It was not love at first sight. In fact, I hardly noticed her. With her thick rimmed frames and curly mop of hair, she came wheeling towards me to ask for the time. I looked at her frail body and bright face and responded: “9:10 am. The meeting will begin at 9:30 am.” She thanked me and took her spot in the conference room.
There was no way that this woman was going to be part of my team in the organisation where I worked. She must got in through the disability quota. Was this workplace reservation for disabled people a blessing or curse? While on one hand, I commended the idea for reservations for such people, on the other hand I was doubtful of their capabilities like the rest of us. After all, would they be able to cope with the real pressures of business challenges and changes?
I didn´t think much of the quiet woman on the wheelchair that day. Like others, I pitied Chavvi but never saw her as a worthy colleague and employee. As her boss, I worried that she would prove to be a long-term liability in my team.
Chavvi turned out to be a beautiful lesson. I thought there couldn´t be anyone who was an earlier riser than me. I´d be in the office at 4.30 am but Chavvi beat my gold standard record by turning up every day at 3.00 am. Damn! Why is this woman so good at everything that she does? But, it was a good feeling to know that I had company. I had someone to look forward to when I got to the office. It felt like home away from home with Chavvi around.
We´d get started on our work and meet up at sunrise for a morning walk where I pushed her around on her wheelchair. Later, we would drive to the city for breakfast. Some days, she´d make breakfast for the two of us. We hit it off instantly.
Not only did Chavvi manage to surprise us with her phenomenal work but also her giving nature. Everyone took to her and she took to every one. Chavvi infused humanness in this cold corporate culture. She was slowly but surely growing to be an irreplaceable asset for my team. She had a good head for numbers, breaking down facts and figures and hitting the right interpretation for future business strategy.
Before I realized, Chavvi was growing on me. She inspired by just being her. I would watch her at work and with people around her. She had a mesmerising effect on everyone. Before I knew it, I was starting to fantasise about her. For the initial moment, I was taken aback by my strong feelings towards her. Is this even normal?
Chavvi might stand out like a sore thumb in a crowd but she´s as normal as anyone of us. She loves to listen to groovy music, binge watch on TV shows and movies, watch sports and has a dry sense of humour. It was hard not to fall in love with her. In fact, if you ask me I´d say that she´s extraordinary to sport a million dollar smile on her face after being born this way – a spastic paraplegic.
I couldn´t fight my feelings for her but, I did my best to mask them. I don´t know why! I guess I was having a hard time myself accepting the fact that I was in love with someone who is not considered ´normal´ as per societal and family standards. Besides, I wasn´t even sure if Chavvi felt the same way I did.
Late one evening, Chavvi came storming into my cabin.
“Yoginder sexually assaulted me.”
“Anurag, he came into my cabin and sexually molested me.”
“I don´t understand.”
“Well, he told me that if I give in to his advances, he will recommend my name for promotion to you.”
I was taken aback by Chavvi´s accusations. But more so, by her direct approach and courage. In all my years of experience at the corporate, it was a rare sight to see a woman speak up on time against sexual harassment by those in managerial positions. She asked Yoginder to be summoned at my office immediately. I could see her seething in anger under her controlled breaths.
“She´s lying, Anurag. Why would I hit on a vegetable on wheelchairs when I can have any woman that I wanted?”
“Because you thought you could sway and intimidate me with your position and lies. You manipulative b/&%$#”@!”
“She´s not just a disabled liability but also a pathological liar.”
“Shut up, Yoginder! You have crossed all the possible limits of decency.”, I yelled.
“I want a probe done immediately into Yoginder´s past history, Anurag! Else, I will go public with this matter.”
Yoginder had been my favourite employee till now. He was smart, articulate and a dependable team member. I knew that one of his character flaws was his philandering ways. But, that was his personal life and it was none of my business to lecture a married man and father. As long as he was a valuable asset to my team, I swore by Yoginder. But, I had never in my wildest dreams imagined that Yoginder would stoop so low as to use his position to intimidate and assault a disabled woman. Not only did he disappoint me as a professional, he infuriated me for daring to finger Chavvi.
Chavvi was no ´damsel in distress´ and I couldn´t be more proud of her. We met as usual the next morning for our morning walks.
“Yoginder has been a good employee, Chavvi. And he claims that he would never abuse his position to molest any woman.”
“That´s what they all say. Anurag, I got sexually molested at the age of 12 in a public train. The perpetrator thought I couldn´t do a thing because of my disability. I swore that day that it would be the first and last time that I kept quiet. Please don´t give us cheap carrots as baits and offer such measly jobs in big companies. I´ve settled for less in this company but I am hopeful that my work will see me thorough the top.”
“You have ambitions to reach the top?”
“Anurag, I am as normal as anyone can be. I cannot walk but that makes no difference to the kind of work that I do. My brains functions faster than anyone in the team. I don´t see why I can´t break the glass ceiling and set the example for others like me.”
I could now see why Chavvi posed a threat to Yoginder. Yoginder was a male chauvinist who believed that the rightful place for a woman is in the kitchen and not in the decision-making boardrooms. He thought working women were like pretty wallflowers and served as éye-candy´ motivation for men. When he saw a formidable contender in Chavvi who wasn´t hanging around for pocket money salary, he tried to intimidate and control her by assaulting her.
Yoginder was terminated with immediate effect. Chavvi didn´t shy away from speaking about the sexual molestation incident. She set the precedent for other women employees to speak up. Overall, her presence brought not just a stabilising presence but also a safe and open work environment in the company. She displayed an organic stye of leadership where both men and women were drawn towards her. Chavvi became a symbol of inspiration for everyone in the company. They thought – “If she can do it, why can´t I?”
But, the one who Chavvi left the deepest imprint on was me. My feelings for her refused to die down with time. In the meanwhile, there was family pressure to get married the arranged way. I had to get this secret out of my chest.
“Chavvi, have you ever thought about marriage?”
“As a child, I did. I was too naive to understand the ways of the world then. But, I let go off that wishful thinking a long time ago.”
“But why? You have goals to break the glass ceiling. You said you were as normal as anyone in the company. Yet, you shy away from marriage.”
“Who would want to marry a girl like me?”
“Who wouldn´t, Chavvi?”
She bent her head down. I knew it all along. I knelt down, placed her hand on my heart and kissed her tenderly on her lips. I felt warm tears trickle down on my palms. I hugged Chavvi close and whispered in her ears:
“Chavvi, I have loved you for a long, long time. I cannot go on without you. Please marry me. I know that you are perfectly capable of taking care of yourself. But, let me love, protect and take care of you.”
Chavvi responded with a long, passionate kiss that blew me away. I had no idea that she was harbouring a raging storm inside her like me.
Talking of storm, all hell brooke loose when I first broke the news to my family. They were devastated at my marriage announcement. I was the apple of the eye of my parents who made them very proud with all my academic honours and achievements. They had equally high hopes when it came to my marriage as well.
“Are you out of your mind?”
“You are taking your charity act a bit too far.”
“Charity begins at home, you know.”
“What about children? What about you? Who is going to look after you?”
I didn´t choose to respond to their well-intended questions back then. Instead, I let our 25 year old marriage and two beautiful children be their answer.