why I chose to study engineering was that a job was guaranteed at the end of 4 years! Since childhood, all my dreams involved working in one profession or the other. Soon after graduating in 1990, I started working in a steel plant.

As the only female engineer in the steel works and the first intake for the environment management department, my life was highly interesting and exciting. In the first year of our jobs, I remember a discussion among our batch-mates on what we wanted to do in life. I still recall the disbelief and disappointment on their faces when I said “I want to marry, have kids and continue working”. Little did I know then that I was setting my standards too high!

Over the years, I got married and had a couple of children. While other female colleagues literally shed tears about joining work after maternity leave, I happily went back to work right after 12 weeks both times! I had had enough of the continuous rigmarole of feeding and cleaning up and suffered from a bit of postpartum blues too. Of course, my sashaying back to work merrily had me branded as the tough career woman. However, after 11 years of trying to balance recalcitrant kids, alternately over- and under-whelming domestic help, an ever-increasing workload and late hours, I realized I was simply unable to cope. After a lot of soul-searching, I finally decided to quit work.

Everyone, including my immediate family, was shocked and disappointed. My sons were aghast at the prospect of losing their ‘independent’ lifestyle! Assorted colleagues, who had nothing to do with my official work, would drop into my office and try to dissuade me from quitting. Some older staff members even said that they had motivated their daughters to study engineering by giving my example. It was heartening and humbling and at times it did feel as if I was letting down a few people, especially women.

After quitting my job after 18 years, we found ourselves at different places (my husband changed jobs once my job did not have to be taken into account). For someone who would interact with no less than 30-35 people in a day, it was a quiet life at home while the other family members went to school/work. When you don’t go out to work and the children no longer need to be seen off to the school bus, it is not easy to make acquaintances. At each new place, I would initially immerse myself in the books collected (but unread) over the years. Soon however, neighbourhood children would start trickling in for help with Maths or English. Other opportunities would come in the form of part time faculty work or volunteer work. Before long, I would be among a host of friends and activities and the new place would feel like home.

Now, at age 48, I’m a stay-at-home mum with teenage kids who cannot be called well brought up by any stretch of imagination. I don’t earn anything apart from a bit of interest from investments last made 8 years ago and do not use my engineering knowledge and experience. I hate all kinds of housework including cooking though I still try to do most of it myself!

But, I am part of a group that cooks and feeds a hundred homeless people once a week. I volunteer at a school for under-privileged children 2-3 days in a week and for the first time in my life feel that I am bonding with children. I’ve learnt from people who carry around blankets in their car boots in winter so that they can hand them to any deserving person that they might come across. As a member of two libraries, I have access to an enviable stock of books. One of my closest friends is an 87 year old while some other friends are getting married or having children.

Did I see myself here 10, even 5 years ago? No, absolutely not. Life has been an unexpected journey indeed.




Nandini Bhattacharjee, 47, has lived in Kolkata, Durgapur, Hospet and now resides in Pune. She worked for 18 years in a steel plant mainly in environment management. Nandini has been a trainer for management training programmes for 21 years. She took an early retirement from 'paid' work and spends some time volunteering when she's not mentally wrestling with her teenage sons.

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