Saturday, 9 March 2013

And the "Look at Naseema" award goes to....

Somewhere between adversity and pity was hiding the will to survive...  

It began somewhere between the day her husband dropped dead and the day when she got sick of people calling her a poor thing. That is where the story began. Naseema was thirty four and her husband was a good man. She looked wistfully at other women with a child on their hip, but otherwise she was a contented woman. Then one day, with no warning, her husband clutched his chest and dropped dead and that was the end of him and also of life as she knew it.

Six months later, her home seemed to reflect the depressing and hopeless state of mind that she was in. In the flurry of events following her husband's demise she had been the center of attention of their family, nieghbours and friends. But the attention reduced exponentially, till a month later she was alone for more hours than she was in company. Whenever she stepped out of her home people looked her with pity and even expressed it in words to her often. Soon she was tired of the pity and sympathy and avoided people who tried to engage her in conversations.

But the funds that her husband had saved up for her would not last for ever and having never worked before she had no job skills. It was then that she ruefully wished that she had paid more attention to her education and taken up some job even if only to have the capacity to be self-reliant. But that was a notion that was unheard of in the nieghbourhood that she lived in.


As a child Naseema had always been full of whacky ideas. She imagined clothes that would wash themselves, animal language interpreters, automated wall painters and the list was endless. While those were the ones that were unfulfilled, she was amazed at the ones that were indeed a reality today; like a telephone that you could carry with you anywhere and on-demand money machines. She always looked at these inventions and often told her husband that she had imagined them, which was a dubious claim to him, but he had indulged her talk sportingly. But intelligence and imagination are never bound by birth, community, education or gender; a fact that often fights to make itself acknowledged in a world of stereotypes.

When Naseema had exhausted all conventional means of finding a job to support herself, she read an article about an innovative company that had come up with an array of smart products for homes and occupational use. She still had ideas and she thought she might have been a valuable contributor. But that idea itself was outrageously audacious, because the company had nothing but distribution offices in her country!

So one day she stood outside the distribution office in her city and when she saw someone who seemed to be a senior member of the organization walking out, she got his attention and offered to work for them. He tried to explain to her that they did not develop any products there, but she was not easily dissuaded. Something about her determination and her bold move appealed to the executive and he asked her if she would consider a job of selling the products to offices and companies in the area.


What followed was not a heart-warming happily after. The days and months that followed challenged Naseema beyond her imagination. At the outset she was the victim of several biases, as she tried to find her way around. Gender, religion, her "un-salesman like" traditional and ethnic clothes; the very attributes that defined her identity were the ones that worked against her.

But she was not the one to give up easily. People in her office soon began to take notice when she met her targets, by the sheer dint of her effort. The traditional clothes eventually gave way to more comfortable travel clothes, but only because they came in the way of her riding a two-wheeled moped, while attending to her sales leads. She is not designing "Post-it" stickys, but she surely is doing a phenomenal job of selling them. Salesmanship to her is an art and skill that does not require a business degree, but rather needs sincere and whole-hearted attempts.


Her unusual appearance was what had made me initiate a conversation with her when she came to make a sales pitch to me. The interaction left me re-examining my own mental models and since then I suspend judgement on typecasting someone until I know them better.

After my conversation with her, I figured that I would not be able to give her any business as I did not need what she was selling. As I almost apologetically conveyed this to her she spiritedly told me it was all-right and it almost seemed like she was consoling me and pepping me up.

As an after thought, she told me that she had got her award a few days earlier. When a woman in a community was depressed and despodent on being abandoned by her husband she heard the other women consoling her and telling her "Look at Naseema... see what she has done.... get up and do something....." . The fact that she was an inspiration and her motivated efforts had given hope to other hapless women in her nieghbourhood was award enough for her.

As she waved to me and said "Inshallah we will meet again" ,  I thought to myself that the "Look at Naseema" award goes to who else but Naseema herself.