Continued from here.
Saraswati and I got on like a house on fire. She was definitely not the usual illiterate maid with rigid ideas on how things have to be done or like those I have found looking askance at me as if I was some rare specimen, either because I dressed differently (not really all that different, but even a slight variation form the familiar seems to make you stand out like a sore thumb) or because my hair was un-oiled unlike those of the majority or even because of the way I took control of my kids. Now, the last it seems, is a Dad’s job. Most Moms I know do end their scolding with a final threat of, “Achan varatte!” (Let Dad come). Like hell I was going to do that. Children had to listen to me as much as they listened to their Dad. Period. That I am the mother did not mean they had the option of not obeying, that I had to wait for a higher authority to intervene on my behalf to make them do so. What nonsense. I tend look at the ‘Achan varatte’ crowd with disdain.
It is interesting ot note that I have been asked by an earlier maid of mine in literate Kerala, why the Mom (yours truly) and not the Dad was in charge of the children’s studies. The impression it seems is that Moms aren’t a match for the Dads when it comes to intelligence. The role of Moms is confined to keeping the uniforms white and shiny and the food piping hot on the table as per television ads. Dads were this incredibly clever species who gave the kids knowledge and got them ready for exams. What can I say but that even some well-educated ladies have asked me curiously if my husband was not in station when they found me at the PTA meeting in school. Of course it is not as if there aren’t Moms around in the meetings, but you see the question arises because it is believed a mother is there only because the father is not able to be present. I mean what the hell kind of a question is that anyway? When the L & M informed his mother that he had been transferred back and would be arriving soon to stay with his family (us) she nodded her head sagely and said it was good , “now he could keep an eye on the children and their studies, especially since the eldest was in his 10th standard.” Oh really?! To tell you the truth, I wanted to order the L & M to pack his bags and go right back to his army Unit stationed elsewhere then and there. But I digress.
What I meant to convey was that Saraswati, though illiterate (her mother took her off school while 7) did not fall into any of these categories. It was amazing how she grasped things. And here I must say, she was so much better than some commentators I see in blogs that deal with social issues, who seem to forget what the blog is about when they fire questions at me, missing even the points I have italicized for easy reference. Saraswati always got the res each time I happened to talk of something. I was astonished that she could see things which even highly educated people could not (or had they decided they will not?).
Take the freedom of the individual, females to be precise. There is this other woman (who is educated, been out of the state to other parts of India etc) who comes home to give my head an oil massage and apply henna on my hair. One day, much in the fashion of the moral police and those jobless senas, she criticized “these young girls of today” as she called them, “who wore tight tees and jeans.” Chee! Showing off all their curves, and inviting trouble. Yes she was one of those from the ‘she asked for it’ camp.
I was silent, gathering my thoughts and wondering whether it was worth my effort to let loose a diatribe and ‘enlighten’ the woman a bit. Once started there is no stopping me as my readers are well aware. Would she even understand, I brooded, what hit her? In the meantime, someone else nearby spoke up.
“What’s wrong with that?”
It was Saraswati. She was sweeping the house and stopped to answer the Henna-girl as we call the other woman,
“Why can’t girls wear what they like? I think the girls look pretty nice too in those new dresses. If the boys cause trouble over that,” she continued in no uncertain terms, “they should be flogged.”
Imagine that coming from the soft, gentle Saraswati. My heart swelled with pride and joy.
Hear her Ram Sena, Vanar Sena and all those other senas whose only job seems to be moral policing of women and never ever of themselves. If their time was spent fruitfully policing themselves and their reactions what a wonderful world this would have been for all concerned, including themselves? Why doesn’t it enter their empty heads that they wouldn’t have to run around to pubs to hit and abuse women (who they know will not hit them back. Catch them ever going to break up some goonda joint for fear of their jaws and more getting broken! Such is the bravery of these anti-social elements) to feel masculine? It is so easy. All one had to do to feel masculine was to take control of one’s own self. Instead, stupidly, such men and some of their women admirers think it is the duty of the women to ‘not provoke’ the poor sods. Hello! Never heard of each one being responsible for himself/herself?? If Viswamitra could not control himself when Menaka danced, he bloody hell had the choice to throw her out or else vacate the premises himself. Instead he chose to do what he did and the stupid world recounts the story at every opportunity to blame, belittle and ridicule the whole of women-kind as a gender for her wily nature in seducing the great sage. Really? Look at the gall. Anyways, there I go digressing again.
So, getting back (again) to Saraswati, she was this really enlightened lady with whom I could talk just about anything, something I had read in the newspaper or magazine or just heard. She had amazing outlook for someone who comes from the lower strata of society. She was someone with whom you could converse easily which I am really sorry to say is impossible with most of the population. Apart from some really cool people at the Indianhomemaker’s page who are ready to argue the point with a level head most others are these touchy lot who are up in arms and accusing you of being personal if you so much as disagree with them on something. But of course Saraswati and I never had reason to cross words.
We seemed to be on the same page regarding most things, most of the time. If not we listened to each other and tried to ‘hear’ where the other’s words were coming from. Her awareness regarding most things and her ability to grasp the res when confronted with the new and modern (no going around circles driving you mad) made her an excellent person to have around to converse. She is the first person in my long list of maids from all across India that I have met who could do that. Ha, I know my peers with degrees to boot, who blink uncomprehendingly if you go beyond a, b and c and step tentatively on d. Besides they will clutch everything traditional and orthodox close to themselves and refuse to let go, all the time trying to convince you that this or that was the way things had to be done or was done since the time universe was created. Oh yes, they were each handed out a printed copy at birth which has been in existence since the Big Bang, didn’t you know? But the uneducated Saraswati had an open, curious and accepting mind. She knew a thing or two about human nature and brought enlightenment to me too. It is more than I can say of my fellow ladies who live in their self-constructed and self-contained wells. In spite of education and exposure they cringe from ever questioning the unspoken rules and the already established ideas.
Two lovely daughters were born to Saraswati soon after her marriage. Her husband, for all his otherwise bossy ways, was a loving dad to their children. The couple gave their kids the best they could, and sometimes more. She showed me pictures of the birthday parties they had thrown for the children, spending money they could ill afford, parties with cakes, balloons, lovely frocks and stuff which is not the normal pattern in the state (mostly you find the traditional kind of celebrations with temple visit and sadya) and especially not for the social strata she belonged to. The husband managed to buy a wee bit of land and they built a house, a concrete house. The girls went to school and the parents indulged them by getting them what they fancied if it could be afforded and sometimes even if it couldn’t be. In short, the daughters were loved which is more than you can say about girl children in general in India. They are not even allowed to be born here.
Both the girls grew up to be delightful young women. The elder child was a beauty and the younger one not so much by conventional standards, but charming nevertheless. The elder one was the dreamy sort; she liked to read, watch television and was not of too much help to her mother in the household duties. The younger one more energetic was always busy around the house. Saraswati and her husband loved them both equally. The girls were the apple of their eyes.
Even as these stories were being unfolded for my benefit bit by bit, Saraswati was becoming an integral part of my household. She always had a smile on her face. She did her work with sincerity, even those which weren’t her assigned ones. When the coconut-tree climber arrived, she would be out to make sure the coconuts were not being cut before time (We had a couple of coconut trees in the last house we stayed). I am most lazy about such things and let people do whatever they want. Least bothered sums it up. Usually I even let the man go without de-husking at least a few of the coconuts. Saraswati took over all that. Old timers are real task masters. When my mother-in-law used to be home, she’d make Saraswati stop to wash one last plate of hers even though she was all dressed and ready to go home. Even if I told her to go right ahead, she’d stop to wash the one plate with a cheery ‘no problem’. She smiled a lot and yet, she said something similar about me. By now she was also quite chummy with Goofy.
One day I noticed a curious phenomenon. A mynah was making a terrible racket. I peeped out and found the bird swooping low, trying to peck Goofy on her back and swiftly flying off. Now this was strange. What had poor Goofy done? She was just doing her usual aimless running around as far as I could see. Why was the mynah antagonistic to Goofy? Just then I noticed that not one but two of them were taking turns, one trying to distract while the other took a shot at pecking. Wow, concerted effort. I walked out and on seeing me the mynah pair flew off. I found the same being repeated in the following days. This was extremely mysterious. I related the incident to the L & M. The next day I shared it with Saraswati. She smiled knowingly. Ahhh I can tell you why, she said.
Saraswati goes to the basement room (which is rather cool) to have her lunch. There she opens the back door and sits at the doorstep to have her lunch. The shade of the mango tree is inviting. Goofy accompanies her on her trips, acting the busybody, running around the basement room looking for elusive mice or perhaps the spider that scared us? Sometimes she simply reclines at Saraswati’s feet.
While having lunch one day, Saraswati noticed the two mynahs pecking around beneath the mango tree and threw them some food which they gladly started eating. Goofy resenting the attention the mynahs were getting, chased them off. Each time they alighted for food, Goofy would move into action. Now I understood the animosity exhibited by the birds towards poor Goofy. Not really, I think she deserved a peck or two for her behavior.
The most important thing for Indians when it comes to girls is of course marriage. So the time came soon when that became the topic of discussion among the so called well-wishers around Saraswati. Though she herself was not too keen on marrying off her daughter so young (18 years), she was overruled and the weddings of the girls happened in quick succession. Of course it goes without saying that they were arranged marriages. The eldest daughter with the husband stayed with them while the second moved to her husband’s home reasonably close.
To be continued…