A weekend drive to Chikmagalur is the best for me whenever I choose to unwind and de-stress. While Saturdays are for strolling through M G Road in Chikmagalur or a lazy afternoon at the club, Sunday mornings are for the long walks ending at a canteen for ‘benne dosa’ and piping hot coffee. Salubrious a beginning of the Sun’s day! This weekend on the eve of Woman’s Day began with the usual order of dosa and coffee at one of the canteens where I chose to sit opposite the cash counter. That is where this story begins…..at the cash counter was this little girl with a red t-shirt and with her hair tied up in a high bun. There she sat on the high stool, collecting cash, tendering the right change, using google pay, calculating mentally all the series of orders billing that was called out to her. A closer peek and I noticed she had no calculator or the computer or the famous iPad next to her. Her mental math enabled this 12-year-old to write down bills and total them all and dole it out to the waiters who waited lesser than even a minute awaiting the bill. And while all this happened, there she was catering to takeaway orders from clients, smiling pleasingly at customers, responding to queries, poised, and even throwing a smile at one of the jokes made by the customer. Adorable a child I thought and envied her… While all this was going on like a cinema roll, there come two other clients who were watching her just as I did and requested her to pose with them. She pauses just for a second and poses with them and quickly sends them away with a thank you. No raised voice, a temperament that suited the role she was playing this Sunday morning, the right presence of mind, and all of this from a 12-year-old. As her father steps in at the cash counter, this multitasker makes way for him and straight away walks into the open kitchen and starts supervising the chef. Wonder girl this one!

Memories take me back to an eavesdropped conversation between my mother and my aunts in the eighties. There they sat in the drawing-room talking about how one of my aunt’s sisters was seated at the cash counter and what was the social implication of her decision. As I grew older, I realised how this same lady who was being spoken about rather condescendingly by all the ladies, had turned around the hotel by her untrained business skills. While her husband was away preoccupied with his priorities in life, this lady had taken it upon herself to ensure that the hotel was professionally run and the bread and butter back home for her three children was never impacted. While society derided her, she continued to lead her life respectfully and later on was considered one of the first women to have run the hotel business in Mumbai with gusto. Decades later I see this little girl from a, what we would term, ‘conservative family’ supporting her father in a small way on a holiday. A girl who would grow to be an empowered woman tomorrow and a small word of gratitude to the father, who trusted her skills, her mental prowess, and the challenges begin…..#choosetochallenge, this International Woman’s Day as we look forward to more women and girl children rising and raring to go into spaces unexplored …….