Mummy adjusted to life in Pune quite well in just a short time. She has forgotten many things and many people but she still remembers my father. She is not the type, though, to give meaningful looks to his picture on the wall next to hers (at first she would glance away quickly from his photo). She seems to be comfortable here with us.
Pune is a few degrees cooler than Hyderabad and its surroundings. Mummy never seems to feel heat all that much though she will say when she is cold. In that first year she was here, as usual she would get angry and yell at us if we urged her to do anything that she hated, like trying to move using the walker. That was all, of course, something we knew well by now and took in our stride.
Debbie’s house has a beautiful garden with trees, shrubs and flowering plants.
However, Mummy did not want to go outside and sit there. Other houses overlook the lawn and she did not want ever, to be stared at, and for some reason, people had an uncomfortable habit of giving her sidelong looks as if she is weird or something. And this makes us feel bad for her. She was quite happy to spend time in the living room among us when we were talking. She would not say anything but just liked sitting there, not even, it appeared, listening to what we were saying, just reassured of our presence.
Debbie of course was a familiar face, a very soft-spoken, caring sort of a person. Vani was also, for a while a continuing presence. Vani had the ability to be patient and good natured. Her singing and cheerful greetings had made such a difference in my parent’s lives. Mummy would always be persuaded to eat and do anything Vani asked her to do. She would speak in her own language and sometimes in her own English, continuing to do my mother’s hair in elaborate styles and enhance this with clips and bows etc as if Mummy was about five years old.
As urgent as looking to her needs and being helped by Vani was the need to get our own house prepared for her to live in as was Debbie’s. We take care of her in turns from times varying between three to six months as and when we have to travel or have other guests. Things like this have to be planned well in advance. It is just fifteen minutes drive between our homes so we have got the transfer routine down pat by now.
We asked the same carpenter to make her a bed in our house. It is solid and sturdy and has the same guard rails at the side, with some different artistry on this one. Under is a trundle bed that pulls out for an attendant to use. As important is a TV so that they have some distraction because she does not need attention all day long, more than anything it is supervision because she sometimes develops bad coughs and colds. Other equipment was the same as what was there in Brahmanpalli but we do change and get new ones from time to time. She is on her third wheelchair now. The last one simply started to come apart at the seams.
In the beginning she would not stay alone if she was awake for more than a minute. It could be very trying, though understandable. Being alone and immobilized obviously made her insecure. It became imperative to find a person or persons who could help out. Pune has organizations called Nursing Bureaus. They have men and women working for them throughout the city. On their rolls are trained nurses (quite expensive and I guess only required if the person is seriously ill) and untrained attendants who learn each family’s needs as and when required. They are told what sort of work to expect and some people even expect them to cook for the patient. They bathe or sponge the patient, wash their clothes, change the bed linen and keep their charges clean. They give a percentage of their earnings to the bureau, though some leave the bureaus if they get steady work. They also negotiate, apart from this, for other allowances, for conveyance, yearly bonus, for a raise, for loans, gifts and maybe new clothes on an important festival.
This was becoming crucial as Vani had to leave and that time was getting close. About two and a half weeks went by and her room in our home was ready. We put Mummy in the car with all her goods and chattels (us) and brought her to our house. Vani came for three days and then tearfully parted with her “chinna papa” (small baby as she called Mummy). It was sad to see her go because of the very genuine affection she displayed and that made her so acceptable to my mother.
We tried to keep Mummy’s routine as close to the one she was used to in her own home. Very soon new people entered the equation and have been a strength and blessing for the last few years. Next time I want to introduce them and tell a bit about their lives and personalities and the invaluable work they do. Everyone who has any knowledge talks about Indian ‘servants’ or home help. It is definitely an unorganized sector – any kind of organization of domestic help is highly disapproved of by employers and is, of course, why they SHOULD be organized so that they are not exploited. Maybe some people, all the same, give them a good reward for work and some give them a raw deal. There is a great demand for good workers so if they don’t like conditions they often leave.
We are very lucky to have two wonderful women who help us with Mummy. And Mummy adores them in turn