Housemaids in India, are an integral part of the family and their absence from the household creates havoc in the house! It’s been close to a decade of married life for me and I have hired and fired a handful of maids in these years! What’s surprising is that all the maids I hired were not just wives but also ‘mothers’ and my somewhat short or long interaction with them made me learn something or the other about ‘parenting’ from them!
I am penning down two great parenting lessons that two of my maids gifted me with.
Mangaa was a very cute-faced, ever-smiling, sari-clad middle-aged woman who always wore orange flowers in her hair. With a big red round bindi on her forehead and hair parted from the center, she looked chubby and neat with just about an average level of energy to do things.
She got married at a relatively young age and gave birth to a son some two-three years after marriage. A daughter followed the son, about four years later. At around the same time, Mangaa’s sister was also trying to conceive a child but after repeated failures, came to know from her medical reports that she won’t be able to embrace motherhood ever.
Mangaa, who was then a mother of two, without hesitating, offered her newborn daughter to her sister.
It doesn’t end there. The daughter, who is grown up now, has no idea to date that the lady she considers her Amma until now isn’t her biological mother. It goes without saying that the young girl also has no idea that the one whom she considers her aunt is actually her mother, the one who gave birth to her.
When I heard all this, my jaw almost dropped and a thin film of tears emerged in my eyes. But she smiled even more sweetly and told me in her Teluguish-Hindi,”एम आईंदी मैडम? (What happened, Madam?) मेरा बेटी, उसका बेटी, एकीच तो बात ए!(My daughter, her daughter, it’s the same thing after all!) ऐसा करे सो, वो अम्मा बन गयी! (Because this happened, she could become a mother!). मैं तो संतोषम्! (I’m very happy!)”
I was at a loss of words when I heard this and sat on the sofa open-mouthed.
We all grew up fighting with our siblings over trivial matters of sharing pens, pencils, chocolates, clothes and such petty things! But I’m sure very very few of us would have had the heart to share their own child with another longing-to-be-a-mother.
‘How difficult would it be to share your own child with your sister?’ Maybe a ‘little’ difficult? Or perhaps ‘not’ difficult at all? I’ll leave it to you to answer.
But, what I found more heart-breaking was the question: ‘How difficult is staying in front of your child’s eyes all the time without her calling you ‘Mumma’ or without her hugging and cuddling you when she hurts her knees while playing?’ ‘Very very difficult’!
Mangaa taught me that motherhood teaches you to be not just a great human being but also to be a charitable and generous donor! Not always are donations given in the form of money, food, clothes or knowledge, sometimes donations are also given in the form of your love, your attention, your affection, your concern – in the form of ‘a piece of your heart’. A ‘big big’ piece of your heart!
A class-5th-pass, in her late 70s, Baalamani ‘looked’ weak, fragile and energy-less to me. Her squashed cheeks, wrinkled skin, humped back and the most spectacular of all – her age-old spectacles made me feel that she’s ‘not’ the one I was looking for. Surprisingly, I was proved wrong! Her energy, agility, speed and sharp mind stunned me and made me change my first impression of hers – totally!
After a couple of chats with her, I retrieved bits from her personal life (which I later regretted to have retrieved as they made me feel all the more sorry for her). This 78-year-old lady, who owned a full-fledged, successfully up and running milk business once, stayed all by herself at this age in her single-room house and earned her bread and butter herself. She had two sons out of whom one passed away due to illness and her husband too left for the heavenly abode soon after. Two sudden deaths in the family ate up all of Baalamani‘s savings and funds and also shut down inlets of income in the family. Her second son, who was supposedly not very fond of his mom, left Baalamani all by herself and walked out of the house (because his wife demanded to stay in a separate house) and never walked in ever after. This saddening story of hers made my heart sink all the more.
But this iron-willed lady taught me a lot. After meeting her every day for the next few months, I came to realize that she is ‘the’ most detached person I will ever meet in my life! She was happy with whatever she had in life – no matter how little it was and had completely accepted life the way it was. She looked neither very sad nor very happy. Baalamani was always neutral, composed and balanced. She didn’t expect to get back to the comfortable life she was leading, didn’t expect her son and daughter-in-law to come back home with her grandchildren nor did she expect us to have pity on her and help her monetarily or otherwise. She never demanded or expected any gifts, leaves, rest nor even snacks or tea ever – even on days of festivals!
She told me, “मेरेकू काम का जरुअत नई अम्मा। (I don’t need to work at this age, Madam.) गाय-भैंस भोत था मेरेको।(I had a lot of cows and buffaloes.) पति भी चोड़ के चले गया, बेटा भी चोड़ के चले गया।(My husband passed away and my son too passed away.) अबी काम नको करना बोले सो, खाने को पईसा कीधर से आता? (Now if I say I don’t want to work, from where will I get money to buy food?) छोटा बेटा जोरू काईच सुनता, अम्मा! (My younger one is all for his wife, Madam.) क्या बी नई कर सकती मई! (I can’t do anything about it.) आगे होगा सो देखेंगे! (Whatever will happen, will happen!)”
These words from her expressed deeply to me the detachment she has towards people, relationships and even feelings in life. It seemed that she is simply working to survive and is leading her life one day at a time fulfilling all her duties as and when required. She never missed her son’s love, the tantrums that her grandchildren could have thrown, the care, and concern that she could have received from her daughter-in-law or the happy life she ‘could’ have led. She lived in the moment and breathed for today.
Baalamani taught me that not being very attached to your children can also make you a strong parent at times. Had she been deeply attached to her kids all her life, she would have definitely been living a life of hell today. She taught me to be totally detached from life and just keep marching ahead without letting anything, good or bad, affect you in the least.
Anyone and everyone you come across in your day-to-day life can inspire you and teach you profound lessons about life and even parenting. There’s so much to learn from every parent, every mother around you, so what even if she’s your humble maid?