Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Birthdays and Biryanis

Sometimes I think Oprah should interview her.  My household help, S, that is.

Hitherto the subject of many blog posts here, and who now actually has a kind of following.

For one thing, she is much more interesting. Than Aishwarya Rai  or Parmeshwar Godrej.

Has tolerated a lot in her life, struggled a lot, found solutions on her own,  kept her family together.  Is greatly popular with her daughters-in-law,  and she also supports her only daughter who returned home after a fraud marriage. In an area where every alternate house has someone addicted to drinking and beating, and fighting, she, by popular demand, is the president of the local womens' association.  She is also the treasurer, despite being unable to read and write. She also knows about Google, and that it gives some answers to things, and often asks me to check out stuff for her,  when someone tries to mislead her. 

Last evening my daughter and I attended the first birthday party of one of her grandsons.  We had attended that of her eldest grandson 5 years ago, and this was the 3rd grandson. He was born last year and I had blogged about it here

S. kind of checks out her plans with me, whenever there is to be some kind of get together.  Now that she, her 3 sons, her daughter and a daughter-in-law were working, time was at a premium, and the money situation was better.  She said her sons had decided to order out for some Chicken Biryani from a local eatery.  She knows I am a vegetarian, but she also knows the daughter eats everything, and loves chicken.  

My daughter and S go along way back.  S has been  with us, since the last 25 years. When my daughter was learning baking as part of her vocational course. S was presented  with an iced birthday cake baked  by her,  with her name  on it, probably the first birthday cake of her life.  She thought it was really special, took it home, her family was totally amused, and her aged mother was impressed. 

Armed with a cartoon cake and a small cricket set, we landed up a bit early, since the daughter is obsessed with running these days, and would be going for that later.   S. had put up lights outside the house. The birthday child's other grandparents had come in from Pune, and the main and only small room of the house was agog with  folks, with the younger women  bustling around and the sons organizing seating et al outside , while keeping an eye on the playing children.  Every one , along with the kids and birthday boy, would gather at the Community Buddha Vihar later, pay their respects, and would enjoy the ordered special community meal.

We were introduced to all the daughters-in-law (I already knew the sons),  aunts, uncles, and relatives. My daughter, who always moves around with her camera, took some family pictures, with S holding the birthday boy, amidst all. S's son also took a few pictures of us with the birthday boy. The kids kept "accidentally" gravitating towards the cake, since one of them found out it had a cartoon face. By popular demand, this cake was cut amidst the kids. The eldest grandkid, who is obsessed with history and swords,  held the cake knife in a warrior pose and was slowly dissuaded to hand it to the birthday kid, who was helped by his parents, to cut it. No  messing around, no smearing of faces with the icing , and S. had the daughters-in-law do the distribution, but not before, one of the restless grandkids,  decided the stuff on the knife shouldn't be wasted and decided to lick it up.

Some more aunts appeared.  S.'s own daughter returned from work, and the entire gaggle of kids ran to greet her outside.   Some more photos,  and then S. went inside her kitchen for a longish time. Her youngest daughter-in-law, quietly came out, opened an old almirah, and took out some white blouses and went in.  When S. emerged, she had changed into a very conservative white saree with gentle embroidery,  in preparation for their visit to the Buddha Vihar.

We had been there for an hour, not realizing  how time flew. It was a delight to see everyone enjoying as well as helping out.  S.'s youngest grandchild was all of 3 months,  and was lying in the lap of his cousin's maternal grandma, being patted to sleep. There was this huge sense of unity despite the differences in generations and thinkng, and economic wellbeing.

It was time for us to leave, after enjoying the cake and some other stuff.   S. offered us Frooti . And no, we didn't see any of the kids throwing a tantrum because they wanted a Cola or anything. They were just too busy climbing around and playing. S. walked with us to the corner.  We bid her goodbye.

Late , around 9:30 pm or so, the doorbell rang.  Mumbai is having an unusual winter, fewer people out on the roads, and we wondered who it could be.

It was "S".  She was carrying a steel container. Their ceremony and celebrations at the Buddha Vihar were done, the food had arrived in time, and most of her guests, many who came from long distances , had left.

The stuff inside the container was hot. She handed me the stuff at the door, and left in a hurry, to attend to folks who were staying over at her small house.

It was my daughter's share of the Chicken Biryani :-).  Straight from the giant container at the celebration. 

The daughter often works late into the night, after running etc , when she has some assignment to complete. Sometimes she works in the living room so as to not disturb us with stuff that she keeps playing in the background on her laptop. 

I think yesterday she was also busy with something else.

The steel container felt considerably lighter this morning.



  1. ah ha blessss , so lovely of S and I ma jealous too now that i did not get the biryani :)

    he he he :)


  2. Precious :-) Reinforces that there's hope in this world after all!

  3. The more I read about S and her family.... the more I admire the lady.

  4. I enjoyed this revealing story. The statified differences in circumstance and the sense of history, religion, custom and the weight of humanity that transcends I suppose.

    I read about Pune and tried to see if I could find a good bungalow this year because now that i am retired I want to see the world, but in relative comfort. I am now in Mexico and I have a young lady from the pueblos who helps me with the housework. she is mystified that I insist on doing my share, me a man and clumsy. I notice that she always rewashes the dishes that I wash but I pretend not to notice.

    This is a good blog and I enjoy the adventure of life that it reveals. By, as she says, an old lady, undoubtedly with a twinkle in her eye.

  5. What a beautiful story of a wonderful woman and her family. There is obviously much caring between her family and yours.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada

    1. Thank you! And there is so much to learn by observing ...

  6. That was a delightful post. I think S is also lucky to have you around. Not may people can be a part of the life of a household help. We also had a lady who was with us for about 30 years. She lived with us since she had no family, but us!

  7. I am one of the fans of S too :) She should be the inspiration for a whole generation, thanks to you popularising her struggles and successes.The party came alive in my mind in your words. But for a moment I was worried about the child who licked the knife before realizing that it must have been a plastic one used for such occasions :D

    1. Cybernag, Thank you! The interesting thing is that S knows that I write about her life, her struggles, and her good times. She never asks me what I write. She is just convinced that it isnt detrimental to her ! Such confidence !

  8. You are a wonderful friend
    her a good friend and employee to you
    How wonderful you have each other
    In times years ago
    I had some special help
    They have passed away
    and I have such fond memories
    and miss her.
    I am recovering from surgery
    My special doctor - Dr. Kumar
    from your special land...

  9. I love all your post about ur household help S , she is the most famous one on the blogosphere I am sure , reminds me so much of my maids back home , I do so sorely miss them at times, life abroad isnt the same ...I read your blog as it takes me inside your room as If I am seeing everything in flashback,keep posting , take care ,love ...M