Saturday, April 27, 2019

Gobi Chronicles - 4


Gobi Chronicles - 4

I had decided to dedicate a separate post to Moopachi – the house help who worked for more than 40 years in Vembathy House. As a child I could not imagine the cleaning of Vembathy House being taken up by anyone else. Loud mouthed but efficient is the way I would describe her. She exercised an authority over us as much as over her grandchildren who could not get away with shoddy work. She considered the house as her own. They had to clean the cowshed, sweep and swab, empty leftover food into vessels of their own and soak them in water to be washed by their grandmother. She would supervise their work and would let them leave for school only after they finished their assigned chores to her satisfaction.

As a teenager I would be asked to help her with washing clothes. Those were days when detergents were unheard of and one had to apply sunlight soap on the clothes.  Washing clothes by beating them on a stone fixed near the well and scrubbing extra dirty parts with her hands she’d wash and rinse them clean and dry them out on the clothesline without a crease. One could not find fault with her work. It was her constant chattering (read grumbling) that one had to ignore. No one actually paid attention to her.

Moopachi had 4 children. Two boys and two girls. Her husband worked as a farm hand who climbed up palm trees and plucked coconuts. I don’t remember ever seeing him. The story goes that Moopachi’s daughter Kanni was widowed at the age of sixteen and my maternal grandmother cried for days together thinking of the kind of life destiny had dished out to her. She had a four month old son to look after. I wouldn’t know if Moopachi helped her with money but I was amused at her patriarchal mindset when her granddaughter (son’s daughter)  Dhana married her grandson (daughter’s son).

Once Dhana got married she was forbidden to work for us the reason being that she was now married and the privilege of working for our family belonged to her son’s family.

“She is not our responsibility anymore”. She would say when I asked about Dhana.

The leftover food, cow dung to be dried and used as fuel or as manure and the dry palm leaves that she took home would be given to her son’s family. So also were given tamarind, lentils and pickle from the previous year’s stock once a fresh consignment arrived. So what if she was not on talking terms with her daughter in law, all the hand me down saris and children’s clothes would be duly handed over to her !

“But Kanni is your widowed daughter! How can you grudge her the benefit of stuff like used clothes, cow dung or dry palm leaves?” I’d ask.

Her reply set me thinking.

“I had to let her find her way. If I had helped her out she would never have learnt to fend for herself and her son. My sons would have resented her presence in our house. Today she has her self respect intact and shares a good bond with her brothers and their wives. They will there for her at the time of need even when I am long gone.”

“But you don’t even talk to your daughter in law and yet you keep track of their requirements.” I found it difficult to understand the equation in their family.

“Oh, yes. We do quarrel but she is still my son’s wife. If I fall sick she is the one who’d look after me. So why should I not think of her welfare?”

I admit that I still do not understand the logic behind letting a widowed daughter fend for herself and helping a son who was earning enough to support his family. But society was perhaps different sixty years ago. She was perhaps investing in her own future by being helpful to her son’s family.

Soon after my marriage Moopachi stopped working for us. But her granddaughters continued to work for us till they got married.

I had left my daughter in Gobi with my mother for a year when she was just six months old. Moopachi’s granddaughters would pester their mother to hurry up with milking their cow and bring fresh cow’s milk for her to drink early in the morning. They would play with her for a while after finishing their work. When I brought her back to Jamshedpur, I was surprised to receive a letter from Kannamma (Moopachi’s granddaughter) who was perhaps in class 8 or 9.

“Don’t let her play in water” she had written. “She easily catches a cold. “

She went on to describe how much everyone in our joint family missed her. All our neighbors were upset that the child was sent back.

She ended the letter with the following line-

“She was such a good kid. Looking after her was no trouble at all. We all miss her a lot. The house seems empty without her. Please bring her over as soon as possible. We would love to have her in our midst”.

I was in tears on reading her letter. The grandmother worked for us and watched my mother and her siblings grow and settle down in life. We were like family to her. The same spirit prevailed in her grandchildren too.  After Moopachi’s granddaughters got married some others worked for Vembathy house. But the bond was missing. My own visits became less frequent. I miss the days when house helps were like family. They welcomed us on our arrival. They were there to see us off.

“Take care, Come again”.

This was what our maternal uncle, aunt and cousins said. But it was also what Moopachi, Pavayee and the entire neighborhood said. It is the affection showered on us by these simple folks that draws me to Gobi even after 46 years of life in Jamshedpur. I am lucky to have hired domestic helps who have bonded with me like family. It was mainly due to the respect my mother and aunts accorded to those who worked for us that I was able to extend it to people who worked for me. I am glad to say that I have passed it on to my children too. They are our lifeline. They neither complain about the monotony that sets in when they sweep, swab and clean nor do we think of it as worth a mention. Only when they take a day off do we realize their worth and value.

Moopachi must be smiling from up above to see me, now a grandmother of 4 adorable grandkids, fondly remembering the days gone by when she’d buzz in and out of Vembathy House.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Gobi Chronicles -3


Gobi Chronicles -3

I begin the third episode of Gobi Chronicles with two people who worked for us when I was a teenager. The cook Narayana Mama and the domestic help Moopacchi. I have mentioned them in an earlier post.

I have already said that Gobi and Vembathy House has a kind of inclusive air that welcomes each newcomer into its fold and in no time the new entrants become part of the family. Narayana mama was no exception. Before he took up his service as the cook in Vembathy House the kitchen and cooking was taken care of by Ganapathy Mama but I don’t remember much about him.

Narayana Mama was a native of Madurai. He lived alone in a small outhouse adjoining the well. His entire salary of Rs. 40/- per month was sent by money order to his wife in Madurai. I wouldn’t know if Thatha gave him any ‘petty cash’ or pocket money but he seemed to be quite happy and content with all his needs being taken care of except perhaps his addiction to snuff!

Narayana mama was appointed as cook but soon proved himself as ‘Jack of all trades’. He loved Kamakshi mami like a daughter. He was very fond of my cousin Balaji and took it upon himself to keep him engaged while mami took a nap and rested in the afternoon. He attended to practically any and everything from trimming the wicks of the kerosene stove or standing in a line to get sugar and kerosene oil that was distributed at the ration shop. During summer vacations Vembathy House would be teeming with grandchildren apart from those who lived there because their fathers had transferable jobs and thatha offered to school them in Gobi. Narayana mama would cook for the family without a frown on his face and one quite forgot that he was a paid help. I have fond memories of the sweets and savories he would prepare for me to take back to my hostel.

Narayana mama was a staunch supporter of Rajaji and voted for Swatantra party during elections. Our domestic help Moopachi belonged to the Nadar community and Kamaraj Nadar was a respected politician from the Congress party. Narayana mama could indulge in heated discussions about the merits of Swatantra Party and the demerits of Congress. Ladle in hand he could rush into my grandfather’s office to offer his opinion on political issues and blame Moopachi’s anna(older brother) Kamaraj Nadar for anything that went wrong. I was never into politics but I would find it amusing to see him discuss politics with Moopachi! The poor woman hardly understood government policies and political issues but was not the one to back off and let her ‘anna’ be blamed. She’d respond in the only way she could by claiming that the coffee he gave her tasted like gutter water!

“So you know how gutter water tastes” Mama would gloat. “The entire family feeds on our leftover food and she has the gumption to find fault with my coffee”.

For all their outward show of animosity Moopachi and Narayana Mama also had a mutual concern for each other. After helping their grandmother Moopachi’s grandchildren would eat the food left over from the previous night’s dinner before leaving for school. So mama would prepare a little extra to ensure that they had enough to eat.

My dad was ill and was to be operated at the military hospital in New Delhi. My mother who was in Jalandhar was in a fix as to where my younger brothers aged 5 and 3 could be left for her to be able to be by my father’s side. Narayana Mama relieved her, offering to look after the children. He had to change trains at Madras and Delhi to reach Jalandhar. It was winter time, he knew no Hindi and with his smattering knowledge of English and no one to receive him at Delhi he reached Jalandhar around midnight to take charge of two pre-school kids. This proved that he could not only rise to the occasion but also that he considered all of us to be his kith and kin. Unfortunately he took ill soon after and  after 10 years of selfless service, thatha had to send him back to his family in Madurai.   

Domestic help is hard to find these days and I happen to be one of the lucky ones. All those who ever worked for me have been dry honest and wouldn’t pick up and pocket a safety pin lying around. I meant to write about Moopachi in this post but the woman who worked for our family for over forty years deserves a separate post. So more in a later post.





Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Lazy Me...........


I am a reluctant shopper. I really am. I have a few indulgent friends who help me shop for clothes and accessories. Very often I don’t even go myself and let them pick up stuff on my behalf. For veggies and grocery I drive my husband to the market, park the car under a tree and read a book or the day’s newspaper. He happily does the marketing. The reason for this is my husband’s choice of time. He likes to shop around 12 noon which is the hottest time of the day. He says that fresh vegetables arrive at the market around that time.  To my credit I must say that I am easy to please and have no complaints against his choice. When we are done and return home we have to deal with school buses and vans and auto rickshaws, loaded with children, as well as the company employees speeding up to arrive at their workplace for the afternoon shift. So I truly find even the minimum shopping (of the absolutely essential kind) cumbersome. As far as grocery and vegetable/fruits are concerned husband would veto the idea of door delivery. I order books and test strips for my glucometer from Amazon. Haven’t tried clothes and accessories yet.

So when my son and daughter in law launched chicshop.in in Mumbai I couldn’t help wishing that such a service was available in Jamshedpur. It combines online shopping with a personal interaction with stylists over Whatsapp who send images of the item and give one an idea not only about the material but also other choices for their requirement available in the same or nearby store. A local delivery service delivers stuff picked up before 12:30 PM on the same day while orders after noon are dispatched on the following day. It is a boon for mothers of  toddlers and school going children, working women as well as men who would appreciate a little help while planning a surprise gift for their women. Grandmothers like me nursing an arthritic knee can use the service to lavish gifts on their grandchildren, nieces, daughters and daughters in law.  

So while I wish my son all the best in his endeavor I also secretly hope that it grows and reaches out to small towns like ours.



Friday, March 22, 2019

The Spice of Life - 2


The Spice of Life -2

I have decided to write again. Hibernation over and back to action. I begin as usual with my favorite topic “The Spice of My Life”. Yes, you’ve guessed it. MDH and his regular habit of driving me nuts.

My husband is plumber, mason and electrician all rolled in one. No, I have no problem with it at all. I gave up any effort to get someone to fix leaky taps and broken tiles long back. He will not hear of it and insist on doing it himself. I am secretly in awe of his interest in learning new skills but we won’t tell him that right now. He will get all puffed up and try his hand on yet another new venture.

“So what’s your problem”? you may ask. None at all if he worked on his own. He needs an assistant and who else would be willing to dance to his tune except me.

Let me explain…….

The condenser of the ceiling fan had to be replaced. Till about a fortnight ago we didn’t need the fan. Now that summer’s here fans need to run at full speed. He got the condenser from the store and set about replacing it. The center table was brought in and positioned below the fan. A stool was placed on top of it and MDH climbed over it. I was concerned about his safety and to be able to hold the stool I asked him to give me a minute to finish my cooking……………

"It won’t take more than a minute" was his response.

I switched off the gas and dutifully held the stool while constantly craning my neck to see what he was up to.

“Get me the screw driver”…

“Which one? You have screw drivers of four sizes”.

“The red one”.

“The long red or small red”?

“You’ve seen me at work all your life and yet you ask”….

A part of me – the wicked me - felt like leaving him right there to get back to my cooking. But his safety was also a concern.

“Will you be safe while I fetch your tool box”?

I decided to get the entire thing to be able to hand him a screw driver or spanner of his choice.

That done he next asks for a torch. I truly get bugged when at the age of 76 he stands with his head a foot above the fan asking for one or the other thing. I am in perpetual fear of his getting hurt.

 A torch, a blade, a screw driver or an adhesive tape – the list is long.

We then start quarreling like school children.

I am asked to flash the torch at an angle suitable to him.

“You are blocking the light” I say.

He has to get down and re-position the center table/stool combo. He climbs up and I flash the torch again.

After 4 to 6 trials he gets frustrated and takes the torch from me and holding the screw driver between his teeth flashes the torch himself. Once the location of the old condenser is identified he returns the torch to me and with proper instruction I manage to get the angle right.

Handing him the blade and taking it back…

The long screw driver once and the smaller one later…..

Constantly looking up is painful in the actual and figurative sense…..

Worrying about his safety has my blood pressure soaring…….

Finally after half an hour the task that was meant to be accomplished in a minute gets over and he climbs down beaming with satisfaction. I wonder if it wasn't easier to get an electrician to do it.

To top it he asks if lunch was ready and when I ask to be given a couple of minutes...….

His response is-

“What were you doing all this while”?

“Dancing to your music” is my reply.

And I hope you agree that I was doing just that.
   

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Gup shup ??

Long since I wrote anything. In the initial years of blogging I would find something or the other to write about. The blog became a platform to express my views and to connect with like minded people across the world. I made a few friends some of whom are my Facebook friends now. Somehow blogging is no longer the passion it used to be ten years ago. I wrote for Women’s web too. These days I seem to be doing nothing. My arthritic knee keeps troubling me and a morning stroll is all I seem to manage. The house is clamouring for attention and I keep postponing the minimum cleaning it deserves.

I sometimes wonder what's gotten into me. Nothing seems to interest me. It's ages since I listened to music. Yesudas was a favourite. I used to love his Krishna and Ayyappa songs. I enjoyed the wit and humour in Jayantisri ‘s talks that dealt with topics that interest me too. I am not into reading books. At least not as much as I used to. The last book I read was Sita by Amish and that was two months back. I have a book by Tom Wolf that I want to complete reading having startedit. It is interesting. But reading 735 pages in fine print may not be a challenge I can or want to take up. I think I will look for something less daunting.

I need to shake myself out of this state of inertia. To start with I think I will shorten the nightie that my daughter gave me and alter the Kameez that is a wee bit loose around the chest. And I am going to work at making myself look presentable each evening. All those starched and ironed saris in my wardrobe need to be aired out and what better way than to wear them in turns. But then I always associate getting dressed up with going out. In the comfort of my home I just cannot get decked up. I need to wear soft, loose and comfortable dresses. If I dress up in an ironed sari I need to go out. But the thought of climbing down the stairs puts me off. At least  for me climbing down is harder than climbing up. Maybe once our lift is installed I may socialize more. I had plans of starting a small interactive session for ladies who wish to get comfortable with spoken English which could later get transformed to a place where they could exchange notes regarding house keeping and counsel each other about problems faced by them with teenaged children and a demanding school curriculum. This would keep me engaged and my saris would be put to use. Hopefully our lift would get installed soon.

I wonder if this happens to others too? After years of busy schedule and active life why this slow down? Do I miss my work life so much that nothing seems to replace it? Or is it just a part of the ageing process?
Whatever it is I need to get going. This is certainly not the kind of life I want to lead. Wish me luck. Once I get active I may have more to write in my blog.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Domestic violence -The other side of the story

Amma,
I am not sure if this letter will be well received. You are bound to feel upset and I won’t be surprised if you call me a ‘hen pecked’ husband. But I have to make my point and leave it to you to save the situation if you feel that I am right. Or rather that I am not wrong.

Point no. 1- Mine was not a love marriage. You chose Rashmi for me and I went by your choice. You wanted a fair, well educated girl from a decent upper middle class family to take charge of the household after you. I had no say in the matter and was regularly told that you and appa as parents would select a girl who would double up for the daughter you never had. It is quite another thing that you were supposed to bring me a wife – not a sister. Till today I have not complained. Yes, she has her shortcomings but then I have mine too. In the two year of our marriage we are still getting to know each other. Why don’t you do the same and try to understand things from her perspective? 

Point no. 2. – Is it fair that you expect her to cook a fresh meal three times a day considering the long hours she puts in at her office? You won’t let her hire someone to cook, you will neither let me help nor offer to help her yourself and yet find fault with her for not serving a freshly cooked five course meal for dinner. To top it you find the ‘dal’ salty and the ‘sabzi’ bland. How can you expect a girl who spent six years in two different hostels to take over the entire responsibility of running a household as per your terms? She needs time to pick up our ways.

Point no. 3 – Why do you bring up her parents all the time? It is always ‘her mother didn’t teach her to cook’ or ‘her father pampered her so much that she hasn’t learnt to adjust’. You never seem satisfied with the gifts they lavish on me. The suit they gave for my first Deepavali was ‘not worth giving to our driver’ and the diamond ring ‘had to be cross checked at our jewelers for its worth’ after all ‘it may not be real diamonds’. Do gifts really matter? It is just a token gesture. Don't I earn enough?How does it matter? If you keep on finding fault with everything they do, will she ever bond with you? They are her parents. She left her home and parents to share her life with me. But that does not mean that she is no longer their daughter. You resent the phone call she makes to her people, you resent the occasional outing that she plans with her friends and it may not be wrong to say that you resent her very presence in our house. 

You were not like this before. How has the equation changed after Rashmi came into our lives? You chose a wife for me with utmost care but nowadays your day begins with complaints about her and ends with more complaints against her. Appa is better. He is not as insecure as you.

Do you think that I can relax in the privacy of my bedroom? Rashmi takes over from where you left and subjects me to another round of torture by saying nasty things about you. I truly cannot believe what she says. Did you really add salt to the dal only to later complain that it was salty? And were you actually hiding behind the door and listening to her phone conversation?

I was better off without this mess called marriage. Am I not entitled to a quiet evening, with both of you being cordial to each other, where we can all sit together sipping tea and enjoying a normal conversation? If I pay attention to you she pulls a long face and if I go out for a short evening walk with her you get upset. While women can talk about domestic violence I can neither utter a word nor expect you to understand what I go through. People don’t talk about the emotional and mental torture a man goes through when he is caught in the crossfire between his parents and wife. Believe me, it affects my performance at work and my interaction with those around me.

Please try to understand…………………………
I just want some peace of mind and unfortunately it cannot be ordered online. 

This is my final submission for the blogathon # A letter to her . I wrote this piece because I felt that men also suffer in silence and experience the torture of being pulled in opposite directions by two women both clamoring for their attention. I wouldn't know if it qualifies to be called Domestic Violence. But it does cause a lot of agony and impacts their lives in ways that no one wishes to understand.

Note: I would like to read MeenaKandaswamy’s book When I Hit You because I understand that it deals with domestic violence that happens everywhere but society refuses to admit it.  I would love to read what the author has to say and I hope it helps me extend a helping hand to any victim of domestic violence whom I come across.    
     




Saturday, June 24, 2017

On the dynamics of a healthy marriage...........

Mamma,
I don’t know if it’s okay for me to write to you about this. But having seen the life you lead I feel it is time I came out with my observations. I truly hope I am wrong but my gut feeling says that you are at the receiving end of an abusive relationship with daddy. Please don’t get shocked. I am no teenager. I am now married and I understand the dynamics of family life. I have been observing you from the time that I could gauge your moods. I was perhaps 6 or 7 years old when I could understand the meaning of your words as well as silence. In fact I would find your silence oppressive and long for you to return to your ‘normal’ mood.

I took me a while to understand that your mood swings had something to do with daddy. You took care to keep it to yourself but we children have a way of understanding that all is not well between parents. The days you went into a silent mode coincided with the days when daddy went about beaming at those around him with the look of a conqueror. As a child I took care not to annoy or upset you on those days but I still did not understand what went wrong between the two of you.
It happened on a rare occasion that you chose to sleep in my room. Daddy came looking for you. I pretended to sleep. The conversation that followed is something I did not understand till I graduated from school.

“Hey, stop fussing” It was daddy talking in a hushed tone.
“Not today, please” I heard you protest. “You know I fast on Thursdays”.
“Fasting on Thursdays eh? Enough of this drama. Come on”.
“I don’t feel up to it”.
“Who is asking you?”

I then peeped from beneath my sheets and saw him leading you out of the room. You followed him like a lamb being led to a slaughter house. I knew then that something was very wrong though I didn’t understand what. Everything fell in place much later when Sr. Superior arranged for a program on sex education and the speaker highlighted the rights of a woman in matters pertaining to sex. I truly wanted to ask you why you let him bully you against your will. I realized how much you must hate yourself for not having a say in the matter. I also understood that you were being blamed for giving birth to a daughter because daddy often said in apparent jest that your clan was famous for producing daughters as was evident that you were one among five sisters. He joked about it so often that it ceased to be a joke. I also noticed that any reference by daddy to your ‘clan’ was always subtly tempered with sarcasm and you put on a mask of silence.

To be frank your submissive nature annoyed me as a teenager. But I now understand how hard it must have been on you. My husband is a wonderful person who believes in respecting women. His parents share a wonderful relationship and it is a pleasure having them over.  I now realize what was missing in your marriage. There was no equality. It was a kind of master – slave arrangement. But it is not too late to assert yourself. I am with you. Carve a niche for yourself. I plan to start a counselling center, for women in an abusive relationship, along with a few friends. Why don’t you join us? You need to come out of your silent mode. You don’t have to discuss your personal experience or drag daddy’s name into it. Just take the first step by lending a sympathetic ear to women who come forward to share their stories. The rest will follow. You’d be surprised at the kind of physical, emotional and mental torture women undergo just to keep their marriage going. The issue ought to be discussed and our men folk need to learn to acknowledge and accept  their women as equal partners and learn to treat them with love, affection and respect. Daddy was brought up to believe that a man could lord over his wife. Once you assert yourself he may change his opinion for the better. Why not give it a try? Think about it………………
Hugs!!!
Yours,
Neha

This post is my 2nd post written for the Blogathon series # A Letter To Her by Women’s Web. I appreciate the initiative taken to create awareness about domestic violence in society.


Note: I would like to read MeenaKandaswamy’s book When I Hit You because I understand that it deals with domestic violence that happens everywhere but society refuses to admit it.  I would love to read what the author has to say and I hope it helps me extend a helping hand to any victim of domestic violence whom I come across.