Bharathi sits coyly on the chair, a shy smile is all she’ll offer at first. Her demure nature is juxtaposed by her bright attire. She wears an orange and red half-saree that’s heavily embroidered and shimmering. There is something compelling about Bharati right from the start. It only takes a second to feel her passion and know that this woman has a story to tell, even before she starts to tell it.
Bharathi puts a lot of thought into everything she wears. Most of her hair is tied up in a braid but a small section is twisted and pinned stylishly on the side. Her cheeks are blushed pink, and her glass bangles clink with every response.
Bharathi has polio, and walks with a heavy limp. And here lies the surprise. Bharathi is most passionate and talented when it comes to dance. She asks if we’d like to watch her dance, right here in the conference room at Shahi. We are only too delighted. She hops out to the side of the room and takes the stage. A new Bharathi emerges, one so very different from the shy woman with a coy smile.
She’s dancing to her favorite Telugu song, Allari-Allari. She meets every beat with the sway of her hips. Her facial expressions match the sentimentality of the song. When the song is happy, Bharathi reflects joy in every move. It’s almost impossible to think she is the same person we were talking to moments ago. This is her space. Give her a song, and she’ll make any place a stage. She owns the world when she dances; confident, dazzling and full of expression.
It wasn’t always easy for Bharati. When she first started work at Shahi she was insecure, shy, and looked at by others as ‘disabled’. Her 8 years at Shahi has changed much of this. She went through the P.A.C.E. program where she learnt financial planning, was given communication tools, and worked on inter-personal skills. It was during this time that she gained a lot of confidence.
“I trained under Sahana, she helped so much. Before, I never had any confidence at work but now I know my work. Shahi has also recognised me for my dancing abilities, it’s given me back my self-esteem.”
Bharathi has already participated in a few dance competitions, and came first in Shahi’s Women’s Day dance competition. She is proud and assured of working at a place that doesn’t just see her as a worker but as a woman – a woman with an unstoppable love for dance. “Once, at a dance function, a person in the audience came up to me and said that when I dance, I make people happy. That was the best compliment I could get”, she says thoughtfully as her hands fidget over her embroidered pallu. Her nails are painted neatly in dual-tone of blue and purple.
Bharathi admits that some sections of society look poorly on garment workers. “But I am so proud I work at Shahi, and because of it my brothers are proud of me.”
My brothers support me so much, they are the ones
who believe I can achieve anything I set my mind to.
She quickly goes back to the subject of dance and continues telling us about her favorite songs and how easily she choreographs them by herself. “I already have a dance partner picked out for the next Women’s Day function at Shahi. I’ve already started practicing.” Her eyes light up as she talks about the approaching function.
Bharathi is a woman who turned her perceived disability on its head. In fact, she’s a testament to the essence of Shahi: its people. A fierce reminder that the thousands of garment workers behind the scenes of our economy are passionate people. People with dreams, talents, and stories to tell. She shatters stereotypes by simply doing what she has to, making an honest living, taking pride in what makes her happy, and yes, dancing every chance she gets.