That morning, as usual I walked into the swanky reception lounge of the MNC head quartered in Toronto, Canada – one of my most valued clients, as international sales executive with SITA travels – the most reputed travel company in the market then. This was in the year 1993, and barely a few months since I had joined them after a short stint at Computer Point – a firm which was to later shut shop. Smiling at the receptionist, who by now was a friend, I briskly walked into the administrative office, as it was my scheduled time for a visit. This MNC occupied numerous floors of the Jivan Deep building in Calcutta at the time. I visited them twice a day, due to the potential business, from the steady flow of international travel of their senior executives. The senior administrative manager, a much respected man in the company, looked at me over the head of a visitor sitting across him and asked me to visit the desk of a man whose name was let’s say – Amit Chatterjee, who was to travel to the US.
Asking around on the office floor, I soon found myself seated in front of the young Amit Chatterjee, in his late twenties perhaps, with wavy hair and a gold-rimmed pair of spectacles. He was barely able to speak coherently from continuously blushing, while repeatedly looking over and much beyond my head. I turned around curiously and found half a dozen men, staring his way with their heads raised curiously, smirking at him. Then as I looked back at him irritated, he looked away, and I realised all the smirking men were trying to entertain themselves at my expense. By now most of them had seen me coming in and out of their office twice daily. In irritation, I walked out saying “Please leave your requirements at the travel desk. I will get back to you with a proposed itinerary.” As visibly flustered I marched back to the admin room, with the heavy ABC (travel guide) that the manager had asked me to bring along. I was determined to let the men of that MNC know I meant business and business alone. I relayed the incident to the manager and his assistant, who looked quietly down.
That evening, I returned to that MNC’s admin office as usual. The receptionist, a middle aged Anglo-Indian woman, always well dressed in smart suit dresses, her overall grooming immaculate, called me and gave me a note from the man Amit Chatterjee I had met that morning, in which was hand written: “Dear Shuvashree, May I take you out for coffee, we could discuss my travel plans over it?” I was so annoyed on reading it, that I marched into the admin manager’s cabin and handed the note to him, and in spite of my meekness till that point – from being so new in my job and yet his being kind in giving me a steady flow of business, although having 3 other registered travel agents, I asked him menacingly – “Dada, what is going on here – is this a conspiracy, you ask me to meet this man Amit Chatterjee, now the receptionist ( I took her name) is giving me his note and trying to convince me how sweet and popular a man he is, not to mention with the brightest future after being an IIT and IIM pass-out, and justifying I must at least have coffee with him.”
The manager did not respond, and I walked back to my office down the street livid, but determined to take my job more seriously than yet. The next morning, I was back at the same MNC’s office but as a professional – was cordial to the receptionist, incidentally there was the same one though they had numerous, and rather friendly to the manger, but without any mention of the incidents of the day before. There was one big change in me though, unlike my pictures here, my hair was pulled back off my face with a clip, and I had worn a salwar kameez – this is how I would present myself at that office for long after.
But it’s quite a different matter that this Amit Chatterjee (name changed), through his friend the sophisticated receptionist, was relentless in his chase of me, to have just one cup of coffee with him – before he moved to Toronto where he was transferred. This was after getting his travel plans confirmed, with another travel agency. I know you might be thinking by now I’m rather arrogant, foolish even, as my closest friends insisted at the time – that he was the ‘catch’ of a lifetime…But I could never like a man who would humiliate me in public like that…so what if he’s now actually settled in the US and a CEO today.
After I went on to join an airline, I wore the uniform of an A-line dress, and then later a skirt or trouser. In a couple of years I moved to service quality and did not require to wear a uniform – but I however was never to return to wearing a sari habitually. On the rare occasions that I did turn up in a sari on Saraswati Puja or Vishwakarma Puja, I was in addition to being the recipient of plenty of admiring glances, also the victim of snide remarks even from senior personnel, whose job my job was to audit. One such being: “She comes in a sari to make the men fall in love with her…so she can have them eating out of her hands.” 🙂
It was only years later, when I joined Tanishq that I returned to wearing a sari, but I would rather not enumerate experiences of then. I think you’ve got the drift of what I’ve been trying to convey in this lengthy narration…haven’t you? So please stop judging women at work by what we wear…especially if you judge those of us who do not wear a sari, or even wear one always for that matter.