Soon after marriage, I moved into one of the apartments in the suburbs of
, in a place called Banashankari. In the first week itself the truth struck me that I would need a domestic help to be able to manage my spacious apartment. So off I went on a hunt for a maid servant. Bangalore
Vanajakshi was introduced to me by the watchman of the apartment complex.
I opened the door in response to the bell and there she was standing sari clad, a tat pungent smelling from the overdose of powder she put, probably to give a good impression. “Hi Didi”… … I mumbled back a “Hi” since I was caught quite unexpected.. I foolishly said “Welcome!”. She was so frail and thin, that I immediately made her chai with lots of milk in it. I don’t know why, but I continued to do this through the 2.5 yrs she was with me thinking that the milk I gave her could make some difference!
She enquired, “aap Kannada jantee hain?”. (Do you know Kannada?)
I said, “ nahin, mein Kerala se hoon, Kannada samach mein athi hein, lekin bol nahin sakte. Hindi mein bath karti hoon, theek hein?” (No, I am a Keralite. I understand Kannada, but cant speak. Let’s speak in Hindi. Alright?)
Vanaja: “Theek hein didi” (“Alright”)
I enquired: “ghar mein kaun kaun hein? Husband kya kaam kar raha hein?” (“Who are all there at home? What does your husband do?”)
Vanaja: “mere husband nahin hein didi. Wo 5 saal pehle apne aapko jalakar mar gaye”(“My husband is no more. He set himself ablaze 5 years back”)
What?!! I did not know how to react.
She continued in her typical hindi accent, “paise ke vaste kiya thhaa…tab se mein mere bachhe keliye chh naukri karte hoon… mere 3 bachhe hein.. mera ek beta bhee hein..vo mujhe bahut pyar karta hein.. aur patha hein didi, mere do ladkiyon ke shaadi keliye mein sona bhee ikattha karke rakhaan hein..apne aap” (“We had financial problems. From then, I ve been living just for my kids. I have 3 children. I have a son too! He loves me very much. Do u know Didi, I ve made Gold for the marriage of my two daughters…. All by myself!”)
I said, “acchaa kiya..” .. (“Good!..”)
Vanaja spoke 3 languages Kannada, Tamil and Hindi and did manage a few English words. She never saw the inside of a school but, she had an undying spirit to learn, live and a thirst to be loved. She used to get up everyday at 4:00 AM and finish off her cooking and washing so that she can start off with the house maid’s job. She used to go to 5 houses!
Here was a proud mother, a woman of substance, the one to whom the “Mrs. World” crown truly belongs!!!
The biggest tension in her life was her son’s 10th std exam. She used to send her two older kids for tuition and the teacher used to say they were doing good until her son failed for the 10th exam. I still remember the tears she had in her eyes when she came the day after the results were announced. Her son’s failure to meet her expectations really weighed her down.
She used to tell me, “kaam karne ke liye mann echh nahin lagti didi” (“I don’t feel like working didi..! “)
Maybe its all these that made her look for something that would make her happier. She took credit to buy 2 autos and kept 2 drivers for it. Thus she became a business woman and at the same time a house maid.
She used to be so proud of the fact that inspite of starting a business, she still did not have to touch the gold which she had kept away for the marriage of her 2 daughters.
Fate again intervened in the form of the driver of one of her autos.
She used to tell me, “didi wo mera beta jaisa hein.. mujhe wo etna pyar karta hein didi.. mera beta bhi mujhe etna echh pyar nahin karte…uske ghar mein bhi ek sister hein, uski bhee shadi nahin huin hein abhi tak..” (“Didi he is like my son. He loves me so much, even more than my own son! He too has an unmarried sister u know…”)
Everyday she used to be so much more happier. She grew out of her once withdrawn self and began to enjoy life better in her new company.
One day she told me, “didi meine mere betee log keliye jo sona rakha dhaa vo sahib ke paas rakh ke wo auto vale ko paise de diyaa.. usko bahut problem hua thaa.. uske sister ke shaadi ke liye” (“ Didi I pawned the jewellery I had saved for my daughters, and gave that money to the driver. He had a lot of problems, he has to marry off his sister..”)
“kyon de diya vanaja? Ab kya karega? Wo kahan hein?” (“Why did you give that off Vanaja? What will you do? Where is he then?”)
“pataa nahin didi.. wo call karegaa mujhe. Wo aisa wala nahin hein.” (“Don’t know Didi. He will call. He is not that kind of a guy! “)
But I immediately could feel that though in a moment’s spur she extended her life’s savings to a guy not so well known to her, she repented it afterwards.
Vanaja’s woes were just starting.
The guy never called back. She would come and try from my land line and my cell phone to reach him. He picked up the first time she called but cut it as soon as he realised its her. She cried and cried and cried.
The once happy face that came to my door every morning now turned into a very gloomy one. She stopped even looking at our faces, so withdrawn. Her life’s savings, her self respect, her whole courage to live was gone.
I increased her salary to bring cheer, just a “thank you didi” was all she said and a faint smile that vanished before it came.
She filed a complaint in court against the guy whom she once loved more than her son. Her own son started to trouble her asking to give him more of her hard earned money. I remember the day she came to my house and broke down because her son called her ‘selfish’. This woman who lived her life for her 3 kids doesn’t deserve this! I wanted to hug her and say, things will be fine, I don’t know, what held me back… I could just pat her shoulders and say “Sab theek ho jayegaa..” (“Everything will be fine..”)
Her integrity never wavered even while she was going through the worst.
Vanaja never came out of her sadness…. I left
a year back. Bangalore
I hope and pray that Vanajakshi would rise from her ashes like a phoenix and fly high just the way she was when I first met her!