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My house-help is a great source of local happenings. She has been filling me up on a recent break-in at a place not far off. According to her, the parents were beaten and tied up by miscreants and they tried to make off with their three children. Thankfully it remained at the ‘tried’ level. The attempt was foiled by an alert neighborhood. Helpful neighbors had responded to the cries for help.

Child-snatchers! This is alarming news, indeed though I am yet to find mention of it in the papers. No, I didn’t look for it, only asked the L&M who reads all the newspapers available and then some.

My house-help’s grandson is one scared boy ever since. Old enough to understand what the grown-ups are discussing (with a good deal of masala thrown in, I bet), the poor boy has been having nightmares. That brings me to a sad truth, we in India are yet to understand the concept of refraining from talking of stuff not meant for children’s ears in their presence. 

When my own children were younger I found my mother regaling them with the story of the stupid soaps she watched on a daily basis on the telly. Like, really? I was livid. As it is these soaps are unfit for the consumption of any right-thinking adult, enough to give them nightmares (it makes my blood pressure shoot up), and there she had been filling the young minds of my sons with the poisonous stuff. I sent the children packing to the playground pronto and gave her a piece of my mind.

So, where were we?

The alarming news of kidnappers trying to make off with children. Apparently, one more attempt was made the very next day in yet another house in the same locality or thereabouts. She couldn’t stop talking about it this morning. It is for the organs, she told me today morning. It had been her opinion yesterday that maiming the children and making them beg on the streets was the objective. Today, she also touched upon the possibilities of human trafficking and expressed her worry about her darling granddaughter, ‘who is only thirteen, but looks more like a twenty something.

It isn’t ever easy when you have loved ones, is it, and the world the way it is!

On most days I sleepwalk through the house-help’s narratives. My mind functions only after a respectable interval has passed after the intake of my morning tea. And she arrives pretty early, in time for tea in fact.

Today morning she also told me that the houses (with children) were being marked so these fiends could find it easily enough later on to attack. There has been some news in the papers (source, L&M) about strange and mysterious black marks appearing on walls of some houses in our city. The people are afraid and agitated about it. I don’t know if she, or the general public, is putting two and two together and coming up with five. How much of it is fact? How much of it is fiction born of fear and an overactive imagination?

These are not the only type of news I get to hear from her. One day recently she told me she wanted to leave early to go to her grandson’s school. As per some program aimed at the less privileged, the government was giving out five hens each to school-going kids. Arre wah! I thought. That’s really good. But you know what? It seems her son and daughter-in-law weren’t in the least bit interested and were going to pass up the opportunity. But she wasn’t going to let that happen.

Off she went to collect the hens from the grandson at his school and took the five, home. Enterprising woman that she is, I am sure she’ll soon be having eggs on the plate for herself and her husband. Or may be she will sell them and make some much needed money. As she was about to leave for the school, she laughingly told me, “When the hens start laying eggs, my son and family will probably turn up at my doorstep!” Though she said it in a lighthearted way, there was an element of truth to what she said.

Sad, isn’t it, how grownup children impose upon the goodwill of parents who themselves are struggling to make ends meet? On some days she sheds a tear or two while saying, ‘If only my husband hadn’t spent all his money! If only my sons gave me a little of what they earned!” The children who lead self-sufficient lives and don’t contribute anything towards the upkeep of parents don’t hesitate cadging things off them. And I find it so common, it makes my blood boil.

The help’s husband had been a painter (of houses and buildings) and used to earn pretty well once upon a time. He gave her just enough for the day-to-day running of the house and spent the rest lavishly on all of them with no thought of tomorrow. After all they had two sons. What else did they want?

Big mistake. Now the man is sick, and she in her old age (she is 65) has had to take up working in houses for a living. The children have their own lives. What if the man had shown some forethought? Taken time to secure their own lives? Another thing many of us in India need to learn whether rich or poor. Of course, give and take can and should always be a part of life.

Anyway, I am glad she went to the school to collect those hens. I hope it helps her in some way, at least in making a gift of the eggs to her grandchildren, and hopefully the children won’t turn up and they make a feast out of the egg providers!

©Shail Mohan 2018