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Woman Winning Posts All The Way!

The Draft, in continuance of the International Women's Day celebrations held on 8 March 2021, profiles superwomen of sorts, from all walks of life, for a full week on till 15 March 2021
(Read all the Women's Week stories here)

All Post Master General Shobha Madhale wanted as a child was to earn enough to buy a lot of sarees. She earned more and with dollops of respect and pride, writes Manu Shrivastava

“All I wanted, as a child, was to be financially independent so I could treat myself the way I wanted,” says Post Master General Navi Mumbai Region Shobha Madhale. It’s the chase of a small dream that usually sends people catapulting to pinnacles of success. And, Shobha’s story was similar. 

Then, Shobha’s aspirations were restricted to being “particularly fond of a magazine called Mayapuri,” where she would read about “Hema Malini and how she’d change sarees so frequently.” That was it. Now, Shobha wanted to earn enough money to be able to buy sarees and a lot of them.

Born in Kolhapur where girls hardly studied too much, it was the stream of students approaching her father, a deputy collector, for academic assistance that fired her own imagination. “That exposure had a lasting impression on me and I learned that a government job was the best thing to happen to anyone,” recalls Shobha.

COMING OF AGE: Shobha Madhale has made sure her children have grown up to be independent
So, after finishing her M.Sc, she appeared for MPSC exams as well as UPSC exams. Shobha cleared MPSC but opted for UPSC, only to “see the country. There were no girls in civil services from South Maharashtra and concurrently very less guidance for girl aspirants,” she recalls. “I had to study on my own. Apart from my supportive family especially my home-maker mother who, despite being barely Class VII pass, was determined to see me study,” says Shobha.

“Why, even my father, despite his education was unsure about sending me to Mumbai at the onset for the civil services coaching but my mother wouldn’t relent. Besides coaching, even the exams were held in Mumbai,” she maintains. Even relatives would say, “Kitna padhaoge ladki ko, shadi nahi hogi.”

On her first posting at Palakkad in Kerala in July 1996, immediately after her marriage, she recalls having faced tremendous language issues. “I had to pick up the local language in each and every state I was posted in order to teach my children too and perform my duties,” she recalls.

TRIUMPHANT: Shobha cleared MPSC and UPSC exams even LL.B
After travelling through several states, Shobha returned to her home state in 2016 and "initiated the Navi Mumbai Region of India Post." Now, since February 2017, she has remained the Post Master General of the Navi Mumbai Region overseeing Raigad, Palghar, Thane, Navi Mumbai and other areas.

“It’s owing to the transferable nature of my father’s job that I went to school in different places in Maharashtra before coming to Kolhapur in the tenth standard where I finally stayed back and finished BSc and MSc from Shivaji University,” maintains Shobha.

Grateful to her parents for being supportive at a time when few would even imagine a girl working her way to the top in the manner she did, Shobha is also thankful to several local college professors who helped her by permitting access to the library. 

“I had no clue about the Civil Service Exam, the pattern and other variables. There was no coaching available too at Kolhapur leaving me with little option but to move to Mumbai,” she adds. So, for one year she came to Mumbai to prepare for the exams.

ACHIEVER: Winning at school gave her the confidence to pursue her dreams in life
On work across India, she says, “During my posting in Assam, I was in a terror-hit area where there would be frequent bomb blasts but learned to take things in my stride. Why, I would even manage to go out for ice creams.”

Yet, it was in 2008, when she was posted in Mumbai and had a close brush with the legendary terror attacks that left her shaken to the core. 

“I remember when I was posted in Mumbai in 2008 and living in a government quarter at CST at the time of the Mumbai terror attacks with my three-year-old daughter,” she recalls with a sense of trepidation. “Fortunately, that night, I was away for an event in Cuffe Parade. It was for the very first time in life that I was actually scared and ensured locks were installed everywhere in the building,” says Shobha.

Now, mother to 22-year-old Shreyas and 16-year-old Shreya, looks back at life’s memories with fondness and gratitude. “When my daughter finished her exams during the lockdown, I realised the work the teachers had been doing ensuring classes and exams are conducted online. As a tribute, I released a special postal cover in October 2020,” says an introspective Shobha.

TOGETHER: Shobha with her siblings and parents on the day of her wedding
“As a boss, I have faced innumerable situations where subordinates wouldn’t want to work under a woman. I’d literally have to extract work from them,” she tells The Draft on International Women’s Day. 

Recalling a personal crisis, when she was pregnant with her second child and posted in Trivandrum, the doctor diagnosed her with gestational diabetes and advised her to abort the foetus. “It was a very difficult phase as I could not even think about aborting a life. I refused to abort my child without a second thought,” she quipped.

During the nine months of pregnancy that followed and, then, for the next two years, she took insulin injections. “During the pregnancy, I was also transferred to Delhi. While initially my husband would pitch in and help but, once he got transferred, I had to do everything on my own; Right from taking insulin, caring for my infant child and looking after my son who had just started school,” says the tough-as-ever Shobha. 

RELENTLESS: Despite all obstacles, Shobha Madhale performs her duties tirelessly
“I was young then and it was a testing phase and emotionally very traumatising. Now, am mature and looking back I believe we should always be positive and learn from our experiences. I firmly believe that we finally get whatever is fated to be our share, not more, not less,” feels Shobha. She also tells her children to “just keep working. Things will fall in place.”

At a time when few in her place would even bother to study further, Shobha enrolled in a college for a degree in law “to learn about the rights of women.” “I realised there is equality in the Constitution but not in society and women are unaware of their rights.” Even then, she’d first get up at 5 am to get ready to send her children to school, prepare breakfast, go to college herself before going to office, return home and start all over again. 

“I was contemplating doing an LLM too after my graduation in law, but my daughter flatly shot down the suggestion as that meant no more bedtime stories,” recalls the multi-faceted Shobha.

Leading by example, Shobha, despite being a diabetic, worked throughout the lockdown ensuring parcels, medical packages, PPE kits, medicines were delivered on time. “I had to do everything on my own then, from preparing food at home for the children, lunch for myself, even all the sundry work. It was only in July 2020 that postal workers in Mumbai were allowed to use the local train service and things eased out a bit."

Shobha, on her part, has fought battles on several fronts – as a girl child, as a woman leader, as a female boss leading by example in a male-dominated field and more…winning all the time, always!

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