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Dania is woman in an unusual profession, mixing and serving drinks at a resort bar in Kerala, and does so with dignity and elan!
My husband and I had recently visited Kollam (in Kerala) for a short vacation. Having indulged in the splendid beauty of the backwaters and the supremely green mangroves and rows of coconut trees, we decided to sign off the day at the Sunset Bar of our Resort.
As the sky turned golden red, it was the perfect time to guzzle down a couple of drinks. We called for the steward. An elegant lady in her early thirties walked up to with a light, pleasant smile playing on her lips. We asked for the drinks menu. Light on her feet, she quickly presented the menu. Seeing no other steward around us, my husband told her gingerly that he would like to have a pint of kingfisher beer, while I asked for a Peach Cooler.
Soon she came back with my mocktail, one Kingfisher pint and a beer mug, neatly placed on a colourful frosted glass tray with a hibiscus flower carefully placed at its corner. The pinkish orange cooler, deep brown beer popping up strings of bubbles and the blood red hibiscus flower accompanying it – it all created a uniquely artistic impression on my mind!
She bent down, asked my husband to touch the bottom of the beer bottle to check if it was ‘chilled enough’ to his liking, waited for his nod-cum-smile, and popped the bottle open – like a boss! Then, she began pouring the beer into the beer mug – like a pro! Just the right angle and curvature of tilting the bottle against the circular mouth of the mug such that there is adequate beer foam generously rising above the brim, while ensuring that there is no messy spill over.
As he lifted his mug to bring it closer to his mouth, she smiled at both of us and said “Cheers” with a thumbs up! It was an utterly sweet gesture!
As I sipped on my mocktail, I could not help but be amazed at the contrast between what I had just visually seen in the last 10 minutes and what I had just experienced. Let me explain.
What I had seen was that the lady who had served us the beer (she went on to become my first friend in Kollam – her name is Dania – so I shall call her by her name henceforth) was a petite woman dressed up in the signature traditional Kerala attire – white saree with golden border. She wore fragrant flowers beaded into her hair bun. A small black bindi adorned her forehead and dangling gold earrings added the traditional touch to her face.
She wore brown slippers for footwear and had a heavy South Indian accent. When she laughed, braces shone innocently. Overall, if one was to see only the ‘outward’ portrayal, it was as conservative a turnout as couldn’t be in a ‘Bar’! If trapped by preconceived notions, which is more often than not, one would imagine her serving a glass of tropical juices and fish salads, but certainly not the oh-so-masculine liquor! And boy! Did she serve with total class!
Now, coming to what I had experienced. It was apparent that Dania was a confident woman and impressively a pro at her job. As I pierced through her traditional outward veil, I found that she was outgoing, loved meeting new people and was not at all judgemental. She did not drink herself. And she was firm to state that it was irrelevant because whether or not a person says ‘yes’ to drinks is not an indicator of her progression as a person or her growth as a professional. One can be modern with and without it, both!
In other words, Dania was as ‘western’ and beautiful as any woman who would be sporting smart western clothes, speaking impeccable English, wearing loud yet gorgeous make-up, and serving liquor with style in the background of jarring music and intoxicating smells in a posh lounge-cum-bar of a 5 Star Property in a metro city.
In fact, it is not uncommon that a girl playing stewardess and/or bartender at a high end night club, may not actually be an outgoing person! Inherently, she can be a very private person who is not at all smart at handling men in the external world! She can be someone who does not have the ‘characteristics’ that we assume to be necessarily present in a female whose profession is to serves at bars! It all boils down to our deep seated perceptions which do not allow us to look at the act of serving alcohol by a woman as anything short of outrageous, ‘westernized’, and even sometimes verging on characterless.
My favorite discovery arising from my numerous chat sessions with Dania is that she was working at the sunset bar of our resort out of choice! She was not suffering from financial distress or anything negative of the sort that we generally presume would drive a lady to work in such ‘not so appropriate’ unladylike spaces! For her, serving at a bar was just a job. A job that she must do well. And that’s that.
This was an absolutely striking point – the clinical way in which it is possible to execute jobs in the nature of dancing and bartending while are otherwise burdened with prejudices and hypocritical connotations that society loves to create! We are far away from the day when our society focuses on the quality of the service provided vide the act of serving alcohol as a part of a person’s work profile, instead of treating this service as a determinant of the ‘character’ of the person performing it solely due to ‘gender’!
Hence, what Dania was doing with utmost ease reflects her purity of thought, inner strength and backing from a family that has imbibed education in its true sense. Forget about serving alcohol, most women who themselves enjoy their drinks, shy away from even purchasing alcohol from liquor stores and conveniently leave this task to their male friends or male cousins.
Dania performed her job of serving liquor in a resort, playing host to foreigners and Indians alike, with utmost dignity. Her culture was very dear to her. She displayed it beautifully and kept it intact. For me, she was truly a liberated woman. A big ‘Cheers’ to you Dania, and many more Danias who are in the offing!
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Image source: Anusha Singh