A shoemaker. A fortune teller. Even in present day India, one rarely associates these professions with women irrespective of economic status. And those women who do these jobs are barely visible.
However, in October 2009, I was pleasantly surprised to find women engaged in both these activities. I spotted them during Nagara Chitra, a photo exploration of Shivaji Nagar with Maraa (), a community media collective. Located in the heart of Bangalore, India, this place is a busy old hub of trade, worship and history.
Puttalaimma, aged over forty, stitches and mends footwear for a living. Like many other women, she did only household chores and some agricultural labour in Tamil Nadu, a neighbour state. However, she realized that her cobbler husband needed help. Learning by observing him, she started doing this seemingly tough work herself. Her husband's encouragement helped her continue despite opposition from other men. "It is just a another job", she said with a warm smile, happy that I cared to talk and take her picture.
Sixty year old Venkatamma, a great grandmother, is perhaps the last in her family where women have been astrologers traditionally. Hailing from Teni in Madurai district also in Tamil Nadu, she made Bangalore her home after getting married at sixteen. Her daughters, nieces, sisters and other women of the younger generation among her relatives, have opted to study and pursue other careers. Unlike a few other women vendors on the streets, Venkatamma did not mind that I clicked her photo while she went about her business. And she readily answered my questions while appreciating my 'modern' outlook. That was when I remarked that I found her very progressive.
A glimpse of these inspiring women at work...