Posted by: gdevi | June 22, 2010

Blessed are the Meek

When I called home this weekend, much to my delightful surprise amma told me that our old help Baby has come back to work at our house. Like my parents, Baby is also in her early seventies now, I think. My father is eighty this year, my mother seventy, and I think Baby is somewhere there as well. I couldn’t believe it. Baby had brought up Appu and I when we were little. She was a beautiful young woman then; she also sang beautifully, as I remember it. She came from a very poor family; her father was a permanent alcoholic–a good, weak man but an alcoholic; I remember him standing in a corner of our front car shed with a racking cough and looking all clean and dapper to get some money from my parents so he could go to the arrack shop–and her mother, while she was very nice to us, was believed to be of doubtful character. Baby had two brothers and three sisters–the three sisters, all quite good-looking were all involved in various shady affairs and generally of unsound reputation.  They all eventually got married and settled down with successful husbands and kids of their own–completely reformed– I see them now when I go home; they come to see us and see if I have gifts for them from America–but in their youth they were scary people.  The brothers sort of of did their own thing. I think they all exploited each other. But Baby sort of stood out from all of them, and my parents took care of her. She was soft-spoken, was an excellent cook, took very good care of Appu and I, and did all the work around our house, and turned her salary over to her exploitative family.  Her favorite game with us was she would put a big black blanket over herself and chase us around the house pretending that she was a ghost. It was a great game and Appu and I loved her. Though Baby did not graduate from high school, she loved to read, and every evening when all the work was done, I remember her reading the newspapers and the magazines. She had a beautiful personality. One day they found a husband for her. I went for the wedding; my parents sort of paid for the wedding because they were really poor. Baby’s husband was a fair, handsome man and he was believed to be running a hotel where he was the also the main cook. It turned out later that this was all fake information and Baby’s life just descended into utter chaos. I remember Baby’s husband; handsome man and he chewed tobacco and betel leaves all the time. Baby soon had three girls in rapid succession and she tried to make ends meet by working in various houses–cooking, cleaning–with three small children while her husband sort of tried to find something to do.  He was not a bad person; he just couldn’t make anything work.  My parents once loaned him money to open his own hotel; Appu and I went there for the opening–this was at least thirty years ago–I am forty four now–but I still remember the wonderful appam and chutney Baby made for us. Baby’s husband was a good man, but an ineffectual man, but Baby always spoke respectfully of him and took good care of him.  It is interesting that of all her sisters, Baby is the poorest now, and still, even in her seventies, with no rest and still working.  Somehow Baby was able to marry off their three daughters and apparently amma tells me that those kids and their husbands are not very supportive of Baby in her old age. Isn’t that typical; Baby was the cleanest person in that entire family and she is the only one who still has not managed to survive this cataclysm called life. The others have all gone up in life and they always try to tell us about all the things they have; one sister has some sort of life insurance scheme now and even tried to sell me life insurance last summer when I visited India. I don’t even live in India anymore and I am so against life insurance on principle–how can you benefit from someone’s death or your own death? –it was bizarre; she was pushy but I had to decline politely several times.   Very strange people. Last summer, when Appu and I went to India with our kids, Baby came and spent a lot of time with us — Dayani, Luma and Shambhu call her Baby ammumma just like they call my mother “grandmother.” Baby looked worn out and weary but she was still sweet-hearted like always; her husband had all kinds of terrible health problems, she told me, from years of chewing tobacco and betel leaves and it all sounded horrible. It was strange; she used to take care of us when we were little and there we were, giving her money so she could take care of her husband and herself. We were glad to help. Life is so unfair to some people all the time; Baby is one of them.  It is like reading a Tagore story or like watching Pather Panchali; it is all true. Anyway, amma told me this weekend that Baby came and asked her if she could once again work at our house for wages. Her husband is sick and she needs the money. Now that none of us are there, there isn’t much work around the house; help amma make something small to eat for the three of them, help her with the washing and cleaning, sweep the yard maybe. So now, it is just like when they all started. The only difference is that when they were all in their twenties, Baby used to stay at our house. Today, she goes home in the evening to look after her husband. My parents and Baby in their twenties. And now my parents and Baby in their seventies and eighties. I am so glad that the lives of my parents and Baby crossed each other. It is a happy ending. God bless you all.

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