Now that her three sons have their own families, her daughter and she live together in her own part of the house. The daughter has left behind a bad and violent marriage. All S's children work, including the daughter, and they have been after her to stop working houses. S says she will continue to work till her limbs are mobile. Whatever she earns, goes into an account held jointly with her daughter.
"Bai, I want you write something for me ! " she suddenly said .
"Sure. What is it ? Some form they want you to fill or an application somewhere ?" I ask tentatively.
"No. I want you to pen my story. ...." she says, and I am intrigued.
She knows I write about her. I've filmed her and done a video about her. And it is natural for her to approach me. Most of the other people she worked for , have retired and left this campus, and mine is the only household she helps now on a daily basis. She says she will take a break after we move away . (Which may be soon ).
And then I learn why this has been on her mind.
One of her neighbors, a very nice lady, with a paralytic husband, a son and daughter-in-law, just died the day before. She would do everything for her immobile husband, run the house, and basically make it possible for the son and daughter-in-law to work, which was the only family income. They lived in this small room, and the son and daughter-in-law slept in a loft built into the same room.
It seems the lady got up one morning, threw up, and felt giddy. In that grevious condition, she got up, and somehow helped her husband with his morning stuff and cleaning, after which she wiped the mess on the floor . No one knows if she called out to anyone, because the son didn't hear anything, and the husband, even if he saw and heard, could only watch helplessly.
The son and daughter-in-law , on finding their mother comatose rushed her to hospital where they were informed that she was no more. S went to attend the memorial ceremonies and funeral, and came back impressed with how everyone had these nice things to say in speeches , about the lady.
S herself , has led an amazing life.
As the only child out of 5, and the eldest, who never went to school, she told me amazing stories about a long career in collecting cow dung; of yelling at her siblings to go to the village school, and literally herding them there; of how her sister was educated in those days just like the brothers, and how they slowly gravitated to Mumbai because the village school was only till 7th, and there was a family anchor in Mumbai; of being married to a worst kind of man you can think of, and being a mother of 4 by the age of 21; of having the guts, and understanding parents who brought her back from that hell, along with her 4 kids, and shared a small dwelling with them till she started working houses, saving, and managed to make a payment on her own four walls.
She speaks of days, when everyone knew everyone in villages, and her mother stored all the family belongings at the local landowners place when they shifted to Mumbai. Her family tilled land for the landowner and earned in kind. And how to this day when they go back for a visit, the newer generations maintain the link...
S says today's children have no clue about what their parents have been through, so that they can enjoy a life today, obsessed with phones, computers and the like. There have been situations of bitterness amidst relatives, insulting behaviours, disrespect at times, and there have been ways in which she has learned to handle these. There has always been a sense of being thrifty, & conservative, where "show" stuff is concerned , and a great encouragement where anything to do with education was concerned.
In keeping with the age we live in, one of her children married against her wishes; she saw something in the girl that he did not, but she let him be, and has learned to quiet about it. She knows her three sons support her daughter who must make a life for herself, but also knows , that things may not be the same after she is no more.
She wants me to write "S's Story", include all the stuff, and print it and make copies.
She said she would like someone to read that publicly when she is no more and when they have a memorial meeting for her.
I am stunned.
I admire her confidence, and her sense of self worth, in the face of the difficult life she leads. She is treated as a family elder in my house by my kids, and she even tells them off at times when she thinks they are erring. Many years ago, my mother suddenly passed away, and we the adults were away on the day of the cremation for almost a day, attending to formalities, ash immersions and receiving mourners. She had cooked and found that the kids had not touched the food till 4 pm, when she came to check if we were back. She put it all away, made them sit at the table, and cooked hot fresh chapaties for them and made them eat. We would be returning, and she would wait to see if we needed anything.
I have told her I will write this, and we will get it privately printed. (She has told me that it can even be 2 foolscap sheets :-) ).
At a time, when people keep discussing a woman as a function of the man of the family, at a time when so many women today make a lot of fuss and say how they don't do any banking work since their husband does it, and they just sign; and at a time, when papers are full of advice to people having personal problems etc, I am simply stunned at her clarity of thought, her sense of self worth, and her continuing support to every member of her family and extended family.
Come to think of it, I am not sure, and don't even want to know, what folks may say about me when I am no more. :-) . There will clearly be no books printed and chapters read.
But I am pleased as punch, that S has thought of this, and I admire her attitude.
Stay tuned, for "S's Story".......
(Forgot to mention that this " S's Story" will essentially be in Marathi , and not in English...)