Kalyani sells fish at Nochi Kuppam; Maheshwari is a television actor; Mrinalini Dhanesh Maher is the chairperson of the Chennai chapter of FICCI Ladies Organisation. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Akila Kannadasan spends a day with three women who lead completely different lives

Kalyani, Nochi Kuppam, Fish-seller

The battle lasts almost 30 minutes. “It’s just a hundred rupees,” says the customer. “Why don’t you give it?” Kalyani shakes her head. “It’s just a hundred rupees. Why don’t you take it?” The chunky vanjiram fish dangles between the two: will Kalyani give it for less ? The customer leaves and Kalyani mutters: “Go, go. You will come back to me.” And she does. Kalyani wins. She grins as the money is handed to her.

Selling fish at Nochi Kuppam, off the Marina Beach, is not easy. “Everybody wants it at a lower rate,” says Kalyani. She leaves from her home at the Kuppam at around 4 a.m. every day in an auto with a few others to the fishing harbour at Kasimedu. The fish she sells comes from there — Kalyani elbows her way through hundreds of vendors like her who come to buy fish to be retailed. She sets up shop from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., takes an hour’s break and comes back at 3 p.m. It’s after 10 p.m. that she packs her leftovers to be salted and dried, and goes home.

Her trick of the trade: “Anbala vellanum — win with love”. Over the years, she has dealt with all kinds of haggling customers. “But if I tell them ‘Anna, kattadhu na, konjam paathu kudu — brother, this won’t do. Please give me more’, most of them give in,” she smiles.

Just then, her daughter Ameena, who has been playing behind the shanty in her school uniform, rushes into her arms, crying. She has hit her head on a plastic container. Tears roll down her cheeks. Kalyani wipes them and takes her home. We watch her cross the road as her words ring in our ears: “If my husband comes home drunk at night, I can’t sleep. Sometimes, if he is not drunk, he is good to me. Sometimes.”

Actor Maheshwari, Television actor

She has spent her entire morning in a rickety auto, pursued by villains. Maheshwari is tired. She catches a quick nap between her next schedule when her assistant comes, asking if she is ready. On the set of Vijay TV’s tele-serial Puthu Kavidhai, the actor prepares for the shoot. “My day starts at 7 a.m.,” she says as she applies foundation on her face — Maheshwari does her make-up herself. “I drive to the spot. The schedule gets over only by 9 p.m. It’s almost 11 p.m. when I get back home.”

The schedule leaves her with no time for herself. “Right now, since I’m doing the lead role in two serials, I work round the clock,” she says. “There’s no personal space.” Life as an actor is demanding. But she enjoys it. “It’s a different world. The make-up, the sounds such as ‘action!’ on the set, the attention I get…I enjoy it,” she says.

But this life is not permanent. For, at the back of her mind is a nagging thought: What next? “People like me now. But I don’t know what will happen afterwards,” she says. The work atmosphere and the pay, she says, are good. It’s easy to get addicted to this profession. “We are like family. Marriages happen between people in the industry. The timing is flexible too. If I don’t feel up to it, I can take a day or two off,” she says. Her make-up is done — Maheshwari is ready to face the camera. She gives her hair a final brush, and walks downstairs to let the hero rescue her. In the serial, of course!

Mrinalini Dhanesh Maher, Chairperson: Chennai chapter of FICCI Ladies Organisation

Mrinalini is late for a meeting. She picks up her files, slings her handbag across her shoulder, takes her phone and asks her driver to ready the car. As chairperson of the Chennai chapter of FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO), she runs through the preparations for an awards ceremony to be held this month.

Hopping from one meeting to another, preparing newsletters, organising events, talking to sponsors…this is how Mrinalini Dhanesh Maher typically spends her days. She is also involved in a hotel business her father is starting. Stocks and shares are yet another area of interest — she follows the Sensex on her phone, every now and then. “I wake up at 6.15 a.m.,” she says. This is the most important part of her day: getting her son Tej ready for school.

“We are planning a fashion show as part of the awards function,” she tells us as we zip through traffic on Anna Salai. “The members themselves are participating in it.” The car comes to a halt at a jewellery store — Mrinalini walks in, her shoes clacking on the mosaic floor. They are the sponsors for the event; the meeting lasts almost an hour.

She consults her watch on the way back — her son will be home at around 2.45 p.m. In between running around for FLO activities during the day, Mrinalini ensures she is with her ten-year-old for lunch. It’s work again after the quality time she spends with him. It’s only by 8 a.m., after her son is asleep, that she manages to enjoy her ‘me’ time. That’s also when she tries her hand at cooking. “I try putting together a salad, soup, watch TV…” she says. “I look forward to 8 p.m.”