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October 31, 2010

Being foolishly romantic about life

As a kid, I dreamt of a world without animosity; and I have brought along the thought in my growing years. This thought took a back-seat with me getting busy with my life. While I had stopped giving it much thought, I almost lived by the theory that one smile or good word could trigger a chain reaction of smiles.

In spite of having the occasional temper spasms, I have tried not to be rude or mean to people. Friends and acquaintances have often advised me to become practical or cracked jokes on me, all in good spirit. Some have also attributed my behaviour to weakness, and there have been times I have believed them and cursed myself. But the kid in me always managed to take over and tend to the optimist in me.

One of the areas my attitude has been a bone of contention is in the way I handled my maid while in Bangalore. In the five years she worked at our place, I shouted at her once. A smiled when I told him I gave the maid - Parashakti - a piece of my mind. He had overheard my little sermon, and wondered, "Does she know you screamed at her?" I guess mom, M and A are the privileged ones to be at the receiving end of my temper.

Parashakti and her mom-in-law - I called her Amma - used to work at our place. In the last year, I saw more of Amma. Sometimes, Parashakti's school-going son would come along. Sometimes, his younger cousins would come with Amma. A and I had developed a ritual of giving the kids toffees and biscuits on every visit. More than the kids, it pleased their mom and granny.

The two ladies and I communicated through body language most of the time. In fact, for a long time, "tea" was the only word our verbal communication was limited to, and it was uttered only when I asked them if they would like to have tea. They spoke Tamil and a little Kannada. We had managed to pick up words from the two languages for times when we needed to give her detail instructions. After all that effort that went into working out the right body gesture, I was in for a surprise six months after I returned home from a trip. I said something in Hindi and Parashakti responded in Hindi. Obviously, I was surprised. She explained it saying that she had been working in a Hindi-speaking household. I wondered if those people were teachers or my maid had a slip of the tongue after that long a break; after all, she had been given the benefit of doubt many times thanks to our non-verbal communication.

The two ladies were immensely trust-worthy. At 6 o'clock, I could just about manage to recognize them from their silhouette at the door. I would then go back to sleep. The thought that I should watch them never crossed my mind. They gave me a lot of trouble and squabbles with A on how they worked, but never for a moment did we lose trust in them.

Seeing them everyday for five years gave us a lot of moments, yet those did not have the promise of turning into memories later. As we packed our lives into bags for a new place, I knew I had to give a two-minute farewell to my maids too. As I handed over a few household things, her salary, and some farewell money to Amma, I felt a strange feeling in my stomach, a nostalgic effort to hold on to the moment. A lot of things were changing in our lives; something made me feel Amma felt the same way. I hugged her the moment her eyes gave way to tears. The hug made her inconsolable. She blessed me in incomprehensible words: she was howling. From the unformed words and the uncontrollable sobs, I could make out that she was saying we were the best people she had worked for. Standing in an empty kitchen, Amma and I had become colossal entities for the moment. I had forgotten about the kids and Parashakti standing near us. I didn't even bother about the bunch of strangers who were looking about the house, checking it out for purchase. I hugged Amma again even as my 'guests' looked on. I hugged an emotional but calm Parashakti. As Amma's sobs continued, I handed over a piece of paper with my number to Parashakti. I told Amma she could talk to me any time she wanted. Of course, we knew that our paths were not going to cross again.

As I left Amma and Parashakti in my past, I felt happily numb. I hoped good behaviour would continue to trigger the chain reaction of smiles and emotions. Foolishly romantic, am I? I am happy I am not alone.

October 28, 2010

Life's like that

Every now and then, I look outside the window and feel lucky.

The lady who works as a maid at our place has two young girls: one is four and the other is two. She tells me she has another 18-year old girl who was married off a couple of years ago. Her four-year old falls ill quite frequently. This lady - she is called Fotubai - lives with her younger daughters. She puts vermillion in the parting in her hair, wears fancy bangles, suggesting she has a husband. But she doesn't stay with any man. I have been told that she has had many husbands and boyfriends, but at the moment, she doesn't have a man in her life.

The father of her young girls has been fighting with her to take his kids away. During one of her visits, my mom learnt from her that she had been in a physical altercation with the man the previous day. Mom suggested she take help from the police, and a couple of days later, we learnt that the man made a visit to the lock-up.

I am not in love with Fotubai, but I admire her guts, and deep down, I feel for her. Ain't I just plain lucky to not have been born like her?

Fotubai is like one of those annoying maids you see on TV. And since I am bad at handling any domestic help, I find her more annoying. And the lady talks just too much. The other day, she came in a little late, all acting important. Her first words on entering the house were, "Didi, idhar kya kiya hai!"

I: Kya?
She: Masjid tha, mandir bana diya hai.

She went on to say a lot more but I had stopped listening; I was giggling. I turned to her and said, "Idhar thode hi na, Ayodhya mein hua hai." Her face fell and she sighed, "Oh, yahan nahi?"

Every time she watched the news at somebody's place, she would come and narrate it to me in her own special way, always missing out on the place and the people, and focusing on the act. Soon, she realized that I rarely moved my eyes away from the computer screen, and gave up trying to have a conversation with me.

Amidst her chaotic monologues, I managed to filter some of her personal information, and offered her solace, advice, or apples and horlicks. I didn't want to get involved. Like most of us, I did not want to get caught up in "their" lives. And yet, something struck me yesterday. Her daughter's illness has been a cause of concern for long. A doctor relative of a sympathetic lady she works for has prescribed medicines recently, and the medicines have helped the kid. From what I understand, Fotubai has consulted only quacks in the past. Yesterday, I wondered if I couldn't go beyond the occasional sympathy and give her a little more. I told A that I was planning to take her daughter to a doc. His reaction: go ahead, and also ask the doc if he can do something about Fotubai's pitch. We had a hearty laugh.

I wonder how life would be if I was born Fotubai. I don't know if I should thank God or blame him for the difference in our lives.

October 25, 2010

ख़्वाब से सुकून (Khwab Se Sukoon)

ख़्वाब ये मेरा है, जिस तरह चाहूं देखूं ;
मेरे इर्द-गिर्द ही सब होता है,
मैं ही इसकी कहानी, इसका सार हूँ |
इब्तिदा भी मैं, अंत भी मुझसे ही |
हकीक़त के छींटों से मुझको न जगाओ,
सपने में तो मुझको चैन से रहने दो |