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People of Bharat: Mamta

Updated: Oct 30, 2022

“You will need to wash that off after 15 minutes”, says Mamta, instructing me on how to remove the face pack she has just applied over my face. Mamta works for a company that offers various professional services to customers in the comfort of their homes. These include salon services; customers can book the service of their choice online, and have the option to pay likewise or in cash. Upon confirmation of booking, a trained and certified professional arrives at the home of the customer to deliver the service at the time requested by the customer.

As Mamta’s swift fingers dart over my skin, I begin to think that this could be a good time to strike a conversation. I can speak little and will have the chance to listen to a lot more. I ask her whether she is from Ahmedabad and she tells me she came to the city because of a “family problem”. As I raise my face in enquiry, she shakes her head most obstinately; then refuses to let a word slip when I ask her ‘what problem?’.

Mamta is 41 years old and lived in Jodhpur, Rajasthan before she came to Ahmedabad. Her father owned and managed a kirana dukaan or a grocery store. She completed her standard 12 exams from a Hindi medium school in Jodhpur and was married off by her parents at 17. “Wahan to aisa hi hai; choti umar me shaadi kar dete hai.” (This is the way things are done over there; people are married off quite young). Her husband owned a hardware store in the town. She has one brother and one sister, both are married and settled in Surat, Gujarat.

A few years into her marriage Mamta learnt the basics of salon services and worked at a “beauty-parlour” (a small salon) owned by the lady who taught her. She worked there for 14 years. I am now curious to know how she came to Ahmedabad. She reveals she came here three years ago to start a new life. “Maine socha yahan hame koi nahin jaanta to zindagi naye se suru kar sakte hain.” (I thought to myself, ‘no one knows me here, so I can start afresh).

Mamta has worked for two salons in Ahmedabad over the last three years. On the advice of her friend, she listed herself on this company’s website and completed basic training and induction over the course of a few days. She was assured that she could earn a minimum of Rs. 25,000 every month, and more if she worked harder. Since her earnings at the salon were Rs. 15–18,000, she decided to quit. Her employer was not happy with her decision and with-held her pay. “She (the employer) has to give me Rs. 27,000. Every time I go, she says ‘come after few days’ but has still not given me the money”, Mamta laments.

A few months after coming to Ahmedabad, Mamta thought of visiting her siblings in Surat. She hoped that they would help her find some work in Surat; and that way she could live closer to family. “They kept me hanging for quite a few days and then refused to help me”, Mamta remembers, her voice turning heavy. “My own sister also betrayed me.” Dejected, she returned to Ahmedabad.

Upon arriving home at about 10 pm that night, she found a man living in her flat. When she questioned the landlord, he told her that since she hadn’t come home for several days, he’d assumed that she had run away, and had therefore rented out the flat to someone else. She was asked to leave immediately but says she fought a lot for her rights. None of the neighbours supported her. Her employer lived in the flat above her’s but refused to get involved. In desperation, Mamta decided to call for the police. At this point, however, the new tenant implored her not to involve the police. He confided that he was on parole and offered to move out for the night. Despite this, the landlord insisted that she vacate the place.

Isolated and with no one to fall back on, Mamta decided to approach an apartment broker the following day, and subsequently moved into another flat in the same building. To do this, she had to pay sizeable amounts in rent deposits and brokerage- and she had to produce the money upfront, in cash and all at once.

She dipped into her final reserve and mortgaged her gold ornaments for a loan. While much time has passed since that fateful night, Mamta continues to service the loan till date. The entire episode, however, taught her an important lesson. She realized how vulnerable she was without any saving. From then on, as soon as she started earning again, she began to deposit Rs. 1000 in a monthly savings scheme with the same company that had given her the gold loan. Interestingly, Mamta’s experience only took her so far. Other than the savings scheme, Mamta has no other investments. She vaguely recalls a fixed deposit in some bank in Jodhpur. She remembers little else other than that her father was the nominee. She does not know about mutual funds or any other instruments of saving.

Mamta spends Rs. 15,000 every month on rent (Rs. 9,500), groceries and bills. The company she works for charges her 30% commission and earns 2% from customers. Mamta makes a monthly profit of Rs. 10–15,000, and periodically spends a portion of it on replenishing her stock of beauty products.

When I ask her about her aspirations, she tells me that she has no children. Her husband met with an accident three years ago and needed hip surgery, she narrates. After the surgery, her brother-in-law took him away to live with him in Hyderabad under the pretext of caring for him. It was the last time that Mamta says she saw her husband. “They have not allowed him to return to me. He does not take my phone calls and he evades my visits. I was tortured at my in-laws’ house. So I left.”, she finishes. I silently wonder whether her attributed infertility were the reason for her marital estrangement.

I ask her where she prefers working; at this company or in a conventional salon. Her response is emphatic. She prefers working with THIS company. “Aap ki marzi hai, jab chaho karo, jab chaho mat karo…aur rate bhi accha mil jaata hai. Company acche clients dilate hai.” (It’s totally upto me, I work when I want to and do not work when I don’t want to. I get a good rate and the company gets us good clients as well.) At the salon, Mamta could not afford to take days off work. She did not get paid if she took an emergency leave. Compared to that, Mamata cherishes the freedom in her current job.

Mamta usually does business in the range of Rs. 40–50,000 per month. The company call center informs her of potential clients, and she can choose to either accept or decline. “I can take three to four clients in a day or only two; it’s up to me.”, Mamta smiles. Work timings are 8 am to 8 pm.

Mamta has a number of financial aspirations for her future but refuses to share them with me. Given her tendency to attract bad luck, she tells me that she does not want to jinx her chances. I do not press her. She hopes her current stint will help her get to the future she has imagined. She made considerable profit in December and took a long holiday to visit her parents in Rajasthan in January. She hopes to make up in February to compensate for her lost earnings in the previous month. For the moment, she takes pleasure in simple joys. She is happy in the company of her smartphone. While she mostly uses the phone to answer company calls and communicate over WhatsApp, I notice a sparkle in her eyes when she tells me that she loves surfing the Internet.

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