This is Shanti Devi, Possibly India’s first woman mechanic

New Delhi, June 15: At first glance she appears to be the woman-next-door. See her at work, and you will be in for a surprise. Yes 70 year old Shanti Devi is possibly India’s first woman mechanic and has been so for more than two decades now. Shanti Devi runs a motor repair shop in Delhi Sanjay Gandhi transport Nagar.

The environs are filthy with soot and grime hanging everywhere. In this typically a male bastion, rough and brusque mechanics go about, glibly mouthing unprintables and answering nature’s call almost anywhere.

Among dozens of grease splattered masculine hands rapidly passing tools, changing tyres or fixing punctures, you might spot a pair with coloured nails and bangles doing the same chores.

Shanti has roped in husband Ram Bahadur, her junior by 15 years, into the business. And Bahadur has no qualms in assisting his wife.

This woman has had an eventful and interesting life. Originally from Gwalior, she shifted to Delhi 45 years ago, and funded her first wedding with savings of Rs 4,500. She recalls, “ My mother went through tremendous hardships to bring us up. I worked at odd jobs like stitching and rolling beedis. I managed to save up to get married and move out.”

Shanti and Bahadur, who incidentally is her second husband, earlier ran a tea-stall in the area. Twenty five years down the line the teas stall gave way to a repair shop.  Shanti   apprenticed under a mistri who taught her how to change tyres, fix punctures, and make minor engine repairs – in lieu of some food and money, for a month!

Shanti opted for this ‘unwomanly’ profession solely to augment the family’s income since both she and Bahadur were saddled with  kids from their earlier marriages.  “His wife ran away with another man and my first husband died early. He was a wastrel anyway, whatever I saved he blew it up in alcohol and gambling. If I refused to give him money, he hit me. I lost my elder son in an accident many years later. But life has to go on.”

Dressed in a sari-blouse set Shanti wears comfortable canvas shoes and socks which are teamed up with silver anklets. She rigidly keeps her head covered   to keep away the heat and dust. Her fondness for colour highlights the woman in her.

Surprisingly, instead of regular paint or polish, she has stuck strips of colorful window film, (used in cars) on her nails, which she says glows in the night. She wears plastic bangles instead of glass given the occupational hazard. She recalls, “Once, while passing a long tool to a worker, it got stuck in my glass bangles on the wrist and broke. The shards pierced into my skin and it became a wound. I like bangles; I just choose the ones that won’t break that easily.”

How do the men in the area view her? “It’s how you conduct yourself. They are quite happy that I do similar work as them, more so, especially since I have been written about in the press over the years,” says  Shanti
The income from the workshop has been sufficient for the couple to get their children married and settled besides building a small home for themselves.

Life goes on for Shanti; she has no desire whatsoever for publicity or fame. Instead she lives a dull, lacklusture life wielding the spanner and the kitchen ladle with equal ease.