Summer, 2018. A new University had sprung up in a new part of town. Working hours were 8 am to 4 pm. While the working day rarely ended at 4 pm, classes started at 8 am sharp. I'd been looking desperately for a regular, full-time position within the city in my new innings of teaching in Kolkata, after relocating back home after a decade abroad; hence getting the job was supposed to be lucky. But when I received the Appointment Letter and was called to finalize the terms of my employment, I was crestfallen.

I had no idea till then that I would have to report at 8 am. (I had never heard of any University starting so early; I only knew of 'morning colleges' which did that). I requested for two days before I agreed to join. Mercifully, I was granted that. The reason I took two days was to figure out whether I would be able to take up that job at all or not - as there was a major logistic problem.

Srishti (who was then six years old) had no school bus and our driver was a new recruit. Her drop-off at school was between 8.00 & 8.20 am, which I did. It was in the opposite direction of this University. If I went to the University after dropping her, I would be able to reach only around 9 am. She had a nanny, but her hours were 12 noon to 6 pm. (I had always dropped Srishti to school, right from her playschool days; it is for the pick-up that I had engaged nannies, at different times - depending on the school schedule - both in Amsterdam and Kolkata).

The only solution in the current scenario was, if our domestic help (D) agreed to drop her off in the morning. And also, very importantly, if Srishti herself agreed to leave home 30 minutes earlier every day. Because what the solution entailed was a change in everyone's morning schedule. What would work was this: Srishti, D and I would have to leave home around 7.20 am; they would drop me first to my University before 8 am; take the car to her school where she would be dropped, in turn, by 8.20 am; and D would then return home by 9 am.

There was another person whose morning routine was disrupted: Baba. D was not only our domestic help, but also Baba's night nurse, after he was confined at home, post a major health crisis in 2018. And his food and medicine in the morning was her responsibility. D had to give two crucial hours in the morning to Srishti & me, thereby delaying her work in our home & also her time to leave for her train.

I sat everyone down to explain the modalities of the new job and how it would affect everyone's morning. Thankfully, for me, all three concerned agreed. And I could take up the job. That I left it after only a semester is a different matter. The point here being, I wouldn't have been able to accept the appointment even after getting it - and even though I needed it - had not the morning logistics worked out.


The above is just one example. For every job I have had, since 2012, whether in Amsterdam or Kolkata, I've faced different logistic issues. Every mother - and grandmother - in my feed must have faced the same. Some more, others less. But no mother will have been spared this: this reduction of "career" to "logistic support".

I want to clarify here that I'm not discounting the need and importance of moral support in women's lives and careers. I'm simply underlining the absolute indispensability of logistic support for a mother to have a career at all. In fact, just to be able to "go out & work".

Support is required for anyone who works -- irrespective of the person's marital or motherhood status. But the most vulnerable, in terms of career sustenance, are women who are primary caregivers of children and the elderly.

It takes years of hard work to train oneself for a career. Any career. And employment is not easy, anywhere. While getting the employment is a matter of one's credentials, sustaining it is however dependent on other variables.

It takes ambition, talent, enormous hard work, grit and determination to be successful in any career. The support of mentors, the solidarity of peers, and some amount of luck are other vital elements that contribute to it. But that is in the domain of the work itself. Unfortunately, for women - a vast majority of them, anyway - somehow the "work" takes a backseat, as the mechanics of "being able to work" or "holding on to the job" get more and more exhausting... while their children grow and their parents - and they themselves - grow older.

For those with more stable jobs and incomes, and supportive partners, the vulnerabilities would be somewhat lesser, but would still exist.


For a very long time, the discussion around women's labour in the workplace has been focused on equal pay for equal work and longer maternity leave; and recently, in the wake of "me too", ensuring a workspace free of sexual harassment. But even if these criteria are met, a fundamental disparity still remains between the lived lives of men and women -- in their care giving roles as parents. Which affects the quality of labour at the workplace and the overall health of women. Till that role is modified, even legal equality and financial independence would not really help.

Till then, women who choose to be mothers while pursuing careers will be paying the motherhood penalty.

Photo: The view from my car window everyday when I did the 8 am job.