My household help "S" , a much admired person on this blog, is back after a long hiatus.
We have both , in a sense , moved on. Not physically, though. Many of the households she worked for, have retired and moved away, and she is of an age where she is not actively looking for new work, thanks to a set of well settled kids. I look forward to an impending move a year on. After which , "S" says, she too will retire, not look for any new work, and simply spend times with her grand kids.
She recently arrived 2 mornings ago, in a breathless way, all raring to finish her work and go somewhere. The middle son's wife who was expecting her second child , suddenly developed contractions early in the morning. The mother and husband rushed her to the municipal hospital, leaving "S" to mange the older kid and see him off to school with the others.
"S" had just received word, that initial examination revealed that the child had rotated at some point and it looked that it could be a breach delivery. That is, an attempt by the foetus, to arrive feet first. The doctors would try everything, and would do a Caesarean , if everything failed. "S" was a bit alarmed by all this, had a cup of tea with me to calm herself down, and then rushed to be with her son and daughter-in-law at the municipal hospital.
She returned back here to work this morning , now a grandmother of 5 grandsons. And desperately ruing the fact that there were no granddaughters.
The doctors at the place were clearly experienced and skilled, and they were able to orient the foetus to a more normal head first style, and perform a normal delivery. Mother and newborn child were doing fine, and would be home that day.
And "S" had some stories to tell.
When the two grandmas asked to see the baby, after a very tense two hours of waiting, the ward sister, would turn to the ayahs, and ask :
"Should we show the baby ? What do you say ?"
"Ask them what they are willing to pay ! " the ayah would reply.
The ward sister would shrug, look at "S", and the ayah would watch.
S pulled out her small wallet and hesitantly offered 3, 100 re notes.
The Ayah turned up her nose. Refused to accept it.
S brings out one more note. The ayah turns away.
Two more 100 Re notes later, a total outlay of 600 Rs, the ayah relents, smiles and says , "You see, there are six of us ..... ", and then disappears some place to bring the baby.
All this blatantly happening in full view of the ward.
The baby was brought in, greatly admired, kala tikkas put, and then taken back inside.
S told me all this when she came in this morning. I asked why she didnt report this to the doctor on duty . Baksheesh is something given with pleasure, and not like a ransom. She told me that after seeing the ward sister deferring to the ayahs on this, she didnt think the doctor would be any different. Besides with so many overflowing wards crowded with patients, it didnt seem correct to bother a doctor about such things, when he could be attending to some really sick person.
S is a hardworking single mother, who is now a hardworking but wiser , single grandmother. She still continues to work a few houses because she likes the thought of being independent and contributing to the house , and as she says, " Keep working till your limbs are capable of movement...". She doesnt earn a fortune, and never talks about such things.
And yes, that 600 rupees was a BIG sum for her. For frittering away. She would never think twice about spending it if it was needed for something like someone's medical treatment, educational fees and the like.
When her few moments of happiness at welcoming the latest addition to her family are marred by worries of money, it makes me wonder what kind of society we have become.
Growing up when and where I did, there was no culture of allocating a price to something as part of celebrations. Whether it was a new birth, or lost/stolen footwear of a bridegroom during marriage ceremonies.
There is something strange about a society, that still thinks nothing of throwing clumps of hair (cleaned from a comb) down from a balcony of a posh society, but thinks adapting to such modern moneyed customs to celebrate happiness is the thing to emulate.
Have we "formalized" happiness and celebration , by defining a value ? Have we imbibed a culture of "piling on" , where, all sorts of folks who never ventured near your house for any work, land up at Divali etc, to claim baksheesh as part of some group ?
Have we lost the grace with which these things are accepted, to the extent, that the ayah in the hospital bargained with "S" , for showing S her own grandson ? Is that a first introduction to the real world for the hours old child ?
What an entry into our world !
She is now back home, fussing around over the new mother and baby.
She just has one complaint. She was desperately hoping against hope that this would be a granddaughter .....
Congratulations to S !