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I have a few strands of gray hair, masquerading as coppery red due to the henna I apply, adorning my head. Of course like conscientious children the world over, the sons senior and junior have done their overzealous bit and contributed unstintingly towards turning a few among the glossy black strands to gray, especially during the years they hadn’t fully evolved into humans and resembled more, in actions and appearance, our ancestors who lived on trees. The times when they were at the doorstep of adulthood all set to turn into perfect gentlemen and were involved in valiantly fighting and subduing a monster called Board Exams might also have given its fair share. But being a Cool Mom (in their own words) who lost her cool (and that too periodically) and screamed and threw tantrums only when at the end of her tether on finding for the umpteenth time that their rooms resembled a pig sty (though I seriously doubt if Lord of Emsworth would ever agree to let the Empress of Blandings stay in their rooms) my personal opinion is that their contribution came mainly via the stress I suffered each time I entered their rooms.

I can say with certainty that the gray hair I sport, though disguised as red, is not all their doing. Contributors to the cause came in the form of well-meaning (my foot!) people (also called relatives) who hover around and take inordinate pride in their well meant (my foot!) nosiness guaranteed to turn a perfect crown of black to white. There is also this invisible but all-powerful entity spoken of in hushed tones of reverence called ‘Society’ that everyone seems to be in awe of and dare not displease, that tries every which way at its disposal to not only gray your glossy black hair but also your very self with its shackles. Besides the above mentioned there has been one other person who also threw her hat in the ring in trying (and succeeding) to turn a couple of my lustrous black hair to gray. And that someone was Vasanthi, my maid.

Vasanthi came to work for me almost a year back when I moved house. She is a thin dark complexioned pretty mother of two in her early thirties. Vasanthi gets up very early in the morning to finish the work in her own house and get her children ready for school. When there is no water in the municipal tap, she has to draw water from the near by well for the needs of those in her household. As with most men, her husband too falls in the ‘help-if/when-in-the-mood’ category and so is not someone she can depend upon. On most days, by the time she leaves her house for work, she is already drained out. In spite of good intentions she is unable to do justice to the work she does in the two houses in the colony. Though she ends up doing shoddy work, I haven’t the heart to chastise her much to the chagrin of the Lord and Master.

Her work may be careless most times, yet I admire Vasanthi for her fortitude and spirit which many a middle class woman, either in the avatar of home-maker or career woman, lacks. She has a no-nonsense approach to the financial responsibilities in her home. There is a clear cut ‘your’ money and ‘my’ money between her and her husband Murugan. She takes care of some of the expenditures and insists that her husband put in his share or spend on other things. I know many educated and earning women who don’t have a say over their own earnings! And ‘my money’ is thought to be a dirty word even if it is money given to the woman by her parents! Of course I am not discounting those career women who don’t contribute to the family kitty but think their earnings belong only to themselves.

True to type as most belonging to the lower strata of society, Vasanthi has a sack full of superstitions and beliefs at her disposal from which abundance she draws regularly, to enlighten me. Though I am a true blood Mallu, to Vasanthi I am, if at all, an ignorant Mallu, one who has to be educated about the essence of Mallu-hood. She was genuinely doubtful whether I was a Hindu because, in her own words, “….I have never seen you going to the temple!” Of course it is beyond her simple mind to understand that people can exist without going to temples. It is another matter that she spends only about an hour and a half in my house and is totally unaware of what I am doing the rest of the time. Still, she has it engraved in her heart that this Chechi with her hair cut short and in salwar-kurtas and skirts and tees and irreverent attitude to accepted norms cannot be all Mallu or know enough about Mallu traditions.

One day she asked me innocently, ‘Don’t you feel sad and cry when Sir goes off to work every week??’ all because the Lord and Master at the time was working in a different city and used to leave every Monday morning after spending the weekend at home. I rolled my eyes and told her if I had done the crying bit for every time the L & M left home, the Indian subcontinent would have been submerged under six feet of water long back what with the Indian Army sending its officers in every which direction and the families not getting accommodation promptly enough. I doubt though that she got the joke because she looked at me uncomprehendingly. What do I tell her about children and their education which is of prime importance to us, enough to make us stay in different cities?? When I apprised L & M about Vasanthi’s question to me, he burst out laughing and in his characteristic way teased me that my stock had hit rock bottom as far as Vasanthi was concerned, as I was not the ideal bhaarya (wife) who shed copious tears (or at least had a suitably sad face) each time her Lord and Master left house for more than twenty-four hours!

None of these things had the power to turn even a couple of my glossy black hair gray. What did that was something else altogether and it happened this way.

Vasanthi joined me for work on the 24th of July. On the 24th of August I asked her whether she wanted me to give her salary on that day or if she wanted to wait till 1st of September and take home the salary of the extra eight days added to it, so that I could pay her on the 1st of every month from then on. She said she would like to have it the same day. Fine, I told her, I would pay her every 24th as per her wish. I gave her the amount due and everything seemed fine. Come 1st of Sept, while leaving after her work I heard her call me,

Chechiiii…”

I was at my usual place, which in case you didn’t know is in front of my laptop. I got up to see what she wanted as she usually leaves with a ‘Jnaan ponu Chechi’ (I am leaving).

Chechi will you give me my salary??” she asked on seeing me.

I blinked in confusion. My mind was still back in my blog-world and hadn’t I given her the salary eight days back??

“Do you want a loan or something??” I asked preparing to go in and get the money as I was in a hurry to get back to my blogs.

“No Chechi, my salary…”

“Salary?? But you said every 24th! That’s why I gave it to you on 24th. Do you want me to give you the share of the last eight days??” I asked her.

“No Chechi, not eight days. Today is 1st of the month, isn’t it?? So I want my salary.”

Now I know there are a lot of people who think I am a duffer. Unfortunately I had not been one of them up till then. But at that point I was sorely tempted to join the Shail is a Duffer movement as I just couldn’t get it. I blinked again.

“But I gave you your salary eight days back!”

“Today is 1st of the month Chechi. Everyone gets their salary on 1st of the month…” she said in her enlightening way.

“I asked you whether you wanted the money on the 1st of every month. But you said every 24th would do fine. If you want I can give you the share of the eight days and make it 1st of every month from now on.” I said gathering my wits and deciding that the thought of joining the S is a D movement was too pessimistic an outlook. Of course I could sort this one out.

“Everyone gets salary on 1st of the month Chechi” she repeated like some bally parrot.

Having decided not to join the S is a D movement, I now took it upon myself with optimism, to impart some basic math to Vasanthi.

“Look here Vasanthi, how many days from 24th of last month to 24th of this month??

“Thirty” came the response.

“And I paid your salary for thirty days. Right, so far??”

She nodded her head in assent.

“How many days are there from 24th of last month to the 1st of this month??” I asked.

“Eight days” she replied.

“Then how can you ask me for salary of a whole month??!!!”

There! Who could beat such clear cut logic presented so well??

“But Chechi, hereabouts everyone gets their salary on 1st of the month” she said.

Aaaaaargh. I nearly flipped the lid. I had not failed to notice the ‘hereabouts.’ She was alluding in her oblique way that this alien-Mallu was ignorant of local customs, of salaries paid on 1st of every month. Aaaaaaaaargh and double, triple aaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!. The S is a D movement seemed infinitely more appealing to me once again. And yet, I decided to give it one last try.

“Okay Vasanthi, listen to this. Suppose the Sir here joins a company on the 1st of a month, do they give him salary on that day itself, or after he has done a month’s work??”

“After a month’s work…”

Oh thank God, we seemed to be on the right track.

“Then why are you asking me salary for work you have not done?? You have only done 8 days work!”

There, try and get out of that one. Hehehehe…

“But everyone gets salary on 1st Chechi….” she said going right back to her parrot mode.

I wanted to scream and pull out my hair in frustration. With iron self control I saved myself from making myself bald. But in the process two of my glossy black hair had started off on the irreversible path of graying. There was nothing I could do. Sob sob. To prevent further damage, I told Vasanthi to get her husband and that I’d explain matters to Murugan. To be on the safe side and protect the rest of my hair, I paid Vasanthi the amount due for the eight days she had worked for me and started paying her on the 1st of every month from then on. I bet Vasanthi is happy and my crowning glory is safe for the time being. Phew!

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