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?
A HAPPY DEEPAVALI TO ALL OF YOU.