Lata is my girl-Friday. She has been helping me out with my household chores for the past 10 years. She gets in at 8.30 and for the next 2 hours works around the house getting it neat and tidy.
Married off at the age of 15, and with three children by the age of 22, this is the only life she has known. She started accompanying her mother to work when she was old enough to run chores in and around the house. Having never been sent to school, she never feels the lack of a literate existence. To me it’s a scary notion, of not knowing any letters. But I think for her it’s a situation of ‘not missing what one didn’t know’.
Hers is the face I see every morning when she rings my door at 8.30. There are mornings when seeing her pleasant, smiling face actually works on soothing my frazzled nerves. Not just because she helps me with my chores, but because that’s the way she is. Calm and smiling. I don’t recall her grumbling about the amount of work, or the number of guests, which increases her workload.
She goes about her daily chores with the same patient look. I have seen her face her husband’s life threatening sickness with the same patient look on her face, having full faith in ‘Shivan’ whom she worships everyday. She misses her three children as they live with her mother-in-law in their native village, 1400 kms away, near Chennai. But with a very pragmatic shrug, she says she knows that it’s the only way she will be able to work and earn the money which will ensure a better future for them.
Having observed her at close proximity for over a decade now, I realize that one doesn’t always learn lessons in living from great personalities, who do great deeds. Sometimes some of them are taught to us by ordinary, less fortunate people who make the best of what life offers to them, at the same time not letting go the hope which keeps them going.
We had an unexpected visitor on the walking track I frequent close to my home. A young cobra, measuring around 20 inches in length. Fencing separates the track from the thick foliage, which runs along one side of the park. Though all of us are aware that the dense shrubbery must be definitely home to various insects and snakes, I have never seen any on the paths. My husband has spotted a couple basking in the sun in the past, but on the patches of grass beyond the fence. The one we saw today must have wandered in and couldn’t find an opening to slip out.
The colour of the snake was very close to that of the wall and path and if it weren’t for the gardeners frantically motioning everyone to stay away, no one would have noticed it. One of them had this long handled broom in his hand and was trying to give the snake a lift over the low wall. But the snake would have none of it and raised its head and spread its hood.
The Cobra, also known as Nag Devata, or Nag Raja is considered sacred in our country and the gardeners wouldn’t even remotely consider killing it. So though it took them a long time to get it back to its natural habitat, they didn’t mind it. It was a better option than incurring the wrath of the serpent king.
I couldn’t help but stop to look. Though yet small, it was a perfect specimen nonetheless. The markings identifying it as a cobra were clear and what really struck me about it was the royal bearing in that small body. Anyone who has heard the roar of the lion, knows exactly why it’s called the king of the jungle. Similarly, looking at that young snake I knew once again why it is called King Cobra.
When it raised its head and spread its hood, with the back erect, there was so much arrogance and command in its posture. So much attitude and confidence. It commanded the fear that everyone around showed for its presence.
The tussle went on for a while but eventually the two gardeners managed to toss it over the wall into the shrubbery. I am sure all of us will be more alert now onwards, especially with winter round the corner,the days have become short and darkness descends earlier and suddenly.
I am sure every family has a child from every generation who has expressed his or her desire to run away from home. I have been witness to three such individuals in my family.
My youngest sister was born in a nursing home close to home. At the starting of the lane leading up to the nursing home there was a huge dustbin. And all of us at home never failed to tell her each time we passed that particular lane that we had found her in that dustbin. (Survey shows that this is also a common-told tale in most families, that one of the siblings has been found in some dustbin. And it usually is the youngest one.) I think the poor girl got fed up of being harassed by her older two siblings and one fine day,after getting a scolding from our mother for some misdemeanor, announced that she no longer wanted to live with us and was going away. She was just three years old, and so full of hurt and conviction that she didn’t belong as she had been found in a dustbin.
So she gathered up two dresses and two potatoes and two onions and put them in a steel milk can and got ready to face the world outside. Till today no one has been able to solve the mystery behind the choice of the two potatoes and onions, and why she chose milk can over a bag? Anyway, as she got ready to leave, my mother followed her to the door and asked her if she would like to eat her lunch before she left. Oh yes! She was hungry for sure and agreed to stay back just long enough to eat her meal. And naturally once her tummy was full, she started feeling sleepy and so she quietly went and lay down to sleep. And when she woke up in the evening she had forgotten her grand plans of running away from home.
I relived that moment when my daughter was four years old. I had scolded her for being rude to me. And she was miffed enough with me to want to leave home. I too didn’t protest much when she angrily expressed her desire to do so. Looking a bit sad, I opened the door for her. I could see the hesitation and confusion on her face when she realized that I didn’t have any intention of stopping her. Then she straightened her back and walked out. I gently shut the door. What she didn’t know was that I had switched on the security monitor at the door and could see her in the passageway. Instead of heading down the stairway, I saw her sit on the small counter just outside the door. Both of us quiet on either side of the door. Within 5 minutes she rang the bell. But to ask for a glass of water. Once I complied with that request, she went back to her post by the door. Another 10 minutes passed and the doorbell rang once more. There were too many mosquitoes out there. Could she have some insect repellent? A tube of the same was provided. Then she was back on the counter. I couldn’t resist a smile as I shut the door once again. I could see her clearly through the security camera. After a few minutes, she got fidgety and kept glancing anxiously at the door. Finally, after watching her for sometime, I opened the door and asked her casually, “ You didn’t go?” When she shook her head, I asked her if she would like to come and sit inside? Quietly my daughter came into the house and went into her room. When it was dinnertime she came to the dining table as if nothing unusual had transpired that evening. But since then she really hasn’t wanted to run away from home.
My cousin didn’t want to run away but had a different agenda. My aunt and her 3 three old daughter were visiting us and somewhere during the course of the day, my cousin got a scolding from her mother. Very upset, she came to my mother and asked her for a shopping bag and 10 paisa. She then tugged at her hand and asked her to open the main door of the house. Curious about what she wanted, my mother followed her to the door and asked her where she was off? In a tearful voice she informed my mother that she was going to the market to buy a new mommy who wouldn’t scold her. I really can’t recall how that particular situation was sorted out but these three girls provided us with stories to laugh over whenever we have family reunions.
I think I didn’t mention that all three were born in the same nursing home and were subjected to the same old story of being found in the same old dustbin.
Few days back I went to the nearby Lokhandwala Market to finish some last minute shopping for the Diwali week. It was the last weekend before Diwali and the market was teeming with people with the same intention that I had. Completing their last minute purchases before the beginning of the festivities. Moreover the market organizes a shopping festival during this period and the entire market road is lit up and there is music to set the mood. This particular market has a very lively and vibrant atmosphere anytime of the year and never fails to uplift my mood. I didn’t have much to purchase but strolled through anyways, looking at the enticing window displays and the excited customers in every store. Very frequently vendors trying to sell colorful diyas and decorations accosted me.
Finding some interesting clothes displayed in one of the store, I stepped in hoping to find something to gift my husband and son. There was a beautiful range of men’s waistcoats, the kind one can team up with a kurta-pyjama. Vibrant colours and sleek cuts. While I was browsing through the racks, I could hear snatches of a conversation of a family next to me. I glanced side-ways and saw a family of three. A trio of father, mother and daughter. The mother and the daughter were well-groomed. Every hair in place, clothes and accessories rightly matched and face made up. The father was the simple kind. A simple kurta and jeans, hair slightly mussed up and looking a little lost in the melee surrounding him. The daughter was trying to coax him to buy a waistcoat. And when I shamelessly eavesdropped, I could gather that she was soon to be a bride and was cajoling her father into buying a coat for the wedding ceremony. And he kept trying to convince her that he had exactly everything that he needed for the day, and that she should buy herself something. There was so much of tenderness and sentiment in that moment that I almost sighed. The moment passed but the memory stayed.
As I meandered along, an unusual sight caught my attention. A man in his mid-thirties with a baby in a carrier strapped on to his back. What really made me look again was that at the same time he was also pushing a wheel chair, which held his elderly mother. All three were enjoying the sights together. To me that sight embodied the stark reality of our existence. A mother, who has nurtured her son, is now being looking after by her grown-up son. And the son in turn, is nurturing his child, who maybe one day will be his support. That sight so totally captured the simplicity of it all that it left me a bit teary.
I didn’t shop much that day, but did come back with two tiny slivers of memories to add to my cache.