Thursday, March 27, 2008

From Gangtok, with love

Shanti Tamang, from the hills of north-east India, prefers life in Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

“Gangtok is a beautiful place,” says hair stylist Shanti Tamang, 30. “The mountains are breathtaking and the scenery is wonderful. Everything is cheap there.” The people are always smiling and full of love. “I miss Gangtok a lot, but there were no jobs available there,” she says.

So, in 1991, Shanti, a daughter of a government servant, went with a cousin to Bangalore in search of a job. She did not get one in the IT city but moved to Mysore, where she got a job at the Kim Fa beauty parlour.

She stayed for three years and through a friend, who was working at the Kalpana beauty parlour, she met owner Elizabeth Chacko. She offered Shanti a job at the beauty parlour of the same name at Panampilly Nagar. Shanti accepted and came to Kochi in January, 1995.

“Kochi is a peaceful and safe place for women,” says Shanti. “I don’t have any fears while living here.” She lived here for five years, but in 2000, Shanti had an arranged marriage with M.S. Tamang, 32, who works in the Indian Reserve Battalion.

Following her marriage, she moved to Delhi and began working in a parlour at Connaught Place. She had 10-hour working days, apart from bus journeys of two hours to and from work. “It was too tough,” she says. “In Delhi, the parlours never closed on time and it was always dangerous to come back alone at night.”

So, one day she told her husband she wanted to return to Kochi. “He was very supportive,” she says. When Tamang arrived in Kochi, he liked the facilities and the standard of living. “What he appreciated most of all was that on the buses, there were separate sections for men and women, unlike in Delhi where men and women stood or sat together,” she says.

Shanti returned in 2003, got her old job at the Kalpana beauty parlour and rented a flat at Kadavanthra, while her husband remained in Delhi. Today, she has three small sons, Amos, Adarsh and Ashwin, who are looked after by a maid, when she goes to work.

Meanwhile, her employer is happy with her performance. Elizabath Chacko, who has hired quite a few girls from the north-east, says that “girls like Shanti are very sincere, hard-working and efficient.” Manager Elsy Joseph, 47, says that since they have plenty of Hindi-speaking customers, Shanti’s ability to speak Hindi is an advantage. “Shanti is also very good at hair cutting, styling and designing bridal wear,” she says.

Shanti says that despite her Mongoloid features, unusual in this part of the country, her customers have always behaved well and have been friendly. “In fact, most of them are very regular.”

One regular customer is media professional Sumi Thomas, 30. “Shanti is very good at styling hair and always looks for a style that will suit me,” she says. And she always has a smile on her face. “Even in the seventh month of her pregnancy, Shanti continued working and remained cheerful,” says Sumi.

Some of the clients have become friends. Mary (name changed) helped when Shanti shifted house and when her sister, Hema, who is now married to a Malayali, had to undergo a shoulder surgery at the Cochin Hospital. “She paid part of the bills,” says Shanti.

It seems that life is comfortable except for the fact that her husband is so far away. “My children miss their father a lot,” says Shanti. “They keep asking when he will be coming home.” However, in these times of easy communication, Tamang and his family speak almost every day on the phone. And he tries to come once every two or three months.

So does Shanti miss Gangtok? “Of course, I do,” she says. “But how will I survive there?”

She says that if she opens a parlour, she will get few customers. Genetically, the Sikkimese women have very little hair on their arms and legs, and hence they do not need waxing. “They are very fair, so there is no need for a facial,” she says. “Their skin is very good. All they need to do is trim and shape their eyebrows and have a haircut, which can be done at a barber shop.”

What about the fact that her children are growing up as Malayalis and not as Sikkimese? “I don’t have a problem with that,” she says. “I am keen they should have their education here.” In Sikkim, the education system is good but the students suffer from a lack of discipline. “It will also be easier for my children to get jobs in Kochi than in Gangtok,” she says.

Meanwhile, some of her well-heeled customers who have gone to Gangtok on a holiday keep asking her why she has left such a beautiful place to come and live in Kochi. “I tell them Gangtok is a good place to go for a holiday, but not to stay,” says a smiling Shanti.

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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