Thursday, November 01, 2007

On being rich...

I have been rather lucky with domestic helps who have been not only loyal to me but have recommended me to others before quitting my services under some compulsion. Except for one servant who worked for me for a very short time they have all been very honest and trustworthy. I sometimes wonder if the law of averages will soon catch up and I’d be stuck with a real troublesome servant in my old age? But then let me make hay while the sun shines. I have a very sweet girl working for me right now. She is in her early twenties and is likely to get married in a year or two. I do hope her replacement is equally good. It would be difficult for me to monitor their work at my age when I’ve never done it before. I’ve been wanting to devote a few posts to these wonderful people who became an integral part of my family and have made life so much easier for me. I realize that they belong to an underpaid and over worked group. I may not be able to do much but I do try to treat them with the dignity they deserve because they do a job that I find difficult to handle continuously for more than a week.

So let me start from Rajamma.

Rajamma was perhaps in her early thirties when she started working for us. In fact she was my senior by 4 months having taken up the job a little before my marriage. She was hard working and for lunch, her family depended on the left over food that her employers gave. She would only cook at night. Always well dressed, she carried herself with a quiet dignity and picked up culinary skills from her employers as bonus. She learnt to make rangoli designs and a fair amount of Knitting, crochet and embroidery. She worked part time in 5 households and the poor woman wanted to educate her children so that they would never have to work as servants. She worked for me for 22 long years and till date she remains in touch with me. She comes to me with her problems and trusts me to handle her bank account which she manages to maintain without the knowledge of her family. Unfortunately her children did not study well though her sons manage well enough as ‘dosawallahs’ and daughters are married off. She sends her grandchildren to English medium schools, sending them to private tutors for extra coaching. Her grand daughter had not performed well in the 1st terminal examination and was being scolded by her when my daughter paid them a brief visit.

“Don’t worry,” laughed my daughter “your grand mother is a real Hitler. We have all been scolded by her at some point of time.”

She is well off now but has not forgotten her days of hardship. The amount of sweets that she distributes for Deepavali would put us to shame. Such is her generosity. Destiny had her washing soiled clothes and spittled vessels but I had always felt that she was a class apart. And I was right. Her parents were well off and led a fairly secure life in Burma. During the Second World War they had to abandon everything and come to India as refugees. Being uneducated she had to work as housemaid to earn a living. But it did not dampen her spirits and she continues to aspire high for her grandchildren in very much the same way that she did for her children.

Then there was Kamala who worked for four years when Rajamma left our services due to an arthritic knee and found it difficult to climb stairs. Kamala was good at her job and also very honest. However, she had a problem. She would talk almost non stop. She had teen aged sons of the same age as my son and the teen trouble faced by me did not escape her either. She would spend an hour after her arrival giving an elaborate account of the way her boys troubled her or how irresponsible her husband was.

“Kamala it is getting dark. Why don’t you start work?” I’d say.

“It’s okay didi, I’ll go by the main road. Nothing to fear. There are lots of people on the road even at 10 in the night.”

My husband would return from office to be greeted by Kamala with a broom or a swab cloth in hand, in animated conversation with me.

“She should be paying you for listening to her sob stories.” He would grumble. Why don’t you ask her to finish work before I return?”

Though rather annoying I let her work for me because she was not only honest but also very self respecting. She also worked for another family in the neighborhood. The poor woman trusted them with 25,000 rupees of hard earned money that they offered to fix in the bank on her behalf, because the tedious paper work involved baffled her and opening an account in her name appeared rather difficult. In her innumerable gossip sessions she would tell me about the falling rate of interest and express her relief about having fixed the amount for 5 years at a higher interest rate.

Time flew and the stipulated 5 years also passed by. However there was no talk of renewing the fixed deposit or returning the money. Kamala turned to me for help but there was no proof of her having given the money and I could not interfere.25, 000 rupees plus interest was a lot of money for a poor person like her. But her reaction set me thinking.

“Tell me didi, will they become rich by robbing me of my hard earned money?” she asked, “Will it last for ever? Never mind the money. I’ll always remember that babu (meaning our neighbor) helped me when my son met with an accident and today he is earning more than 10,000 per month. He’s got a new lease of life and God willing he will earn much more than what I’ve managed to save in all my life. I’ll consider the amount as donated to some charitable cause.”

I had no answer.

I sometimes wonder what the word poor stands for. Are Rajamma and Kamala poor? I have seen propertied people with chauffeur driven cars pounce on calculators to calculate the amount they stand to benefit when the government announces a 5% increase in DA as if their lives depended on it. And here we have a woman like Kamala, willing to forgive a person who had swindled her of a life time savings. Having money does not automatically make one rich. I end with an oft repeated story that seems to have some relevance to Kamala’s story.

The sage Narada once complained to Lord Vishnu that here he was repeating his name a thousand times per day and the Lord was appreciating a devotee who hardly found time to remember him. The Lord asked Narada to hold a bowlful of oil and go around the temple premises once. Narada dutifully did so. Around the same time a woodcutter came, set his load on the temple floor, folded his hands in devotion and thanked God for giving him good health to work hard and support his family and prayed that God should continue to bless him in the same manner. Narada looked down upon the devotee who found time to remember God only once a day. The Lord asked Narada how many times he remembered him while going around the temple premises with a bowlful of oil. Narada admitted that he was concentrating on the one job assigned to him and found no time to remember God and the woodcutter’s devotion was indeed superior since he worked hard to make ends meet yet he did not ask for material comforts but thanked God for enabling him to work for the well being of his family. Does it not automatically indicate who was the richer person?



hillgrandmom said...

Happy Deepavali HHG!

apu said...

lovely stories..both your own and the other one you have narrated..

vishesh said... is of lesser importance then character....


rajk said...

Those were beautiful stories, especially the one about Kamala. Wow, what a woman!
And hats off to you for appreciating it! It takes greatness to appreciate greatness in others!
Happy Diwali to you too!

Sumana said...

Yes you are truly lucky to find such people, HHG. When i was young, i used to teach english to my maid's daughter. We left the place as my dad got transferred. She kept in touch even then with snail mail and she attended my wedding with her daughter's family and was proudly telling everybody how i taught her daughter and so on. They are so humble and we need to learn a lot from them.

starry nights said...

Happy Diwali to you and your family. a very interesting post and it was really nice to read about people who are often forgotten.I think being poor does not necessarily mean no money you can have all the money in the world and still be poor if you don't think of other people beside yourself.

Preethi said...

Great reading your blog (as always!) You surely have been very lucky... I have been lucky a couple of times myself and I am amazed at the dignity and commitment these women have! There was this maid of mine who cleaned, was my kitchen helper as well as helped out with my kid at times (though that was not part of her job desription). When Tsunami hit chennai, I asked her if she needed anything, as there was a lot of flooding near her house! She asked me if I could give her some baby clothes, and musquito netting for a baby etc. She dint have that small a kid... so I was puzzled! She said it was for some family in her neighbourhood who she dint know at all. I gave her all that and also some groceries to tide her through. She gave everything to this family, telling me "Amma both my husband and I are earning, so we can buy the grocery we lost. But that family has 2 little children and only one earning member. This would be of more use to them". Kudos to people like this!! They are richer than the rich!

Preethi said...

Happy Diwali

Thinking aloud said...

happy Deepavali!!! :)

i too have been fortunate with my help...most of them are surprisingly not money minded, all they require is that u treat them with the respect they deserve...

Usha said...

I agree that there are many things these simple folk can teach us - their quiet acceptance of what fate has thrown their way and rising to the occasion rather than crying over their fate, their simple classifications of what is good and what is bad and their unquestioning faith in God.
But I am told that today it is rather rare to find domestic helps that you can trust - a sure indication of the spread of consumerism. They also want quick money to buy, buy and buy.
wonderful stories.
Happy Deepavali to you and yours.

Prats said...

Its so lovely to know that you appreciate your helpers. I've been lucky most times with such amazing people who I can't get to call as maids. They have taught me so much in those years that they've been with me, so I can understand the importance of humanity. Kudos to you for bringing them to the fore..

Hip Grandma said...

Hillg'mom:Thank you and festival greetings to you too.

apu:Thank you.This was the least I could do for my domestic helps.Happy Diwali.

visesh:It is amazing how the have nots give importance to values more than money.

rajk:Remember that I only appreciated Kamala.She was the one who took the set back in her stride.Till date she does not utter an unkind word about them.Her story deserves an entire post covering the service she had rendered to them.Happy Diwali to your family as well as your parents.

sumana:I can understand how happy she must have been with you for educating her daughter.No money in the world can make up for it.Though we have a few servants cheating their employers a good many are trustworthy.

Lalitha:Being poor is also a state of the mind.We have several well to do people cribbing about the amount their servants charge.They should try doing their job just for a day.Happy diwali!

preethi:you've shared a very nice story.Hat off to the lady.Happy Diwali.

thinking aloud:They only want to be treated well andeven this is difficult for many.Happy Diwali.

Usha:Consumerism is bound to play a role in the lives of our domestic helps as with others.I think we may soon talking of reliable servants in the past tense.Happy Diwali!

prats:I too can't think of them as menials.They work so hard.Happy Diwali.

kurrodu said...

That was a very lovely post. You just reminded me of my mom. She is amazingly patient like you in lending her ears to sob stories of our maids. I should say that you have been lucky. There are a few maids who take advantage of the situation. I recently recall my paternal aunt complaining to me about our maids at home. She happened to visit our home and was surprised to find my mom washing vessels while our maids were watching television serials in the living room. When asked abt it, my mom replied that she did not want to disturb the maids as they were really engrossed in watching the popular serial. She never complains about her maids and always defends them.

Hip Grandma said...

kurrodu:Nice reading about your mother.i belong to the same category.there have been a couple of unreliable,manipulative servants too who have worked for very short periods for me.but they are a minority and best ignored.

Raghu said...

how i wish all of us treated and respected people by what they carry in their hearts than what they carry in their minds and pockets!

request: pls post the pictures of these lovely ladies :)

Hip Grandma said...

Raghu:Yes I think I'll post photographs of all such people who have taught me human values in one or the other way.They are the ones whose strength of character despite monetary constraints needs to be honored.Hats off to such people who are richer than the richest.

Tys on Ice said...

:) ..hmmm, chicken soup for the soul...tht felt great..

in my short life, i hve seen more richness in characters among people who are not rich in the materialistic way....

thts not to say that character exist only amoung poor but just that sometimes money does stand in the way to true discovery of narada's oil vessel

Itchingtowrite said...

lovely story
happy diwali

Fuzzylogic said...

That was such a heartefelt post and a lovely tribute to the people who often are forgotten. My heart went out to Kamala who was swindled and her reaction blew me away. I think we are poorer when compared to the people we choose to call poor at times. She had such a bigger heart.
Lovely post HHGM!And yes Happy diwali to you and your family.

Altoid said...

A very happy Diwali to you and yours HHGMom. May your tribe increase :)


The Visitor said...

Dear G'ma,

Today morning at 6.00 am I was taking the dogs out and it was fairly chill and there was some sleep still lingering in my eyes. On my way out, I saw a maid entering our apartment complex walking briskly and with a purpose. I was amazed that these people do this day-in and day-out with a cheerful demeanor! Your post reminded me of this incident, about how thankful we should be for what we have and also be considerate of those who dont have what we have.

Happy Deepavali to you, your dear ones and everyone as well.

Lavs said...

Wish you and your family a very Happy & Prosperous Diwali.

Hip Grandma said...

tys on ice:Yes, character and wealth need not go together but then we have the Tatas who have done their bit for society considering the well being of their employees as an important factor for promoting sincerity at work.A classic example of how wealth can be amassed and no harm in diverting a part of it for society's welfare.

ITW:thanks,same to you.

fuzzylogic:you are right.Kamala and others like her are not poor at all.They have much more to give than money.To continue to think well of your swindlers is simply great.

altoid:Thanks and same to you.

the visitor:Such people who work hard without losing the smile on their face need to be saluted.
lavs:Thank you and same to you.

WhatsInAName said...

Beautiful thoughts I must say. Your post reminds me of my current maid who is very poor too. I have helped her as much as I can but sometimes they are not as lucky as Rajamma. Her daughters refuse to study even when I am ready to sponsor them. Sons and husband are good for nothing. Sigh!
Sometimes I feel so helpless.

Anonymous said...

Hello Preeta

May this Diwali bring many good things for you and give you many reasons to smile. May the auspicious festival of lights brighten every corner of your world with gleaming moments of happiness. May you experience success in all your ventures. Have a Happy Diwali

You write to touch the finest chords of every heart here. Loved this piece of writing. Simple and true it is.


hillgrandmom said...

You have an award over at my blog!

Hip Grandma said...

whatsinaname:you are right.we cannot help anyone unless that person is motivated.Unfortunately people from poor homes aren't motivated enough.

passerby55:Why have you decided to stop blogging?We'd love to read you.Happy Diwali to you and your family.

hillg'mom:You consider me worthy?My pleasure.

Just Like That said...

That was a lovely read, esp abt Kamala. Truly she is rich in all the things that matter.

I had some good ones, but now, have been without for some months now. It is difficult to compromise when you are leaving the safety of your kid and your whole home to them.
But I live in hope that my 'gem'will arrive one day soon...