When Women Hold the Fort | Value Research While men would like to think otherwise, we are being ruled by women today in many different arenas

When Women Hold the Fort

While men would like to think otherwise, we are being ruled by women today in many different arenas

Narendra Modi, Gujarat chief minister, said recently that India was the youngest country in the world and had more young men and women than anywhere else. 65 per cent of Indians were under the age of 35, while in most other countries, particularly Europe, it was the other way round.

I had suspected as much until I started looking around in the streets. The proportion of the young is actually much more than 65 per cent, especially when it comes to women.

I was wondering why there were so many of them about, until the penny dropped. We have, I think, more young women in cities, than anywhere else, except perhaps New York and London, where they seem to outnumber men by as much as five to one.

30 or 40 years ago, you could rarely see young girls or women in restaurants, even in cities like Bombay where I grew up, and never in hotels. Even the people at the counter were men. In fact, there were men everywhere and few women and girls. Now its the other way round.

I suspect that we are now being ruled by women, though we men think otherwise. This country is actually being run by a woman, and, until a few months ago, even the President in Rashtrapati Bhavan was a woman. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha is a woman and so is the leader of the opposition. They are formidable ladies: one raised eyebrow and the MPs fall silent. Quite a few chief ministers of states are women and they are always in the news. A number of private banks are run by women, along with quite a few large business houses.

I live in Pune which is, and has been for a long time, a woman's city. Men like me, even harmless old men, have no place in it. My bank manager is a young woman in her twenties and she treats us, wisened old men who have seen thrice as many summers, as delinquents. She summons us from time to time and lectures us on mutual funds and other devices, though we are past such things and have no use for them. But we nod our heads and depart silently, thanking her for her cup of tea.

Immediately after the last war, when I lived in England, it seemed as if the whole country had been taken over by women, while most of the men were away at the war, leaving behind their wives and daughters to hold the fort. And they did it very well. Women manned, if that is the right word, the underground and drove buses and trains, jumping up and down the giant double-decker London buses, issuing tickets and small change, as if to the manner born. They were chirpy little cockney girls, quick at repartee and swear words, and skilled at putting men, mostly old men, in their place, if they tended to be funny. One girl, barely 16, told an old man, old enough to be her grandfather, to keep his mouth shut, as it interfered with her work. And the man never uttered a word after that.

Things were different in India, but not much different. Here, women are still women, even with hundreds working under them, and girls are girls. And I often feel they are much better than men in whatever they do.

Once I visited an atomic installation near Bombay – it was, I think, in a place called Trombay, not far from the main city – surprised to find being handed over to a young girl, possibly just out of college, very proud and self-possessed, who showed me round the place. I know a little bit of physics, enough to distinguish between uranium and plutonium, and was, of course, fascinated to see them on the screens as the reactions proceeded. The lady was very young, very pretty, as most Indian girls are, and as polite as a steward in a five-star restaurant. After we went through the drill, she took me back to Dr Bhabha's office where the great man was waiting for us.

I asked why he had so many women in his lab.

"Because", he said, "They are very good." And they are.

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