We’re hand in hand, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, all of us, and our most important assistants in the taking care of Mummy. We have a maid called Suvarna who cleans and cooks for us but when my father passed away in 2011 and Mummy came to us she had special needs and we had to find help, which is personified in the two women who are our great supporters.
Sharada is our oldest helper who came in 2011, referred to us by a dear friend whose mother she had taken care of till she passed away. When she came to us she said she wanted a permanent job and that she would stay with us as long as Mummy was with us. She is solid as a rock, so tough and strong, and has a jolly sense of humour.
Besides doing what she has to for Mummy, she has her own family, just as Lakshmi does. She lives in a joint family as many working class people in India do – to be of assistance to each other, and to share in expenses of house and home. This may not be always easy and women often take a disproportionate amount of the responsibility. Sharada has a decent guy in her husband who will do all sorts of jobs such as cook the chapatis for their meal if he returns home before her. She will have prepared the main food for the family before coming to work.
Family demands on women are no less than work demands. She has to see to the smooth running of the family and keep peace in the house. She has to cater to different needs, moods and temperaments, mostly with equanimity. She has years and years of experience and has many a time advised us of what to do because she has knowledge of how to take care of an elderly person.
She is also talented in other ways. When not busy with her charge she will often be on some creative project. One such project took weeks of fashioning – a rug for her home, done with large knitting needles and strips of ‘yarn’ made from old saris. It was colourful and durable. She is also a great cook. She loves being in the kitchen when Mummy is lying quietly after her bath and will give guidance in how to prepare many types of vegetable dishes, Indian sweets and snacks if asked. The temptation to ask is very great.
Lakshmi came along after some changes in help that did not work out long term. She is Sharada’s neighbour and good friend. Their families also know each other. When we were looking for a long term employee for Mummy she was suggested and has been nothing less than a gem. She had done domestic work before but took to care work with ease and professionalism.
She has proved to be a person with a strong sense of responsibility and dedication to a good standard. She is always punctual, always arrives with a cheerful greeting for Mummy whose face lights up. She can persuade Mummy to eat up anything with soft and loving words. Of course they both do this. She will keep note and trim her nails, and after seeing me cut Mummy’s hair, learnt it easily and now does it herself. A very commendable thing is what they have done for Mummy’s skin condition. Massaging her after a bath with oil and moisturizers has meant there is barely a sign of psoriasis any more.
Home responsibilities are so great that it can lead to us having a sense of guilt realizing how very fortunate we are to have their loyalty to regular work and affection for their charge. Lakshmi’s daughter just completed her board exams. This is important for her if she plans at any time in future to be as independent as her mother and seek employment outside the home like her mother who has taken all the burden of family life on her own because men are not always reliable or are not worth living with.
She lives with parents and sisters. Recently her brother-in-law was laid up with broken bones himself and she does much to help her sister. While her daughter was doing her exams she did night duty because it is a much lighter load and both patient and carer can have a long restful sleep, though they are up very early. She is a person of quiet dignity and self awareness. She does her work with minimum fuss and will do more than she has to, to feel that Mummy is being well looked after. I love these women with all my heart because they have come to our aid and taken so much worry out of the whole equation.
Both of them are literate, will make time to read the Marathi newspapers, operate their bank accounts, and keep track of many other developments in the world around them and in our home and theirs. Fortunately for us they live halfway between my sister’s house and mine so it is possible to get buses to come to work here or there. Who sent these two angels to come to our aid? Some special providence – when we mention them in talk we give them thanks for the sustenance they provide. Someone must watch over them and be their sustenance in this world and that is our responsibility.