METRO PLUS

Speed-posted to the top

"I ENJOY WHAT I DO" Karuna Pillai  

A grandmother who went to Oxford to study and was later invited by the Nizam government to teach in Hyderabad. Mom, a journalist who edited a newspaper in Nagpur. A sister in the Police force. No one had to tell Karuna Pillai, Post Master General, Mail and Marketing, "You have to do something in life". In her family, it was simply a given. A "Hyderabadi woman", she majored in English with the first batch of students at the Hyderabad University, wrote her UPSC months before she got married and joined the Postal Services.

But she had to pay the price for the "something in life". Pillai had to pull the kids out of school ("my daughter went to six different schools") whenever she got transferred. Most times, she handled the kids alone with the soldier husband away on posting. "It's been tough on the kids," she admits wistfully. "Army Public School in Delhi and the IIT Campus School in Chennai are worlds apart. In Delhi, kids are individualistic, independent. Here, they have to conform, practise quietness. No stepping out of line. But they also learn to adjust." Daughter is in touch with friends through Internet but before that "she made excellent use of the department," she jokes.

"You are not a queen of all you survey. You are just a cog in the machinery," could be her description of the job. But survey she does, of railway mail offices, sometimes as late as half past nine at night. Her beat includes Egmore and Central Stations, Adam's Park building, the airport, all business post centres in the city. "When the kids were young, I used to take them along. I've dragged my kids to the Vijayawada railway station, managed them alone in Raniket and Almora."

In her mail-ordered life, she has seen post offices shed their staid image to paint themselves in new colours. With e-mail emptying mailboxes for bird nests, revenues plummeted. Franking had to be supported by new business. Postmasters now go out to meet customers, supervise parcel movement across state borders (postal vans carry other cargo), take an active role in sprucing up decades-old post offices. "Women do mail-co-ordination in the middle of the night. I came with that confidence into the service."

As she speed-posted her way to the top office, she began to look forward to a new address every three or four years. New pastures, new targets and she could leave a stamp of her own wherever she found herself. The three years in Chennai have been good. "People are civilised and helpful."

She has no grouse about gender issues in office. For one who keeps chickens and dogs at home, managing a diverse workforce shouldn't be too difficult. "I argue my point as a person. I am well prepared. I make sure I know my work. I visit places and keep tabs on what's happening. I am heard and I'm accepted." She gives the young newcomers a generous pat. But "anyone who lags takes it from me. It's all about hard work, enthusiasm and honesty in your job... "

Competing with courier services and adapting to an enlarged sphere of activities might leave little time or space for hobbies. But Pillai could probably give you lessons on time management. She goes for walks, window-shops with friends, does a bit of embroidery and gardening and loves meeting people. She has bragging rights for river-water rafting. "I don't stay cocooned in my room. I learned a lot from my grandma. You know she built her own house!"

Of course, husband is the mainstay. He encouraged her to continue during difficult times, saying she'd be terribly unhappy if she quit. "Sometimes I'd be back at nine at night and he'd take care of the kids." When the children asked her to wear saris instead of salwar-kameezes and "act her age", husband would say she "looked nice". Absence makes the heart grow fonder, she grins. Couples get to appreciate each other. Which is why there are fewer divorces in the Army and the Air Force.

"I was born lucky," she claims. "I lived through a major accident. I fell in love and married. I live in a close-knit family packed with fun. I enjoy what I do."

On men: Mostly, I'm friends with them, but I also put them in their place.

On women: Not to the extent of being a workaholic.

On play: Love to chat, I'm a big `talker'.

GEETA PADMANABHAN

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