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.