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Updated: March 24, 2014 17:40 IST

Women on top

Akila Kannadasan
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These women who work in petrol bunks have moved up the ladder in a profession often dominated by men
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These women who work in petrol bunks have moved up the ladder in a profession often dominated by men

They started as pump attendants. Today, they are at the top of the career ladder at fuel stations. Meet three women who shine in a profession often dominated by men

The customer couldn’t believe his eyes. A lady was to change the oil for his bike. “When he raised questions, I asked him to sit aside and just watch me do it,” smiles P. Kalaiselvi, a shift manager at a Shell fuel station in Vadapalani. Seven years ago, Kalaiselvi passed by the station when she was job hunting. A board announcing openings at the station caught her eye and she decided to apply. The 39-year-old started as a pump attendant. Today, she has grown to manage an entire shift at the bunk.

“I spent the first day on the job observing how air was checked, and how vehicles were regulated inside the petrol bunk,” recalls Kalaiselvi. She gradually moved on to changing oil for bikes, a job often associated with men, and learned to do it with professional ease. S. Rajeswari, the shift manager at Shell fuel station at Tambaram, was always fascinated by the task of changing oil for vehicles. “I’ve only seen men do it. I too wanted to try handling the spanner,” she says.

She too started as a pump attendant and moved up the ladder in a profession often dominated by men. Cars, bikes, spanners, nuts, and bolts never cease to fascinate her — Rajeswari spends every day of her life surrounded by them. She will never forget her first teacher — a hearing-impaired senior colleague who inscribed in her memory which spanner was used for which bike. “The spanners even appear in my dreams,” smiles the 29-year-old.

D. Parameswari, a supervisor who was once a pump attendant is sometimes surprised by her own strength. “I never thought I could do it,” she says, speaking of the first time she held a spanner for oil change. The slender 23-year-old goes about cleaning car windshields, filling petrol, and managing the in-house store with ease. She tops-up the engine oil, performs viscosity tests…Parameswari says that she enjoys every bit of her job.

The women speak of how friendly customers make it a point to ask after them if they are on leave. Kalaiselvi, for instance has a stream of regular customers who address her as ‘Kalai Amma’. The women have learned to deal with all kinds of people. “Not everyone treats us the same way. If a customer yells at us, we take it without complaining,” says Kalaiselvi.

As evening approaches, the petrol bunk fills up and the women are on their feet. A car pulls over and they set out to fill fuel after a polite conversation with the driver. They spray the windshield with a cleanser, and wipe it clean. Another car. And another one. They repeat the exercise with their smiles never fading.

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