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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Kong Sobinara’s Garage

In 2003, Sobinara Kyrsian’s husband was diagnosed with an illness. In the last week of February this year, he passed away. Since his health took a sharp turn toward tragedy, “Kong Sobinara”, as she is known, had to find a better means of living. So she decided to repair vehicles, an unorthodox profession for a Khasi woman. Saiñkupar Syngkli speaks to her on what it takes to do a “man’s work”.

By Saiñkupar Syngkli

Can women fix cars? Sobinara Kyrsian, or Kong Sobinara, from Ri Bhoi just does that. One of the “superwomen” from Ri Bhoi, in her garage at Umsning, Kong Sobinara brings into shape vehicles from bikes to lorries.

It was in 2003 that her husband was diagnosed with an illness that ultimately took his life in the final week of last February. The long illness had made it impossible for him to work, inspiring Kong Sobinara to become the sole breadwinner of the family – her husband and three sons.

“At first, it was very challenging to do the work of a man, but I slowly learnt it. Now, I can even change the tyres of a lorry or rethread tyres”, says Kong Sobinara.

The garage was first established in 1999 and she feels both financially and spiritually obliged to continue as a family legacy. “When we started it in 1999, we started it together. I would spend my time sitting there by him. He never taught me repair work, but after 2003, I took responsibility to continue this work to support my family. Initially, my husband didn’t want me to work at the garage. He thought it would be too taxing for me, but I refused. I thought, what my husband started, I must carry on”.

Her new profession has not gone unnoticed by admirers and casual critics. Kong Sobinara says she is often judged by people who believe she has overstepped her boundaries by doing “unfeminine” work – work that is unbecoming for her gender. She often wonders if they are right and she should stop this work, “but my sons and my family support me. That makes me stronger to continue with this garage”, she says.

But the garage is seeing tough times – it is hard to run a service that is ingrained in the minds of people as something only men are best fit to do. Repairing vehicles also requires extreme effort, knowledge, and skill, something few “experts” would be willing to impart to a woman. With car servicing and repair works stopped, Kong Sobinara mostly changes and rethreads tyres. One day, she believes, her son might take the reigns from her and restart the service and repair works to make the garage fully functional again. “If I can get the funds for it, I would like to set up a car servicing centre and also sell new tyres for cars, like Boleros and others. If my son inherits this garage, it will increase business”.

Despite the challenge in gaining the trust of car-owners, her perfectionism has gained her loyal customers who can see beyond her gender. A customer present at the time added, “Kong Sobi can do things that even some men can’t do – even I can’t. She’s an inspiration to other women, She’s a person with strong determination and has sacrificed for her family. It is rare to find someone like her”.

With three sons ready to support their mother and her work, she says the garage does not need any more helping hands. “When my sons were young, I did it all alone. Now that they are older, I do it with them by my side”.

In her parting message, she says to other women who are forced to be limited by societal expectations, “Whatever it takes, do it with confidence. Stand on your own feet and never depend on anyone. Once you begin something this way, the ending will always be good”.

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