Everybody in the conference room knows Marthal. She’s a person who immediately brings out a smile in anybody, even in a crowd. Marthal is more than reciprocal in this affection, she singles out a woman in the conference room. “That girl, I pray for her every day. She just makes everyone around her happy, that’s why I really like her.” After we decided to conduct our interview in our native lexicon, Tamil (Marthal speaks fluent English, as well as Kannada), I begin my questions addressing her as Marthal; she immediately smiles and stops me.
“Nobody in Shahi even knows me as Marthal.”
“What do they know you as?”
“Everyone calls me mother or grandmother over here. That’s the relationship people have with me.”
Marthal is unsure about the precise date of her birth but she claims to be around 60, even though she is probably older. She is the oldest woman working in Shahi and has been here since 1992, having worked in Shahi's first ever unit in Bangalore. No matter who they are, everyone stops by to personally pay their respects to Marthal. “Even the director will come and ask about me and how I’m doing. I think it’s very nice.” A co-worker, who had lost his parents, found the sympathetic eye of Marthal who almost took him on as her own son, such are the relationships that she forges in Shahi. Marthal joined Shahi as a sticker cutter and with her dedication and diligence to the job she has risen up the ranks to be a store assistant. Her dedication has seen her win prizes for best employee over the years. “No matter what, I will make it to work. I have no need to take leave, the company gives me a bus pass and they provide me food also when I’m here. Why shouldn’t I come?" Marthal’s diligence on the job is something that she takes pride in and truly hopes to impart to the younger generation. “I tell them that everything that you do must be done properly, you must account for everything. You must be careful with everything and do your work the best that you can.”
Marthal has a fiercely independent spirit: “My salary is enough to take care of myself, I give most of it to the church.” She travels a very long distance on buses to get to work and this is despite the fact that she is physically disabled. “I was not born with a disability, people often think that I am. But no, that is not the case.” At the young age of five, Marthal suffered a big fall which left her with an extremely serious back injury, one that makes it difficult for her to walk. The world can be a very unfair place to someone with a disability and it wasn’t until she joined Shahi that Marthal truly held a steady job. When she was a sticker cutter, her job demanded that she stand for long durations of the day. Marthal was offered a job that permitted her to sit at a desk but she refused because she did not want to receive any special treatment. Marthal worked in that job for 15 years before moving to another department. “They take care of me so well, they are always helping me out even when I don’t ask. Every time there is an important event at Shahi, I am the person who is asked to light the lamp to begin the event.”
That’s the relationship people have with me.
Marthal’s favourite passage from the Bible is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane right before the crucifixion. It is an apt parable of devotion and faith in the light of extreme adversity, one that can be compared easily to Marthal’s life. The world is unjust by design and even more so for those who suffer from a disability. Despite this, Marthal stuck to her faith and her dedication to doing good work and learning from the small lessons that each day has taught her.