They all have a story..and unfortunately one that underlines issues that plague India from a socio-economic perspective..illiteracy, domestic violence, urbanization, poverty, etc.
No one ever wants to become a “bai” ..Its not a career of their choice. The only career progression they aspire is to retire one day. But they still keep at it, either in pursuit of some life goal or as a way to escape their reality. Some toil because they certainly dont want their children to follow the same path. Some want to go back to their village and live in peace. Some just want to be “happily” married or “respectfully” single.
They get feisty because that’s the only way they’ve known to deal with life. If it were not for their fighting spirit they’d have succumbed to depression, abuse, illegal paths. Their belief system, right or wrong, becomes their guiding force…and their source of finding solace in little things life throws at them. Tucked in their tales below, are some “pearls of wisdom” for us as well.
When we moved from Bangalore to Gurgaon, our maid, an elderly 50+ traditional South Indian lady living alone with her abusive husband, was the only one who cried inconsolably..I was immensely touched, and frankly a little surprised. Its not that I was paying her anything out of the ordinary or that she didn’t have dearth of work. ‘I’ll find other homes’, she said. ‘But who will call me “Ammaji” now?’ (Ammaji is a respectful salutation for a mother.)
[Little respect does go a long way.]
Btw, hard to resist while we are on the topic of respect, an earnest request for menfolk who feel the right to show their manhood on maids: Isn’t it good enough that they are there for your dirty laundry?
Mistreated by her mother-in-law, eventually divorced, and physically abused by her own drunkard brother, when she came to us, she was a wreck. I felt pity and kept her even though I had another nanny at the time. I couldn’t do much..but I would listen to her as she poured her heart out about her past. She stayed with me for a year and a half, caring for my kid in a way he didn’t miss me while I was busy with work. While her “fighting spirit” (of the literal sense) eventually got the better of me, it was the only thing that led to her own life transformation.
She went back. (But still calls up to inquire about her “mannu” and my son still misses her. In fact, she’s the only reason he wants to visit Bangalore.) Just the other day, she called me to say..’I’ve found myself a husband…He doesn’t drink and doesn’t live with his parents’.
A life-long bond has been formed just because I had given my ears to her tears.
[Show Empathy. It never goes out of style.]
And now I think about it, I used to teach her how to conduct life on a day-to-day basis, but she’s shown me how to live it. With hope and on your own terms.
But I found my “mother of pearl wisdom” from lo and behold..a 30-year old, illiterate, slum-raised carpenter! While haggling for the last 5K which my baniya mind had calculated to be over the top and thus not ready to let go, I got a response that I had never expected.
‘This may look like a premium for my services..ma’am. But let me tell you, this exact money will go towards teaching 10 slum kids the skills of the trade. I run a free workshop for such kids on Sundays. When they become carpenters and a source of income for their families..they will thank me directly, but will also thank you indirectly.’
This 30-year old illiterate carpenter has figured out how to leave his legacy…Have we?