The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Garage girl tinkering with tools
Sonali Mistri

This 30-year-old has broken more barriers than one. A Christian, Sonali Mistri married a Muslim, and having learnt the mechanics of repairing two-wheelers from her husband, she now works in his garage. That, too, in a conservative locality, undeterred by what she refers to as “repeated harassment” from neighbours.

The mother of two was married at the tender age of 15. Her husband, Abul Kalam Mistri, popularly known as Shankar (the name given to him by a family he worked for as a youngster), started his own business, repairing two-wheelers. When Shankar’s Auto Capital, on Prince Anwar Shah Road, ran into financial and labour trouble, he decided to teach his wife the ins and outs of bikes and scooters, so she could help.

“I love doing this work,” Sonali smiles, looking up from her task of fixing a wheel on a motorbike. Dressed in an old pair of her husband’s trousers and a grease-stained kurta, with a dupatta thrown over her shoulders, she looks comfortable among the men and boys, telling the younger ones how to fix the more complex problems.

Famous as ‘Mr and Mrs Mechanic’ in the area, the couple continues with the job on hand, regardless of comments, protests and disapproving looks flung in their direction by local residents and passersby. “They say that a woman shouldn’t do a man’s work, and that we are disregarding social norms. The men often tease me, too. But as far as I am concerned, my husband taught me this job. And to learn something new is always a joy,” she says.

Handling housework, from cooking and cleaning to looking after the kids (a 13-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter), as well as doubling daily as a mechanic, is not easy. But Sonali does it in style. She can drive “anything on wheels”, too. “I gave up working after my children were born. But now they’re grown up. So, I started again about three years ago.”

In fact, the two children spend a few hours everyday tinkering with tools in the workshop near Navina cinema, after school. However, since Sonali herself studied till Class XI, the girl from Haridevpur is determined to see her own kids complete their education.

Family has never been an obstacle. In fact, Sonali’s five sisters, one brother and widowed mother have been a source of support for her. “They have always backed me. My mother thinks my working is a good thing, since I do it for my family.” And her mother-in-law, although sure that a woman’s place is home, has not discouraged her.

“It’s still difficult to deal with the attitude of the people in the area. They need to open their minds,” Sonali signs off.

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