Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sagunabai in the time of IT.....आयटीच्या युगात सगुणाबाई .......

One of the interesting things about living in, say, Mumbai, is that it brings you in almost daily contact with a lot of folks, you would ordinarily never meet. Right from dawn, when newspapermen and milkmen, cycle around delivering their wares to customers getting organized for a Mumbai morning, to the flower and garland lady who comes around in a whiff of jasmine each evening, delivering our leaf wrapped garlands and flowers for daily worship of the deities, everything happens in a flurry of activity as washing ladies, cleaning ladies, cooking ladies, and in some houses, massage ladies , do their rounds.

While the last is a new and latest addition to services offered , and I see several of these ladies in our building, I have never had the guts to call any one of them for myself; I had called one of them when my late mother visited us , and their wonderful ability at massage was very soothing for 82 year old tired limbs which had hitherto trudged up and down railway station stairs , hurrying to meet the grandchildren....

A side effect of staying put in one community (as on a campus) for several decades means, that you grow old with your daily help. When I first came here, there was an elderly lady called Sagunabai who came to work as my household help. This was the time 35 years ago, when jeans wasn't something newly married women wore. Neither did they charge around on two wheelers, studded with assorted bags full of vegetables , fruits and what have you. While several disapproving glances were cast , noticeably by "high status" folks, Sagunabai thought thought this was really cool.

She was in her 50's then , and her entire family almost had a fit when one evening it was late and I dropped her home, she riding pillion on my two wheeler; she wore a nine yard saree which i consider the actual precursor to the pantsuit, and thus did not sit "side-saddle" like most "respectable" women did; sitting behind me, clutching me around my stomach for dear life, she really enjoyed the trip.

By and by, her eyes started bothering her, and her daughter came to work for me. Sagunabai managed her home, and attended to the various grandchildren who trooped in throughout the day, to eat, study, and generally play while their parents went about their work. Her husband was no more , but he had been an employee of the maintenance department on campus, and his children had enjoyed free education at the school on campus. Sagunabai learned the importance of education , and worked in several house to ensure that even after her husband's death, all her grandchildren too went to school.

Several years passed. I kind of lost touch with her, although I used to get news about her from her daughter. The many grandchildren she mentored (in an age where so many people had no time for their children as they avidly made efforts to double their income), had now grown up, and some of them had learned computers. No degrees or anything but some honest to goodness useful computer skills, and a nodding acquaintance with the fun things you could do.

This included, very unusually, a granddaughter. When time came to arrange her marriage within their community, someone from a good , educated ,family, who had an IT job was most delighted to marry her, and when he went on a posting to Columbus, Ohio, in the US, she went along. (Her family may not be able to name some cities within India, but the entire extended family is now aware of Columbus, Ohio.)

Sagunabai's daughter who helped me in the house would entertain me with updates, and there came a day when the entire extended family of 55 people hired vehicles (they had none of their own), to go to the airport. The grandaughter in the US was pregnant and close to her delivery date. As per tradition, her mother would attend the delivery and help out the first few months, and then return. The family went to see off their maiden voyager to the New World. Speeches, photographs, garlands,
bouquets , at the airport, and the overwhelmed lady, not knowing a word of English, except Please,Thank you, and Sorry, took off.

A month later, Sagunabai lands up.

She had aged, and now wore glasses with thick lenses. She wanted to know if my computer had what she called a "She-dee". Apparently one of her grandsons who had a PC at home was away, and no one knew how to use the PC, and she needed my help. She asked if she could come with some members of her family one afternoon/evening .

I was intrigued. A day was decided upon.

On the appointed day, her extended family trooped in, mostly ladies with children, everyone dressed in their formal best, jabbering away in excitement. Her daughter made tea and snacks for everyone, as Sagunabai took out a large envelope from the blue cloth bag she carried everywhere with her.

"Here's the "she-dee", she said , gingerly placing it in my hands.

I placed it in the drive, as she shush-ed the chattering children and ladies. I had screen saver of a beautiful sunset on the screen, and everyone oohed and aahed as it appeared thinking this was the place where her granddaughter lived. I didn't bother to explain.

The drive activated, and the room went quiet. It was a VCD of some stuff taken on a Handicam , after her daughter reached the US. It was all everyday stuff, the initial part where the pregnant daughter, almost at end-of-term, was being fussed over by her Mom, and then the coming home from hospital with the baby, the new grandmother receiving them at the door with traditional lamps.

There were whoops and "Aaah" and "Aaiya" and "Aggobaya" as the film unfolded in front. The naming ceremony of the baby. The new grandmother organizing the eats with the help of her daughter's American friends , all dressed up in sarees and causing a lot of mirth amongst the audience in my house as the whole thing appeared a bit difficult to handle while carrying plates and stuff. Occasionally the baby thought all this was too much and did some indulgent crying, lapsing away into a dreamy sleep a few minutes later. Traditional songs were sung, the name was whispered into the baby's ear as she lay , eyes wide open in her crib, wondering what all the fuss was all about.

Amidst the chattering and excited jumping around of kids, I watched Sagunabai, as she peered intently at the screen, nodding happily to herself, then slowly lifted her glasses, as she brought up her saree end , to wipe a few tears that threatened to cascade.

"But what name did they give the baby ?" asked one of the ladies.

Sagunabai was overcome. I asked the ladies to watch the screen. I had seen a board with a name on it in a corner of the room, and it was yet to come up in the event. After a bunch of songs, two young girls from the neighbors who attended, picked up the board, and held it up for everyone to see, the name written in English and in Marathi(my mother tongue).

Sagunabai, could neither read nor write, never having gone to school herself. So she couldn't read the name. It was only when the children shouted out the name that she smiled, a wide toothless smile, that lit up her eyes, and she came up to me at the PC, and patted my back as if I had something to do with it all.

"Asha Vidya, that's a wonderful name. They couldn't agree on a single name so they gave her two!" She nodded at the assembled ladies. Everyone fell quiet. Saturated with the event, thousands of miles away.

Sagunabai sat down next to the PC, crosslegged , on the floor. And then there was a sharp earthy voice, crooning.

Crooning a lullaby to the baby asleep in its crib on the screen. There is something called "Palna" that is a lullaby cum sort of song-of-honor, sung by the immediate relatives for the baby. The song was well known one, and no one had a dry eye, as Sagunabai, in her thick lenses, a tear cascading down one cheek, proceeded to the last stanza. The child was 12,000 miles away and this was all not happening in real time, but to everyone in the room it was real. Virtually real.

Sagunabai suddenly snapped out of it, reminded the children that there were plates and cups to be picked up, and taken inside before they left, and came to me as I removed the "she-dee" to give it back to her, and congratulated her on her wonderful great granddaughter.

"So how did you like the name " she asked.

I had no words. I gave her a small statue of Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge, and wished her well.

Hope (Asha) and Knowledge(VIdya) was what her effort in life, was all about , post her husband's death. The illiterate but strong minded lady, had seen her own family through tough times, and her children's children went to school and did so well, she was proud of them. They were her Hope, and she hoped, that along with this new addition, the new generation would strive to learn more and more at the hands of the Knowledge Goddess.

If she had taken a look at the statue , she would have probably seen a smile on the face of the statue. Sagunabai had ALL the right knowledge , and she was doing a fine job teaching her family about it.


  1. Thank you from my heart for your comment this early morning. It is very meaningful to me.
    Blessings to you this day.

  2. A very nice post and it can't be told in any other way except by yourself...thank you

  3. You brought tears to my eyes. A beautiful name for a baby, but more so, for the honored lady at your home, surrounded by generations of her love. How special that you could share in this moment and then share with your blogger friends as well. Thank you.

  4. I am so glad you shared this story with us. It was so interesting and this lady with no education managed to inspire so many in her family. How wonderful. You should write a book. You always keep me totally entranced with your stories.

  5. This is such a beautiful and inspiring post about an inspiring woman. Thank you so much for sharing. I always love your stories and the fact they give me a look into a world that is different from mine in many ways and yet alike.

  6. A very moving post!!! I could picture the whole scene as u described it so vividly it seemed as if I was part of it too!!! I had tears in my eyes as I read it.... very beautiful. As mentioned earlier you really should write a book. U definitely have one fan..... ME!!!

  7. What a beautiful account.God bless the lady.BTW you are tagged.Do take it up if you haven't done it already.

  8. wonderfully narrated...i think saguna bai is one hell of a lady...may her kind increase...

  9. one woman's journey thank you.

    sukku thank you.

    aleta Thank you. There are so many such inspiring things happening around us, if we only have the time to look.....And yes, that old lady is special !

    Judy Thank you . I think something that has touched you is very easy to put down on paper....the words just pour out !

    Sylvia K Thank you. You know, our worlds are so different, but basic human thought remains the same the world over....

    ranu Thank you. I have known this lady for so many years , and so it is easy to get deep into the story when I write it....

    Hip Grandma Thank you. And I am currently tag-lagged. :-)

    Suma Thank you. I too think Sagunabai rocks (as my daughter would say) :-)

  10. Good morning again.
    To answer your question. Yes that is a mirrored door on an old wardrobe. I bought about 40 years ago. Not in the best of condition but I love. My little granddaughters love to look at their reflection in the mirror.
    Have a good day.

  11. So good to see Sugunabai giving importanc to education and changing so many lives.Just hope that many more follow her.

  12. Such simple people hold powerful tales that shake the soul up. And when presented well, like how you have done, it impacts deeply !

    Wonderful !

  13. massage ladies yetaat ka ghari halli ..wa wa.

    Women like sagunabai have the capability of changing the world one family at a time. These women though "nirakshar" know that hard work and education are so essential for being successful in today's world. They give a "vision" to their kids, goals to achieve and do something better than they themselves could do.

    She riding on a two wheeler with you and enjoying the ride, not commenting on your jeans and her
    singing lullaby to the baby on the computer screen.. she is a woman of 21st century respectful of the traditions and culture she was raised in yet open to accepting the changes that modern times bring.

    The baby even though thousands of miles away must have felt the love through the telepathic waves.

    Tujha hey english madhla "vyakti ani valli " distay. hee hee mala ajoonhi dolya samor scooter varchi ghabarleli sagunabai ani tichyahoonhi bhedarlele tichya gharche loka distayet.


  14. विनीता ,

    ह्या मसाजच्या बायका सगळीकड़े येतात का ते माहित नाही. पण मी राहते तेथे अनेक राज्यातील लोक रहातात व काही राज्यातील बायकांच्यात ह्या बायकाना बोलावण्याची पद्धत आहे . मी एकदाच आई इथे असताना त्यांना बोलावलं होतं ......

    पिज्जा अणि पास्ता च्या युगात जसं वरणभात -लिम्बाचं लोणचं -पोह्याचा पापड़ तशी हल्ली च्या जगात सगुणाबाई आपली जागा पक्की धरून आहे .......

    काहीही म्हण, मला सगुणाबाई अनेक बाबतीत खूप माडर्न वाटते (इतर अति विशाल मंडळींपेक्षा ....)

  15. touching ..and it brought a smile on my face as well..these women are the lifeline of most families

  16. Once again Suranga you have moved me to tears, I felt that I was there and was crying with her . Thank you for this post and bringing us a part of your life . You made the occasion so real and saw through your eyes the exciting event. I could have cheered for Sagunabai knowing how proud she felt - and so she should, as she has done a marvellous job in raising her family.

  17. marathi font madhe uttar.. sahi :))

  18. renu,helene,kavi,lakshmi,kate

    Thank you for the kind words ....

  19. Me cried reading this. very embarassing thing to do in office!


  20. vivek thank you

    G : Thank you and not to worry. As they say in a French proverb,"Life is an onion and one peels it crying”....

    C'est la vie....

  21. I was here last week and enjoyed myself reading all your posts. I was especially touched by Sagunabai's and Hitesh's stories. You have a lovely simple storytelling style and wonderful stories of substance to narrate. Thanks so much for sharing them with us and giving me so much food for thought.

  22. U wrote this so beautifully that I cant quite see what I'm typing in as comment:-)

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