Frankly, everyone, in India we are completely dependent on people who work for us. Shamefully, paying them disgraceful wages, not giving time off, or feeling free to criticize them is something so common. Very often, they are the people who make all the difference in our existences – offloading and taking on our stresses and strains.
Here is a small portrait of Vani, a slight, bright, energetic, positive-vibes-giving girl in her early twenties who suddenly came into our lives.
Before Vani came along, we had to keep making trips back and forth to Brahmanpalli, a 9 -12 hour drive, and when we were not there the full load of personal care for Mummy fell on Denis. He did not complain – he was usually good natured, but as I noted earlier, mysterious troubles like fever, colds, backache began to bother him, a person who had never had a serious illness in his life.
While I was in the village I would spend some afternoons with the redoubtable Aunty Joan. She was now beginning to really feel the discomfort of a bad knee and was getting pretty old. She would sit and chain smoke on her verandah all day and we would talk about life in general, while she supervised those who worked for her. Her ‘staff’ were mostly tenants without rent living in the many rooms in her compound, easily twenty or more people though only two or three actually worked for her. The Reddy’s had had a working farm, a dairy business and a fish farm in earlier times but now she was retired from all that responsibility. She was still great company who knew everything that was happening in the village and the city.
For two days in a row while returning from her place, which meant walking into the station after crossing the railway line and walking out of the entrance on to the kaccha road that led to her place something was unusual.
While passing by I had been seeing some unfamiliar faces in our servants quarters which looked out on to the station from our house. Finally I asked the Swamis who they were, assuming they were visitors or their relatives. Oh, G Swami said breezily, they will be moving soon, just stayed for two days, they were on the station platform looking for work.
They had all met on the station platform, where Uday and I used to go to stroll up and down its mostly empty stretch in between trains. It turned out that this family had left their village about forty kilometres from here. They had found daily wage work in a close by factory. The daily wage earned was doubled because two women in the family worked in the factory. And our Swamis had very kindly taken them in.
Squatting was a fact of life and one of the reasons why my father had got rid of some land he had, gifting out of that one acre to each of the Swamis. There was hardly a fortune in his kitty though, and it was important to ask them what was going on here.
In this family there was an elderly lady, her daughter and her daughter in law with two small children. The father would come and go from time to time. The mother asked if her daughter could work in the house, possibly informed by the Swamis about our situation.
Thus Vani came to assist Denis in his caring for Mummy. Along with her routine and dedicated work she brought songs in Hindi and Telegu, into our home, laughing at jokes in the kitchen between her and the cook G swami who she called Uncle. She took such an affection to Mummy addressing her as ‘papa’ (baby in Telegu). Now Denis did not have to stand at the door just bellowing ‘Swami, Swami’ to call out to them for some help and to break up the incessant partying of all the folks there – now it was also ‘ Vani, Vani’.
Vani was very proud of the fact that she was educated. She, however, had for years been trying to pass her Twelfth Class exams and having great difficulties with English. Denis really tried hard to help her in this. She went off to some place from time to time to register her name, to write her exams, and to do other tasks, but mostly she was there in Brahmanpalli, particular about keeping Mummy very well groomed and well dressed, She would go into Toopran and return with hair clips and coloured bands with flowers etc on them to tie my mothers hair with, braiding it in different styles.
She was the most lively person in that place, always running in and out and calling out to people, always singing filmy songs, collecting flowers from the garden for her daily puja, after which she would appear freshly bathed with religious marks freshly applied on her forehead and jawline.
When we asked her what the significance of the marks on the jawline were, it became a tangle of barely understood words in English and Telegu between us and her till she would giddily shake her head, slap her cheeks lightly and run off looking back at us mischievously.
With a significantly increased financial situation and a home to live in my parents had made a difference in her life but the difference she made in their lives, in terms of the real help, the freshness and cheeriness she brought were immeasurable. My father never forgot the boon she was and fixed a good sum in a fixed deposit in the bank for her (and the Swamis), nothing small considering his own savings were not large by any means. Anyway, when he passed away and her job was gone, she had something to manage with. With time her calls to ask about Mummy’s health here in Pune stopped, but I hope she is well and prospering. She deserves it.