Sorry, Not For Sale is an autobiography of Urmila Bhargava, ‘the only woman entrepreneur in the world engaged in the business of re-refining waste lubricating oil’. While this in itself is a great feat, what is all the more fascinating is that she did this 4 decades back, in the 1970s when women were mostly confined to the traditional role of a homemaker.
Born into a liberal family in the 1950s, the author and her sister were given an education and upbringing at par with the boys in the family. The author relates to us of the various outdoor activities she and her sister were encouraged to participate in. They participated in Prabhat Pheris, got a college education, travelled to cities for singing performances and mixed freely with people from the opposite sex, something which is unthinkable in certain communities and parts of this country even today. Despite the fact that she lost her mother at a young age, her father ensured that she grew up to be a talented young lady, who was not only fiercely independent with deep rooted principles of truth and honesty, but was also not afraid to voice her opinions in front of her male counterparts, of which there are umpteen examples in the book. Her straightforwardness and her unwillingness to compromise or flatter will surely win your heart.
The author met her match in MM, whom she married. Although it was an arranged marriage, the author says that the first time she met MM, it was something akin to ‘love at first sight’. MM was not only extremely popular due to the fact that he was a very amiable person but also because he was a star sportsman in college and also in the later years at the tea gardens where he worked. But the most amazing quality about her husband was that he treated his wife as an equal, consulted her on important matters and valued her advice. Theirs was a beautiful marriage where each partner respected and valued the other. In fact the story of how MM send his testimonials to the author as an application for the post of ‘consort’ for the ‘Queen of hearts’ is heart melting.
A major part of the book describes their life at tea gardens in the north east. The fact that both MM and the author did not believe in flattering their European bosses, refrained from non-vegetarian food and alcohol nor did they change the way they dressed and spoke made them popular amongst the bosses. This however resulted in them being targeted by the other Indian Planters out of jealousy. What made matters worse was MM’s honesty. In the gardens where everyone was trying to make more money illegally, MM remained honest and hence was of not of much benefit to the garden owners. This resulted in frequent transfers to remote, loss making gardens, which MM turned profitable with his sheer hard work. The author’s description of the so called ‘Memsahibs’ who kept their hair short, insisted their children call them ‘Mum’ and refused to do any household chore including raising their kids, is hilarious. The author regales us with various stories of the garden, the difficult conditions, the lack of communication with the outside world, the lack of hospitals, the danger of wild animals, labor troubles etc. but what comes through these anecdotes is the beautiful bond of companionship and love, which MM and she shared.
Her well settled and peaceful life however changes overnight due to the sudden demise of her husband due to a cardiac arrest. Her children still small and a SSI unit under commission, the author’s difficult yet magnificent journey begins. Despite being discouraged and abandoned by relatives, she decides to complete the unfinished task of her husband to ensure financial security and stability for her family. Being the only woman in the field of crude oil re-refining without any knowledge in the field, she finds herself battling a corrupt and archaic system. A system which formulates laws to encourage entrepreneurship, but tries its best to stifle any new undertaking though corrupt practices. A system which forces honest people to either give in to corruption or step aside. But once in a while we have people like the author who refuse to give in, who stand up for what is right and what is their right, taking on the system fearlessly. The author tells us about the harassment she faced at the hands of every single department including the judiciary. How people used their influence and money to trick her and usurp her factory. It is almost heroic how she battles the odds and eventually establishes herself as a successful business woman in a field not treaded by any other woman before.
It is an awe inspiring story indeed. For all those who complain about the system and how they have no other choice but to give into it, it is a must read. For all those battling odds and are at the verge of giving up, it is a must read. For all those who wonder ‘What can I do alone?’ it is a must read. For all those with myriad views [often myopic] on feminism, it is a must read.
Where the book fails however is in its structure and the narration technique. The author chooses to divide the chapters’ basis topics like ‘Flattery’, ‘Patriotism’, ‘Non-resident Indians’ so on and so forth and then she relates an incident or story around it. This results in many stories or anecdotes getting repeated again and again. Due to the lack of a proper chronology, it at times becomes difficult to follow what is happening when. A major part of the book is dedicated to describing her life in the gardens and criticizing the people around, I would have loved to read more about her struggles in establishing her factory and making it a success. At times the author sounds very preachy which might not appeal to a lot of people of the current generation. Also the self-praise the author indulges in is not required. I wish the author had more confidence in her story, which indeed is praiseworthy.
Overall however it is a great story, inspirational and courageous. I just wish it was an engaging read as well.
For more information on the book visit, http://www.urmilabhargava.com/2014/12/hello-world/