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Mornings are a busy time. There are buses to catch, keys to search, lunches to pack, doorbells to answer. We have a chap who comes each morning to ask if we need any groceries, and you need to remember and write it in a book for him. Once everyone has left for work/school et al, one searches and collates all the newspaper pages together, and prepares for a relatively relaxed read.
One of the greatest pleasures of my life is to be comfortably ensconced in a chair, feet up, reading the paper, and for my household help, M, to land up (she has a key to the front door), potter a bit in the kitchen, and ask me if I would like a cup of tea ! There is nothing more wonderful than to have a cup of gingered tea brought to you, in your own house, without you having to ask, and without you having to move an inch.
M has been with me for the last 25 years. She has seen me through the childrens' childhood years, happy days, worried days, sad days, and days of wonder. She has seen the respective grandparents on visits, chatted with them, indulged them, taken their messages on the phone (initially holding it upside down), in my absence sometimes, and sympathized with me like family when they one day were no more.
She has had a very difficult early married life, and has now come into her own as a strong woman head of household in her own family.
That day she finished her work, and sort of hovered around as I sat writing something.
"I need some help" , she said, wiping her hands on the edge of her sari pallu. "Will you write a speech for me ?"
My moving fingers, came to a sudden stop . M, and giving a speech ? This was wonderful. Of course I would. But I needed to know the details and the occasion.
Turns out that her elder sisters husband was attaining his 60 years, and also retiring from his job as an office clerk. The entire extended family, his colleagues, and many others were planning for a big event , to wish him well for the future. This man, with a greatly altruistic bent of mind, was someone everyone consulted, and he was always available to help, whether it was advising on procedures, helping with admissions, jobs, litigations, helping with the sick and disabled, fixing marriages, handling acrimonious family misunderstandings , and just about anything that you needed help for. He always harped on the importance of education, and was about to publish a book of Marathi poems he had written over a number of years.
M's family was to attend, and were thinking of a decent gift. As is traditional, they thought of a shawl and coconut for the gent and a really nice sari for his wife. And then M had an idea.
" You know, the shawl and sari looks good, but everyone will gift that. What good is receiving 35 shawls and an equal number of sarees, some of which , his wife may not even like ? And who uses shawls in hot and humid Mumbai ? Besides you can wear only one sari at a time...." she said.
" So what do you have in mind ? " I asked, "and why a speech ?"
She hesitated a bit. Thinking.
"You know, Bapu (her sister's husband), is not a rich man in the conventional sense. Still, he has made it his life's vocation to help and guide other folks looking to improve themselves through education and guidance from the correct folks. Sometimes, he even ends up spending from his own pocket, when the person is very needy or old. I wanted to put all this saree and shawl money in an envelope and present it to him, to use in such situations. . What do you think of my idea ? And do you think its too little an amount ?" Saying so, she sat down on the carpet, wiped her forehead, and looked to see if my tea cup was empty.
I was speechless. It didn't really matter what the amount was. I thought her idea was brilliant. It rocked. And she rocked.
"But why do you want me to write you a speech ? You don't read yourself . " I asked.
She sort of got a bit embarrassed.
"You know , its going to be a big felicitation for Bapu. Many people will speak . I want to say something about what we learnt from him. I can't read or write. But the children can. And my eldest daughter-in-law who has completed plus 2, will read the speech on the stage.
Can you write all that "Bandhu and Bhagini "(ladies and gentlemen) stuff , and then add something that says, that Bapu has taught us to think of those that are not as fortunate as us, and help them. That every time something good happens to us, a little of that needs to rub off on those who are still trying to improve. And that giving support morally to someone who is trying hard to succeed honestly, is the best thing anyone can do. Richness is not all about money. And possessions. Its more about being rich enough to give. And so we save this money and plan to hand to Bapu to use as he sees fit, to help someone. ....."
I was totally dumbstruck. What a brilliant idea ! And what a wonderful woman, who takes such great pride in a daughter-in-law who is more educated than everyone else including her husband, ( M' son), and no one gets insecure about it ! It certainly took guts to go against the existing tradition of gifting shawls and coconuts and sarees, and possibly stupid comments from some others in the extended family outside.
I wrote her a short speech for her daughter-in-law to say. She was back, a day later, with the young lady, and asked her to say it once in front of me, as she stood behind, with an envelope in hand, and pretending that her family was standing with her, trying to simulate the event as it would happen in a few days.
I just wondered about one thing. She has two daughters in law. The other was a wee bit younger. And would feel left out. I thought entrusting the felicitation aarti for Bapu to her would be a decent idea. I offered to lend my aarti paraphernalia to M for that.
M had a smile playing on her lips. She understood why I suggested what I did. She liked the speech, and the way the elder daughter-in-law did the stuff in a respectful manner. The younger one would stand along side with the aarti lamps. Both the girls were great friends, besides sisters-in-law, and this would please them no end. And no one would feel left out.
I heard about the event a few days after it took place. Many folks liked what M did. Most of all, her own mother, 86, who attended the event, peering from the front row, through thick glasses, at what was happening on stage, and quietly approved, removing her glasses to wipe her moist eyes with the edge of her saree pallu. M's late father would have approved.
Mumbai is full of rich people , possibly still itching to get richer. Hankering after one more house, one more building, one more cellphone, one more car, one more factory, one more son, one more designer outfit, one more extravagant piece of jewellery, and one more upping of the nose at the neighbors. Two brothers, still fighting, on the Forbes Rich peoples list, but at the end of the day, not rich enough in mind .
I thought M, beat all of them, just plain hollow.....