Supriya looked at the wall clock for the hundredth time. It was only 5 AM. The hands of the clock seemed almost frozen, not at all moving. She once again checked her small carry bag. Just three sets of dress, her medicine pouch and her Bank pass book and her chequebook. The pass book showed a pitiable amount of Rs Bungalow 5,500/- She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on her deep breathing.
The clock started striking. 6 AM. She got up. Picking up her bag she quickly came out of her room and opening the main door she came out of her castle like Bungalow. As she reached the main gate the security got up and looked behind her half wondering why was she walking.
He said, “Madam, car? Shall I wake up the driver?” She dismissed him with a wave of her hand and walked out. As the Security still stood confused, she hailed an auto passing by and got inside. The security stood with an open mouth that his madam was going out so early, with a bag and that too without a car.
The auto travelled for about twenty minutes and entered Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest slum, and moved through the congested twisting small lanes. Reaching her destination she stopped the auto. With bag in hand, she reached one of the brick construction house and rang the bell. Muthu, clad in a lungi, opened the door and seeing Supriya he stood too stunned – his face a mixed feeling of surprise and worry and he blabbered, “Madam, You are here in this morning hour. If you had called me…”
Before he struggled to finish his sentence Supriya said,” Muthu, is it not better that I come inside and answer all your questions?”’
Muthu hurriedly opened the door full and stretching his hand out, took her bag from her hand and said,” Please come in Madam, after all this house is all your blessings only “
He pulled a chair and wiped it with the towel on his shoulder. His two daughters studying on a corner table got up hurriedly and looked bewildered at the unknown, too sophisticated looking visitor of their house.
Though they had not seen Supriya earlier, they were smart to understand from their father’s gesture, that the lady must be their father’s X boss. By this time hearing, all commotion Meenu came out of the kitchen and seeing Supriya she almost shrieked, “Madam! Oh God! You had come to our house! So much of an honour for us” Saying she reached Supriya in two steps and buckling down touched her feet with both her hands.
Supriya smiled at the girls and very casually started a conversation with them asking about what they were studying etc. Within five minutes Meenu bought a cup of steaming coffee for Supriya and hand it to her and said, “Please Madam. Drink this. In case you want to relax for some time please relax in this cot” She switched on the ceiling fan.
Supriya took the coffee. It tasted wonderful. Was it really the taste of coffee or is because of the warmth with which this family welcomed her? She could not actually decide. Till now neither Muthu nor Meenu asked her anything about the reason for her coming to their house so early in the morning. The girls resumed their studies.
Supriya looked at Muthu and asked, “So what do you do nowadays? Are you working as a driver for someone else?’ Muthu answered,“No madam, I drive an auto now. I made the payment in installments and now the auto is mine. Meenu works in the nearby Milk booth and together we are able to manage the house”
The house was small but well kept. Muthu was the family driver for Supriya for past thirty years till the death of her husband Srikanth, three years ago. Srikanth once came to know that Muthu’s house was badly leaking during monsoon and he personally constructed this solid brick house for his driver fifteen years back. Luckily just like for all his factory employees, he had maintained a provident fund account for Muthu also. Three years back her son Mukesh took over the father’s business he promptly removed Muthu from his service. The PF helped Muthu to carry on his life.
Supriya relaxed in the cot as there was nothing else to do till the shops open. As she closed her eyes her past life flashed through her mind. She and her husband started a garment business from the scratch and soon due to the honest effort of Srikanth the factory grew into a large one. Their only son was studying in the US and he dreamed of his son joining his business on his return. But before he came back Srikanth had a massive heart attack and died. Soon after the rituals were over Mukesh frankly told his mother that he was not interested in the garment industry and he wanted to open his own software business. His living partner, an American lady joined the family. All the old servants and drivers etc were removed from the service and a new set of men were appointed.
Soon one day Mukesh took her signatures in all the documents for selling of the garment factory as maximum shares of the company was in her name. Supriya was too depressed with her husband’s death and did not give any opinion on her son’s decision and signed all the documents. She hardly knew what business her son was doing and how was he managing it all. Just three days back she got the shock of her life when Mukesh told her that he had sold the house and they all should now go to Bangalore as he decided to open his company there. She understood that while getting all documents of the company signed by her Mukesh had cheated her by taking her signature of the Bungalow also which was in her name, without her knowledge. She started thinking seriously and after two days decided that she will not live with her son anymore. That is why she was here today morning.
As she woke up she found Meenu waiting for her with morning breakfast. The small family ate the simple breakfast together happily. It was nine ‘o’ clock. Supriya asked Muthu to take her to an ATM and withdrew RS 4000/ from her account. She took the elder daughter Arpita to the Chembur market, lined with small shops and with her help bought some dress materials and accessories like ribbons, decorative lace etc. The girl was very smart and she bargained well with the shop keepers and got the materials at reduced rates. They came back home.
Supriya had presented a tailoring machine to Meenu long time back. She designed a dozen small baby dresses on newspaper and then cut the clothes for stitching. She was surprised at her own potential, that after 30 years gap she had still not forgotten her skill. Menu sat at the machine and by evening they could complete a dozen tiny dresses for boys and girls. The girls did the finer finishing job. They bought boxes and packed them neatly in the boxes. The night they offered the cot to her and the girls slept on the floor near the cot.
Next day morning taking Arpita with her Supriya went to the Mall where a lot of children’s dress shops were there. She approached the manager of one shop and gave four sets of the sample dress. She told him that she was starting a small scale industry for the slum women and the manager should try selling these dresses as sample pieces. She repeated the procedure on three more shops.For the next two days, they worked in the same way on- stop till ten in the night. As Meenu was working as a tailor for the neighbouring ladies for quite some years, she was a big help in both cutting and stitching. Now they had made about fifty dresses.
Supriya went to the mall next day with her new dresses, and to her surprise, the Manager welcomed her with a broad smile. He said, “Madam I sold each piece for Rs500/ instead of your quoted price of Rs 250/ But they were sold out like hot cakes. Many had placed orders. Please get me more numbers of these dresses” The Manger also offered a token amount as advance payment.
Days started flying and Supriya’s Baby dress stared booming like a small scale industry. As orders increased day and night her working area increased to a neighbouring shed and women working for her increased to twenty in number.Tirelessly she co-coordinated the work. Women who did not have the skill of tailoring were used for the final finishing jobs of stitching button and ironing and packing the finished product.
After three months she met her old bank manager. Remembering the crores of rupees her company had done with the bank, he sanctioned a heavy loan for her. She had now registered her garment industry as Women’s Industry and registered it under the name, “SRI garments”
By three years her SRI garment grew big enough to own a three story building of their own. She had all modern computerized embroidery designing machines and had a staff of five hundred women working in various departments. On the ground floor of the factory besides her small office, she made a made a tiny one-bed room kitchen for her as her living quarters. The factory worked till ten in the night and she paid her staff very well and give them all the benefit of PF, insurance coverage, and a special educational allowance for the children of her employees. She hired young MBA girls under which a staff of twenty young girls worked as office staff, managing the purchase, export, marketing and everything.
Arpita who had completed her B.Com worked as PA for Supriya while her younger sister was sent to MBA studies. Meenu worked as a supervisor in the tailoring department. Muthu worked as stores in charge. The office owned three tempos now for their transporting facilities.
It was another day, another fresh morning in the factory. Supriya was standing in front of her husband Srikanth’s photograph in her office, as usual before starting her day. He seemed to be smiling at her. She heard his inner voice, “Supriya, what you are doing now is the best. You had turned the life of hundreds of women to a better standard. That is better than relaxing in your own bungalow and enjoying. Is it not? With all this potential why you should be at home?” She shook her head at her own imagination. She sat on her chair.
Arpita knocked and came in and said,” Madam, there is a gentleman by name Mukesh to see you. He says he knows you well “
For one moment Supriya’s heart stopped beating. Her own son, whom she brought up with all the care in the world, because he was born so late in their life. She had never ever raised her voice at him and gave everything he wanted. Even when he was not doing very well in education, she never was strict to him. And, it was this son who cheated her and for the past three years never bothered to find out where she was! If only he had asked her the house, she would have happily given him that without hesitation. But he did not”
Arpita waiting asked in a confused voice, “Madam. Could you see him or I will ask him to come some other time ?”
Supriya said,’ Arpita, send him inside and bring in two cups of coffee”
Mukesh entered. He stood staring at his mother. Supriya smiled and said “Come in Mukesh. Good to see you after so many days? How are you? How is your business?”
Mukesh came in and sat in a chair. He managed to talk, “ Mama how are you doing?”
The coffee came. Supriya signaled Arpita to stay in the cabin itself. She picked up the coffee with her own hands and handing it to Mukesh said, “Mukesh, Your father had taught me good lessons of life. Together we had faced so many hardships. Those lessons had helped me. As you can see I am doing fine here”
Mukesh gulped the coffee and said, “Mama, I am so sorry for what all I had done. I should have continued father’s business. The software company had gone into a total loss. I am totally broke now Mama”
Supriya noticed that his fair complexion had darkened showing his struggle and he looked much more aged than what he was. She said in a soft voice, “ I am really very sorry for you dear. Don’t lose heart”
Mukesh swallowed and said, “Mama I had come for your help. You will help me, Mama?”
Supriya was quite for one moment looking at him steadily. Then she said, “Of course Mukesh, your father had taught me that we should help every person who is in trouble as much as possible. And till today I am following that. So, why not for you?”
Mukesh face lit up. He said, “Yes Mama I know I can always bank on you. So you will give me a cheque to start my business again?”
Supriya leaned slightly and opening her right side drawer of the table pushed her hand inside. As she brought her hand out Mukesh eagerly looked for the chequebook. Bur, she brought out a pair of brand new keys and kept it on the table.
A confused Mukesh asked, “What is this key you are offering me, Mama?”
Supriya said calmly, “Mukesh, this is the key of the new Tempo we had purchased. We need a driver to drive that for delivering our goods to the shops. I pay forty thousand rupees to my drivers along with benefits of insurance and PF. I am sure you will be happy to pick up the job”
As Mukesh looked stunned she got up and said calmly, “I have to go for an office meeting. If you do not want the job it is OK. Please do drop in as and when you are free. Take care, my son”
She walked out, her body erect her head held high as Arpita politely held the door open for her. Mukesh stared at his 74-year-old mother- A lady of courage and determination.
Arpita following her boss understood that Mukesh was her son. She said hesitantly” Madam” Supriya turned and smiled at her PA. She said, “Arpita I am not being harsh. Mukesh is yet to learn from his failures. He had not learnt the meaning of hard work or honesty. When he realizes these I am sure he will come back for the Tempo key. Till then let us find another driver” Arpita stared at her boss too shocked to speak.