It has now been about a month and a half since my FIL first took ill. He has been in and out of the ICU and with the husband mostly away at the hospital, it has been quite lonely at home. Rumi keeps me busy but chatting away in toddler language does not quite make up for adult conversations. And since I need to talk almost as much as I need to breathe, I talk away to whoever is willing to listen (read the maid, the milkman and the rickshaw driver who drops Rumi to school). In doing so, I have developed a new found affection for all these people who are so vital to the smooth functioning of my life and yet somehow, they never figure on the list of people who ‘count’ (my husband, my daughter, my parents and so on).
Sarika has been cooking and cleaning for us for over a year now. When we first moved, I was in a panicky, anxious state about running the house on my own and I quickly latched on to the first maid I could find. Enter Shobha Maushi with a face cut out of stone, a grim tobacco chewing mouth and a sullen air about her. Well, beggars can’t be choosers and we hired her. She worked well but not particularly happily. Happy would have been the wrong criteria to actually fire her since she was so competent so on we trudged on as best as we could. The husband and I were super-idealistic and did all we could to make her life easy because we all know how maids are exploited and paid peanuts. Shobha Maushi had a weekly off, received a refrigerator and everything else that we could think off and afford that would make the quality of her life better.
But she continued being her sullen self and it got to the point where I could not ask her to do anything without receiving a dirty, resentful look from her (yes, she was bullying me!) and after a lot of tears (because I got so attached to her!) we let her go.
Sarika is a such a refreshing contrast (Thank you God!) She’s gentle and quiet and so shy that I hardly heard her voice in the first six months! I think my stream of never-ending banter finally penetrated her wall of timidity and now she has a lot to say as well. Sarika has been nothing short of an anchor in this difficult time. She unobtrusively does so much more than is expected of her. I see her changing the bed linen and go into a flutter of embarrassed “Aga te rahude!” (Please let it be) which in turn embarrasses her and yet she does it again. She tries to play with Rumi for a while to give me a break. She offers to cook dinner because she knows I’m going to be alone in the evening.
Yesterday, she gave me a glass of limbu sharbat without me asking for it. I was moved beyond belief. I am strangely shy to use the word friend for her, yet she has become one, with a patient and listening ear for things beyond her capacity like when I try to explain the shows I’m watching to her like Friends and Modern Family and she nods although it puzzles her how these two men have a baby together. And yet I am conscious of a class divide, something that I try to not think although it always hovers on the edge of my consciousness. For instance, I am very hard on Rumi when she is rude to Sarika. I make my big, round, shouty eyes and meaningless threats like “If you ever speak to her that way again…” I would not be so hard on Rumi if she refused to speak to any of my friends. Yet, with Sarika I am aware of a certain divide between us and I try hard to make it invisible by overcompensating. As much as we try to make her use the same teacups we use or sit and have her cup of tea, there are some lines that society has drawn which she refuses to cross.
A few days back, she asked me whether we would do her a favor and order a new smartphone for her. I was more than happy to oblige and asked her what her budget was. “About 25k” she said and I was so shocked and then immediately ashamed of my own condescending, patronizing attitude. Turns out, she had been saving for a while. I showed her the EMI option on Amazon but she said “Nahi tai, hafte nahi karayche” (I don’t like to create debts). I was floored at how much I need to learn from her!
I have heard multiple complaints from friends living abroad about not having maids or any help at home. I feel grateful not just because we have so much help here but because it is a person like Sarika, kind, empathetic, and a pleasure to be around!
Equally lucky do I feel because of Gautam dada. I was having some nightmares about getting behind the wheel to drop Rumi off to school, but our dismal finances solved the problem for us since we only have one car and obviously the husband should take it to work because he has to travel 14 km whereas I have to travel only 1 km (yay, for not being able to afford a second car I say!). We organized a rickshaw on a monthly basis (I refuse to feel comfortable with cabs and it might be completely regressive but I am weirdly cowardly in some aspects).
The first thing that endeared him to me was his punctuality. I was anticipating having to make some calls, reminders etc before he started showing up regularly but he waits for us in the lobby 10 minutes before he is expected, every single time!
On more than one occasion he has offered to run errands for us and last week when both Rumu and I were sick, he called to ask whether he could take us to the hospital. On multiple occasions, he has done several trips back and forth because the girl forgot her beloved Matilda at school or I have forgotten to give her a hanky.
In the short 5-minute drive from home to school and back, I find out that he has a baby girl. He plans to send her to Millennium National School, and yet again I am impressed (and ashamed yet again, because why is it surprising that he not only knows, but also wants a reputed and reputedly expensive school like Millennium?)
The day after Raksha Bandhan, I took him a Rakhi. (I address him as ‘dada’ because I don’t feel comfortable saying just Gautam. Need to think about why that is). It was slightly weird tying the Rakhi (again because of these horrible mental class issues and being in that kind of proximity etc) but he gave me a twenty rupee note from his pocket and just like that, it was lovely again.
These people have made life so much happier and smoother in the last few weeks. And I don’t thank them enough, not because I don’t thank them but I see that it really embarrasses them each time I say Thank You. I once half-hugged Sarika as she was ferociously scrubbing the counter and she promptly hid herself from me the rest of the afternoon. But I am so, so grateful for their tireless small and tiny acts every single day and every time I say a prayer I think of them and I hope that they know that they count and they matter and that they make the quality of my life better.