Celebrating " FemInspiration" 100 years of celebrating Women's day . My entry for a contest celebrating that .... .
36 years ago, the place where I came to set up house, was considered the back of beyond, heavily wooded, a gated community, (where gate was more important than community) with just one main outer road, very few shops, but a wide range of assorted shanties that cropped up almost overnight beyond the boundary wall. One was setting up house for the first time, and looking for household help, was imperative.
That's how Kashibai entered our lives. She came to us by word of mouth.
Probably then in her early twenties, she belonged to the same village in Gujarat as her husband. The father-in-law was a railway employee, a sweeper for the Central Railway, based at Mumbai's suburban Dadar station. Although he lived in some kind of railway accommodation, he had acquired some kind of tenement near where we lived, and that is where Kashibai and her husband lived , with their young son.
The husband had some sort of temporary shift job of sweeping and cleaning on platforms , and Kashibai worked houses in the mornings , till he left for his work. A very cheerful, uneducated , yet street smart and aware lady, she understood my need to have her come very early in the morning before I left for work, 2 hours away by train. For someone who was just getting started with her own household, she had great empathy for the various disasters and mess ups that happened in my kitchen.
Then one day , her father-in-law passed away, while on duty. Once the formailities of death were completed, her mother-in-law, decided to return to her native place in Gujarat. Consequently Kashibai's husband was taken in his father's place.
Soon after that , she came and told me that she would have to leave her job at my house. Both of us were unhappy about it; me, because we had developed a relationship of trust, and she because she said I never treated her as someone lower down the so called societal ladder, which was not what she experienced in other houses .
I also learnt something then that I didn't know. About Kashibai. And her son.
Turned out, that her son was differently abled, had movement and growth problems, wouldn't be able to go to school , and so on. So far she and her husband were managing , since he would be home early mornings till she returned and she would then be home after he left. The child was well looked after .
Now that the husband's job was permanent with the Railways, with benefits and stuff , he had well defined timings, and this being his first year he couldn't afford to be absent or late.
Simultaneously, the area in our vicinity, which was hitherto considered equivalent to almost a jungle, appeared to be developing , and one could see several high rises, roads and vehicle densities increasing in the area.
Someone informed Kashibai, that larger salaries were to be had, if you worked with folks who lived there. A full day of work, at someone's house would earn Kashibai more than what she would earn in 5 houses like mine , without the travel to every different house. Some one had told her about some school in the city where her son could get some treatment and she needed to save up.
The question was where to leave the child, with both husband and wife slogging away in search of good money. And so she got one of her brothers from her native place to come and stay with them. He wanted to learn, and she promised to send him to a night school.
I wondered as to why she didn't get a female relative to come who would also manage the house and cooking, and in a way share in her own work.
Kashibai shook her head. Leaving a young woman at home , alone like this was not advisable, from the point of view of outside dangers, but also from possible family complications, that could arise from two people like her husband and the relative being left alone like this in a small house.
And so they started off. Kashibai , now working, nay slogging at a fairly upmarket house, where she was supposed to do all kinds of housework, till evening, as well as giving massages to the lady of the house. She got paid a decent sum, something that wasn't the norm in my community. Her husband would leave very early in the morning and return by late afternoon. Her brother would basically be at home during the time no one was, and look after her son, and study, for the night/evening classes that he attended daily.
Kashibai and her husband, managed some savings, and their free travel family passes, being a railway family, surely helped, when she had to take her son to the suburban Mahalaxmi station, to travel further to the Institute for the Physically Handicapped.
Kashibai and her husband are now much older and both are retired. He ,officially from his railway job, and she, after a lifetime of slogging and difficult decisions, because she was getting on in years and having some medical problems. The brother who came to stay with them, studied up to the Plus two stage, and now has a job as a peon.
I often wonder at the native wisdom inherent in everything Kashibai did.
She never went to school herself, and her husband had the bare rudiments of it. He was lucky to be bequeathed his father's job as a railway sweeper, since his father died on duty. She was really the one entity that held the family together, and in a society where sometimes education , money and an ""up"bringing" still teaches nothing to men born with silver spoons, her husband is to be applauded, for not letting his ego come in the path of anything that was decided, keeping their only child in mind.
Maybe he got his thinking from his parents . From his mother, who possibly visualized clashes with her daughter-in-law, once she was widowed, and decided to move back to her native place; and preferred to value happy relations from a distance. She and Kashibai have very cordial relations to this day, and have often helped out each other during emergency health situations.
Kashibai's brother looks back at the time he came to stay , as a time well spent, because he got a chance to study and later get a job. He always wanted to come to Mumbai. Not many people in his village got that chance then.
The little child, developing at his own destined pace, grew up , always with someone at home caring for him, and was never left in a situation where he was locked up by himself. Differently abled or not, he had a mind, and he had emotions, and these were nurtured by the whole family in an excellent way.
I wonder what would have happened if Kashibai would have come under the influence of someone who attributed her son's disability to the rage of some God, and got her entangled in a series of religious events. I wonder what would have happened if there was someone else in the immediate family who would have probably enjoyed playing a faulty spoke in the family wheel, creating problems on a different level.
I like to think that Kashibai would have faced this, with great courage, good sense, and in a determined fashion.
She doesn't even know there is an International Womens' Day. She doesn't participate in any kind of rallies where you hold placards, and hands, forming chains, and possibly walk behind some leader-type , flaunting political glares on television the next day.
We meet sometimes, by chance in the vegetable market. I ask after her son, and she asks after my children. We crib about the price of onions, milk, corruption, crowds in buses and trains, and the sad state of Mumbai's roads.
Then she goes back to her crowded home, to tackle another thing. Now that the brother is married, and his wife is expecting, Kashibai likes to fuss over the young girl's food likes and dislikes.
And I go back to mine, to prepare lunch, and possibly sit down to reading a bunch of papers and some magazines, displaying photos of extremely photogenic well made up women, posing just so, all giving their take, in back and white, on what Women's Day means to them, possibly before leaving for a seminar on the same subject, somewhere in this city....... .
Just my small tribute to the Kashibais of India, on Women's Day 2011......