Subha Manoj

While I Was Away

Subha Manoj

The ‘MAID’ of honour.

“Didi, I want a new cell”, said my helper to me one morning.

“Huh, why? What happened to your present one?”

“It is old, very old. Moreover, I cannot take videos of Bhuvana (her daughter). And if I take 5 pictures, the phone says that the memory is full.”

“Oh….then maybe you should buy one.”

With a grin on her face, “But, I want you to buy it for me. I will pay you. I don’t know much about it.”

“Ok, so what is it that you want in the phone?”

“Not much, it should have a lot of memory. It should be Nokia only. It should have that cord which I can connect to the computer, so that I can transfer music. I can go to the shop nearby, where the boy does the transfer of songs. I also want that extra chip which I can put in it so that I have lots of memory space. It should not be black and the picture quality should be good.”

Did she just say she doesnt know much about mobiles??!

“That’s it?”

“Ya, that’s it.”

“What is your budget?”

She was dusting my house all this while, and she stumbled upon my cell phone.

“How much is this?”

(I was wondering whether it would be a good idea to get her a Samsung Galaxy S3)

“No, Shobha. This is too much for you. It is has internet also in it. I don’t think you need it.”

“Actually, I don’t mind. My niece can teach me.” (An internet too?! I have to mention here that she has always been curious about how do people send ‘letters’ to each other through a computer. And also that she had told my mother to courier her desktop when she bought a laptop for herself. Her reason: Bhuvana can use it. BTW, Bhuvana is four. She also is the only maid in my apartment complex who rides her Scooty and comes to work.)

“No, Shobha. This phone is too much for you.”

“Ok, Didi. If you say so.”

Ultimately we got her a decent Nokia phone, costing about 6K. I thought it was a big deal. It was ‘kitna achha phone’ for Shobha.

Yesterday, she threw another bomb at me.

“Didi, what is that thing called? It is a small chip kind of a thing. You can put songs or movies into it. Then you plug it to a DVD player or a music player, and you can listen to songs or watch movies Even you have it. Ever Sir has it. I have seen it in your house.”

Honestly, I never thought she would be talking about a Data Card. But still I couldn’t think of any other answer.

“Is it a Data Card you are talking about?” (I showed her mine)

“Yes, yes! This is the one. I want it for myself. Will you buy for me? I will pay for it.”

“You want this? But why??”

“To watch movies and listen to songs. My brother gifted me a DVD player, so I can plug into it.”

(Yeah, she knew all the basics of its operation.)

This is the technical side of my helper. She is more of a family. I cannot imagine my household running smooth without her. She speaks in English with my kids, so that she can learn it well to speak with her daughter. Her daughter goes to an English Medium ICSE board school. She told me that she wants her daughter to become a teacher like me, because it is respectable and prestigious, and that Bhuvana will get married only after 23. Howzzat!! 😀

I have learnt a thing or two from her. She has an intense desire to upgrade her lifestyle, to learn new things, have no inhibitions to ask where she is ignorant. Most importantly, I have found her more assertive than me when it comes to the ‘system’.

Just the other day, she complained about a few teachers in the school bus, who did not bother when some bigger kids made a small child get up from his seat so that they could sit. She drove till the school, complained about the issue. And guess what! The school reprimanded the teachers and the teachers went on a strike!

Shobha’s reason: “How can teachers behave so irresponsibly? There is a reason why they are teachers and I work at someone’s home.” Absolutely true!

When I had an extra pram to give away, she asked for it. I knew her daughter was old enough. Well, she wanted it for her neighbour’s child who had a problem with his legs. The pram would have made things easy for his mother.

Some time back, she left a job which paid her almost 4K, because they gave her tea made up of milk which the baby of the house had left in his bottle the last night. The best part is apart from leaving the work, she gave the lady of the house a piece of her mind by asking her whether she would have drank tea like that?

She was furious that day. She told me, “Does having more money make a person more insensitive and rude? It should not be like that. We also come from good families. Just because we are less educated or had lesser opportunities than the ‘madams’ does not mean they treat us like that! Let her come to my house. I will take out my best cup and make tea out of ‘shudh’ milk.”

That day I felt bad. Not for Shobha. But for the woman who did something like this. We forget that when we keep a house help, it is not a favour on them. It is our requirement too. They are fulfilling it, and we are paying them for it. So, the least they deserve is RESPECT.

For many of my readers, who have not seen the movie or read the book, The Help, please do. It a beautiful narration of the lives of house helpers.

Sometimes, interesting people enter our lives from different spheres and strata of the society. To know them, understand them and value them is a beautiful experience in itself. It is all about opening her eyes and heart wide open.

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