What is in a Name: Bheela?

Moona, my sister one day asked me, ‘How come Gut’s name was kept Gutrubai and further Bheela?’ Moona, Shipra Sen, is my Boropishi’s younger daughter as I mentioned in the blog for Boropishi. We studied in the same school. Even though Didbhai, my eldest sister, Moona younger than me and I were in different class, I have been equally close to both. We did not have separate identities as children at least I do not remember having one. It was always ‘we’ feeling inclusive of all brothers and sisters. Oh well, as I was in the middle of something I shared her query in the group hoping that someone will share or collectively there will be links connected. Gut is my third sister. I started writing blogs with an interesting story from about her workplace which she shared with me on a plane journey. I had to coax her to contribute. It was a collective sharing of my sisters. I have added on to it.

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

We are four sisters. I am the eldest. I got married early in 1972, when I was 15. My sisters were still in school. My younger sister Neela Dasgupta took charge of herself and two of my younger sisters Bheela and Seema. I am here sharing about my third sister Bheela. All her life she has been an innocent childlike being. When she was 3 years my uncle taught her the spelling of ‘crack’; whenever asked her name her reply would be ‘C R A C K’! As a child she would chase my uncles’ pet pigeons on the terrace and repeat the sound those pigeons made Gutur Goo-Gutur Goo! Thus she was named Gutru Bai! When asked what she would do when she grew up, her first response was, ‘I will not grow up!’ and when asked again she would say she would buy Rs10/- worth of jaggery as mother used to hide jaggery. She was good at studies and did very well in exams but always wondered how she managed this well. She participated in dance and sports. In high school she lead her school band too. During that time she shared a secret plan with Seema. They were close to each other. Bheela confided that she would be a band master after high school. She had chalked out the plan that after high school she would teach band at various schools, earn Rs 800/month. And she would own all those pipes and that was ultimate richness!

Mummum, my paternal grandmother named her Villa, meaning building. ‘V’ is pronounced ‘Bh’ in Bangla. Gut explained in the WhatApp group with her inherent humour that when Pishi went to school and said Bhila, the teachers in school matched the name with ‘Neela’ and made it ‘Bheela’. When she reached higher secondary and it was time for filling form for board exams, she took a chance and told Baba that he gets so hyper with spelling get the spelling of her name corrected. Baba gave her lecture of an hour saying that she is unique and special, etc, etc. Most of it went above her head but she understood that the spelling will remain as it is. Moona responded to this seconding that she is unique ‘no doubt’! On the foundation of ‘villa’ she had built a monumental achievement for sure. Gut continued acknowledging all her achievements to the universe supreme, that her family after marriage tried naming her ‘Suman’ matching with ‘Sudhir’ her husband. Sona, my nephew, questioned, why this idea did not materialize? Gut quipped tongue in cheek that she would not answer to that name! Moona pitched in that anyways such a frail sounding name would not fit Gut. Her family-in-law gave up on ‘suman’ and continued with ‘Bheela’ and anyway what’s in a name!

This story is about her getting the first job and the history being made!

She got admission in Government engineering college. With her scholarship money Neela got one pair of bell bottoms made for Bheela which she wore that for almost a month until the next pair was stitched. She went to college in a bus with boys who treated her as one of them. Her class had 5 girls and 123 boys in class. Our uncle had done his engineering from the same college so they built an affinity which exists till date. My uncle was a gold medalist. Quite a few of my uncle’s friends were teaching in the college so he requested them to help his niece. Soon the professors complained that they had to prepare to teach Bheela. Later Bheela too got gold medal. From the college recruitment, she applied in L&T. Two boys and she went for interview. Her feedback about the interview was filled with the excellent food and ice cream they got instead of her interview.

L&T first invited country’s first, second and third rank holders from reputed engineering colleges for a written test. They selected 8 candidates for interview. There was a selection committee comprising of at least 10 senior people. At the center was P. D. Joshi, a man who wore white half shirt outside the trousers just like Baba (our father). He folded his hands when Bheela entered the interview room. Later she learnt P D Joshi was in favor of taking meritorious women candidates. He was overall incharge of her division called Static Control Group, her boss was Reddy, Reddy’s boss was Mandal and PD Joshi was Mandal’s boss. Her appointment letter was a telegram, which Seema collected. Bheela at first thought she was joking! It was sent by Kudrimoti, a manager in charge of HR department. His boss was Mr. N. B. Vakil. When Bheela and Shubhada joined there was newly joined guy in HR, — she has forgotten his name — he told them to get a letter from the Magistrate. Mr. Vakil scolded the new guy and told him that L&T is an “Equal Opportunity” organization (L&T became one in that very year, with their appointment!)

There was a ladies washroom two shop floors away from her office then. She used to avoid going to washroom in the beginning and go during lunch time with other GET boys. Shubhada was in a different dept. In the whole building of over 3000 employee, there were 15 odd women, 12–13 were assembly line worker in the coil division, employed with L&T for almost 20 years. They had separate wash room for ladies, worker section where she was not permitted to go. There was one reception lady who had a bathroom for herself and the visitors at the reception.

When Bheela needed to use the washroom at odd hours (other than lunch time) she would go past the shop floors alone. She could hear workmen say to each other ‘aali — aali’ (‘coming –coming’ in Marathi). They would sit straight dropping their tools and watched her. The supervisors did the same. Soon they and she got accustomed to each other as she asked her boss to give her some job at the workshop away from her desk. She made friends with the workers who had 15–25 years of experience and they taught her the ropes. She learnt Marathi so she could speak with them. Sometime she used English terms in the middle of her conversation. They all took extra efforts to hide her design mistakes and took it on themselves.

Bheela Dasgupta and Shubhada Waghle were both perplexed with what they were experiencing in Larsen and Toubro (L&T) Bombay. The year was 1981. They were both from Madhya Pradesh. Bheela had done her engineering from Jabalpur and Shubha from Raipur. They were the first women engineers selected by L&T. Their bewilderment was due to the reception they got from two sets of groups, one set supporting them and another group creating hurdles. It was subtle so there was nothing they could put their finger on. They were blissfully unaware that their gender was in anyway responsible for what they were experiencing. They heard all advice and suggestions and continued to be engineers par excellence. The year passed and then they got to know through the office grape-wine that few in the company were totally against women engineers (GT) being incorporated by the company. Mr. P D Joshi had won his faith in the new women trainees, so the next year 5 women were selected. Today 40% are women in this prestigious company.

Bheela got married to her colleague Sudhir Wadehra, had two daughters, shifted from L&T at one time, changed quite a few jobs, her husband quit his job as she preferred to keep hers. She wrote to me (we used to write letters then) that she was made DGM while she still had dark hair, she thought it is a required qualification to have grey hair to become DGM of a company. On first day she sat on the chair and circled on the casters. In due course of time they got the daughters married, she will retire this year. Not just her, all her friends are in good posts. Hopefully they will have time to write their memoirs to give dreams to girls for taking life in stride with ease.

Recently Gut was awarded by SWE (Society of Women Engineers) in which she introduced her four decades of work in engineering in four minutes, a minute for each decade. It takes immense experience at grassroots to be able to do that with humility. I still remember her innocence when she would waddle behind the pigeons. She has not only kept that innocence all her life she has added humour to it to share with all.

It gives me pleasure to share her with all.

All said and done Moona said that Bheela’s accomplishments are ongoing; she is building the mansion of Oshin’s blogs which has given not only Oshin soap opera a new life but rebuilding history of Japan for all who are reading her blogs.

A very happy birthday to her with lots of love and wishes!