Subha Manoj

While I Was Away

Subha Manoj

Smile: Is that what it is?

I have always wondered what is that makes my maid (I hired her three months back) laugh and smile so vividly. She would throw her head back and laugh with her shiny white teeth showing off brilliantly. My daughter who is 20 months old,  is so captured by her smile and sweet talks that the moment Viji walks into our house, my daughter would leave everything and be constantly with her. Viji would comb her hair, put on clips, cut watermelon and feed it to her and swirl her around and tickle so much that my daughter would have to wait to catch her breath.

She won my son’s heart too. Now that is a tough one. My son likes to be with himself and doesn’t like strangers unnecessarily getting close to him. But I guess he too was floored by her smile.

One day after Viji left, the following conversation took place between my son and me:
“Amma, do you like Viji Aunty?”
“Yes, I do. She works very well and comes on time.”
“I too like her, you know why?”
“She smiles so nicely…just like you.”
“You are so right, Shona. She does have a beautiful smile.”
“And her teeth are so clean and white.”
“Yes, they are.”

That is when I decided to ask her about her family. It could give me clues on what makes her smile so radiantly.

The next day, the following conversation took place between Viji and me:
“Viji, tell me something about your family.”
She goes into the super-excited mode as my husband calls it.
“I have three kids. One daughter and two sons. All go to school and are very good in studies. The eldest one speaks English too.  I have picked up a few English words from him.” (That explains the few English sentences she repeatedly says to my kids.)
I smile. She gives me a bigger and toothier smile. It makes me laugh.
“But my son doesn’t let me speak English. He tells me not to speak in Butter-English.” (Basically it means bad English)
My son hears the word Butter-English and laughs out loud. Since that day he has been teasing Viji daily about it.
“What about you husband?”
“I have a husband.”
I wait for more, but she goes back to chopping veggies.
“And, what does he do?”
She gives her patent smile and says, “He drives a school bus for a Govt school during the morning and afternoon. The rest of the time he is drinking alcohol, breaking all the costly things in the house and hitting the kids and me.” She goes back to her chopping.
I am stunned. She again smiles and says, “I am the one who makes my kids go to school. Few months back I spent Rs. 15,000 to buy  second hand TV, showcase, mixer and cups. I had taken loan to buy all of it. And then he broke it all. When he drinks he doesn’t know what to do, so he throws things around and beats me. One day he poked my eye with a knife. I still went to work. It makes me forget the pain. all the madams asked me what happened to my eye. I said I fell down and hit a stone.”
I am speechless.
“And what do you do? And the kids?”
“The kids get really scared. They shiver out of fear. And me, my body has become quite strong now.” She smiles yet again.
This time I don’t smile back.
“Why don’t you fight back or file a police case?”
“I look very strong, but I am not.  In our community, women who talk back are called bad names. No one supports us. And ultimately the kids suffer. I am bringing up my kids very well. I am happy with that. For most of the people, I put up a brave, strict  face. So they know only my husband can mess with me. And a few like you and your family, I smile. I  just smile.”

I see tears in her eyes. I cannot make out whether it is the onions she is chopping or the crying heart behind her smiling face. 

One Reply to “Smile: Is that what it is?”

  • Absolutely, I always feel that our house help are always crying inside but they really put a wonderful smile on their face no matter what…We have lots to learn from them..

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