May I come in?

DoorToDoor

I answered the doorbell.

Two young women, probably in their early twenties, smiled brightly at me and said, “Good Morning Ma’m! Can we speak to you for a few minutes?”

They were decently clothed, each carrying a backpack and looked like any office-going girls we see on the road.

“May we come in?” They asked sweetly, totally ignoring my perplexed expression.

Of course I wasn’t sure if I could let them in.

I was home alone and I’ve read stories of thefts and scams by women like this.

They came in anyway, took their seats and started a sales pitch about caring for cancer patients.

They had been trained well. But despite their eager, hard-selling faces I was frantically looking for excuses to pack them off as politely as I can without parting with any money.

Sure enough, they took out a bunch of receipts & cheques to show me the transparency of their system. None of the cheques were made for anything less than Rs. 8500.

I gently told them I’ll have to check with my husband and will get back to them through their website. They were reluctant and tried to appeal to my compassionate side, but I didn’t give in.

They left after having a glass of water.

My sigh of relief was short-lived. I suddenly realised that while the girls were genuinely a part of a legitimate organisation, didn’t they put themselves in danger by entering the drawing rooms of so many strangers’ homes each day?

There are so many repressed, lecherous men waiting for a chance like this.

And two isn’t an ideal number for safety.

There is a report of rape in the papers every single day.

What exactly is the point of companies that use these women to canvas for their cause like this?

We, as parents teach our children not to talk to strangers, not to accept money or any other gift from strangers. Then when they’re barely out of their teens, we send them off to total strangers’ homes to do the very opposite.

On the other hand, crooks and cons use the guise of the same vulnerable sales force to gain entry into households for thefts.

My mother-in-law had a surprise visit one Sunday night from two women posing as officials from the gas agency to check the cylinder. They demanded Rs. 2000 to fix an alleged leak in the tubes. They left only after a belligerent neighbor from the next apartment stepped in and ordered them out.

*******

When I was in grade 8, there was this drive to collect money for an NGO for senior citizens in my school. A lady from the organisation addressed us during the morning assembly to enlighten us on the plight of the neglected elderly and how we can help them.

Each of us were given a form with our names on top with 20 blank lines below to fill with the donors’ names and the amount.

We were urged to ask our family, neighbours and friends for donations. We were also given a minimum individual target.

That evening, I approached 2 of my neighbours. One literally shut the door on my face and another reluctantly parted with Rs. 10.

Feeling very humiliated, I stormed back home and banned my younger brother from trying to get donations even before he began.

Once my father came back home from work, I related the incident to him and demanded he pay our minimum target to save us from further embarrassment. He readily agreed and offered to meet  my principal the following day to give him a piece of his mind. He reluctantly let it go, after I begged him not to.

Imagine our shock a few days later, my brother’s classmate dropped in home for a game of table tennis (on our dining table) with his pocket jingling with coins.

When we asked him how come he had so many coins & he replied it was his collection of the day for the drive. He said the teacher said he can ask strangers too, so he’s been asking people waiting in the bus stops on his way to school and everywhere.

We were horrified. We told him off and asked him to stop it at once. He was a very well-off boy, who lived in a posh house with his parents and brother. And he was so naive he didn’t even think people mistook him for a beggar! At age 10, he was just following his teacher’s instructions.

********

Really! Aren’t there any other means to raise funds for a cause without using kids and young women like this?

True, there are certain smart kids who are confident and capable enough to collect money, but what about kids like me, my brother and his friend?

I’m sure this marketing system was a successful business model once, but what is the point of hard-selling door-to-door, when SMS marketing and phone marketing have taken over?

Please, please let’s not support a system that puts so many children and young adults in danger. And help conmen misuse it so.

 

 

 

 

 

Second mothers

My mother was one of nine siblings. As a child, I watched her maternal home in a tiny village in South India,  play host to many, including me. Though the permanent residents were only my grand mother and my youngest uncle, the house was always full of floating population. Cousins posted nearby who used the house as base during week days, daughters who dropped in for short visits, sons and grandsons stopping by on their way to somewhere… and my own mother who used to shuttle between her government job in her hometown and Chennai till she got the much-awaited transfer.

So my brother and I used to stay there for months on end sometimes. Till my mother finally got her transfer when I was about 10.

During my stays, I spent a lot of time with a cousin. Though she’s technically my cousin, she’s only a few years younger than my mom, so she was more like an aunt. She has a bubbly personality, her kohl-rimmed eyes sparkling with mirth all the time. Being a school teacher, she was on to my tricks even before my own mother realised what I was up to. She was my hero. Thanks to her influence early on, I still cannot step out of home without drawing kohl in my eyes.

Once we settled down in Chennai, our meetings were reduced to occasional weddings. She too got married and was soon busy with the throes of raising her children while holding on to a full time job.

After a few more years even I stopped going for weddings due to the pressures of  academia and later, a career. I met her sporadically, may be once in 2 or 3 years.

I met her after a long gap of 8 years at a wedding, a few days ago. And the years just fell away. Except for the fact that she is a grand mother now and looks so frail and old, thanks to her illness, her eyes hold the same sparkle even now. We chatted away as much as we could and reminisced about my childhood and her youth.

Soon, it was time to go & I bid her good bye with a sudden lump in my throat.

On my way home I wondered, ‘Will my son ever have bonds like these?’

As a kid, I had so many mother figures in my life. My grandmothers, aunts, older cousins or sometimes even neighbours. I’ve spent days with and weeks with these women, stayed in their homes, eaten their food, confided in them and worried them to no end with my antics.

Of course, mostly it was because my own mother was so busy working full time & keeping house, she hardly had the luxury of a leisurely chat with me. Though my mother was a rock solid influence in shaping my health, conscience and general happiness, my emotional growth was pretty much dependant on these women who always lent a ear to my make-up queries and troubled teenage woes.

But apart from me and my mother-in-law, my son absolutely has no one else as a mother figure in his life.

True, he has his aunts and my best friends. But he sees them all with me around and only for short periods of time. He can never be close enough to go to them with his problems.

On the other hand, unlike my mother, I’m always around, ready to comfort him and offer him advice 24/7.

So I consoled myself that he does not really have the need for that kind of bonds in his life.

But after nine long years of my mother’s passing, it sure felt nice to look up to someone who cared for you as a child, feel safe and protected and not be the adult for once.

 

 

Now I know

“Never take ordinary days for granted,” I had read somewhere. “When you look back, those will be the days you will miss most.”

I realise the full meaning of that sentence only now.

Exactly 15 days ago, I fled from home, jumping on to a rescue boat from my first floor balcony. With a back pack with a change of clothes and other immediate essentials. (My son’s bag had a few comics and his sketching kit.)

The boat had hobbled a few feet above my husband’s SUV. Once we jumped in, we zipped and zoomed against the flowing current for the scariest 8 minutes of my life.

A few hours of restless waiting followed as we waited in the rain in somebody’s garage for the boat to bring my husband and sister in law.

I am one of the luckier few. Water did not enter my floor. Some thieves did, a few days later, but thankfully they didn’t take much.

Except for the loss of our cars and the locks on the front door, my family didn’t lose much compared to my ground floor neighbors.

They lost everything, but for some valuables they managed to save in a hurry, as the water level rose inside their homes.

My friend in the next building had just enough time to carry her dogs and cats to the safety of a floor above, that she couldn’t even think of her valuables.

We’ve also been luckier because we had somewhere to go.

Perhaps this was a wake up call to all.

Things can indeed change in a flash.

Homes can go under water.

Prized possessions can be washed away.

As can dear ones.

Your whole life can turn upside down in a matter of hours.

Though I know my home isn’t damaged and I can go back the minute power is restored and my street is clear of debris and damaged cars, a feeling of displacement is difficult to shake off.

A wave of homesickness washes over me when I least expect it.

I suddenly miss my morning cuppa with the day’s crossword, the bustle of breakfast and subsequent school runs, the mid-morning tea breaks when I have the whole house to myself, my bed, my favourite mug, baking the weekly bread, my tv shows, driving alone with my favourite song blaring….

Oh so many small things I took for granted.

If I can feel so much sadness for being away from home for a few weeks, I shudder to think of those who have lost their homes forever.

They will have to start anew. Build new lives. Create new routines. Make fresh memories.

Meanwhile, I will wait it out. Hold my breath a bit longer. Pause my regular life.

Till I can go back home.

And savour my ordinary days.

A fan mail…

kamal copy

images courtesy: wikipedia

I grew up hero-worshipping Kamal Haasan. During my school days, every situation called for a quote from his movies.

But my movie watching hit a lull in the past few years. With my days revolving around my 11-year old’s schedule, it’s really difficult to include a 3 hour movie to my list of drops & pick-ups.

But slowly I’ve been getting back. Having missed a lot of his movies like Vettaiyaadu vilaiyadu, Manamadhan Ambu, Vishwaroopam, etc, I managed to catch Utthama Villain & Papanasam.

I came out of both the movies feeling very depressed.

Papanasam more than Utthama Villain.

A friend had told me he had walked out of Utthama Villain (UV) because he couldn’t take Kamal’s Narscism. And he highly recommended Papanasam because he felt the script was so brilliant and for once, Kamal had put the script before himself.

But I felt the opposite. I kind of enjoyed UV because Kamal delivered what was expected of him. He is one of the best actors in the country & he is larger than life. UV was him accepting that his days of glory are on the wane. Yes, the whole movie was about him and only him. But I quite enjoyed the movie because it had shades of him I had enjoyed during my growing-up years.

Only thing I did not enjoy was his looks. Though he portrayed an ageing actor coming to terms with his own mortality and played more or less a character close to his real age, he looked… how do I put it? Odd. I felt his head was disproportionately big for his body, his eyes were noticeably bulgy and his face has totally lost his charisma.

In Papanasam, he had obviously done a fabulous job. He put the script before him, yes. But he cannot play a common man! (Of course he did play the actual common man in Unnai pol oruvan, but he was a common man with an uncommon plan. He was so regal in every frame).

But here, something about his bulging eyes, strained smile and a latent power didn’t convince me that he was the caring father and husband trying to protect his family. It was as if he was a super hero who was forced to be a normal guy and was not allowed to use his super powers.

Was this the same Kamal who mesmerised me in Nayagan? Is this the same performer who had enthralled me in Salangai Oli?  Is this the same actor who had me in splits in Indran Chandran? Is this the same fabulous actor who portrayed 4 characters so brilliantly in Michael Madan Kama Rajan?

In most of the above mentioned movies, he had played characters on the wrong side of fifty. But how dignifiedly charismatic he had looked as an older man in those movies!

Now that he’s closer to that age in real life, it pains me to see him trying to stubbornly hold on to his fading youth.

After watching Papanasam yesterday, I was surfing the channels morosely late into the night. I chanced upon Nayagan. It was as if someone from above wanted to cheer me up!

What a movie! What a performance! This is the Kamal I used to watch with wide eyes and mouth agape. This is the Kamal Haasan we quoted verbatim.

We got goose bumps when he marched the streets with his fellow-men to teach the seth a lesson. We melted when he falls for Saranya. We wept when he tried to answer his grandson’s unforgettable question in the last scene…

But I just cannot relate this sad caricature of an actor to that legend.

Please Kamal sir, live on as the one and only Velu Nayakkar in our hearts… as upright dancer Balu… as the star-crossed lover Vasu… as chappani… as the dark hero Dilip…

Don’t make us lament your fall as Suyambu or Manoranjan…

Please come back when older, to play weighty roles like Mr. Bachchan.

His in-between Shehenshah days are not for you.

Magane Manogara!

I sit in a sofa looking around listlessly. A little away from me, sitting at the head of her dining table, the Tamil teacher presides over a small group of 10 year olds. There are two girls reciting Thirukkural loudly and a boy who is copying down answers from his open text book.

And there’s my son, sitting there bewildered..

The girls voices raise in competing with each other. The boy stops writing to check something with the teacher. Suddenly the teacher’s grandson who has been playing in the drawing room screams. Before anybody could react, one of the Thirukkural girls runs towards him and picks him up. “Auntie! He has done su-su!” She wrinkles up her nose. The teacher immediately gathers the boy from her and heads to the restroom, shouting instructions to the children over her shoulder.

Oblivious to all this, the teacher’s mother-in-law sits near me in another sofa, her head thrown backwards and is snoring softly.

The teachers comes back to her seat, settling her grandson on her lap and continues her lessons with my son.

“What day is it today? How do you say this in Tamil?’  She asks him.

My son stares at his toes. “Come on! Tell me!” She prompts him. He sinks lower in his chair. “Take a guess.” She cajoles him. “I’ll not mind even if you give me the wrong answer. Don’t feel shy!” She laughs. My son cringes some more.

Indru enna kizhamai!” She booms the answer. “You repeat what I just said!” He mumbles something inaudible. “Come on! Louder!” She encourages him.

Then she looks at me across the room. “Ennamma idhu? (What’s this?) Your son has no comprehension of the language. And he’s born and brought up in Chennai!” She clucks.

tlc051014bwevNow it’s my turn to cringe.

Before you judge me, let me assure you that I’m certainly not one of those hoity-toity moms who thinks it’s uncool to let her child learn his mother tongue.

But as Murphy’s law would have it, especially when it comes to children, you end up doing the exact opposite of what you had planned.

Before I had my son, I always looked at parents of misbehaving kids with diasdain.  ‘How could they let their kids get away with such behaviour?’ I used to wonder. ‘I’ll never be like that when I have my own!’ I used to resolve to myself, in my blissful ignorance.

Of course, once my son was born, I just had to add pepper & salt to my words and gobble them all up.

Tantrums in the mall, check. Screaming in the theatres, check. Making another child cry in a restaurant, Check.

By the time he turned 5, I’d been there and done all that and more.

Anyway,  I swore to myself that my son will never be one of those snooty kids who spoke only in English and think it’s infra dig to talk in their own language. I spoke to him only in Tamil and urged the father to do the same in Telugu. Though he played along most of the time, my husband invariably reverted to English after the first sentence.

But I plodded on. A friend still remembers when my son  was around two, I got palpitations when I heard her talk to him in English, . “How you yelled at me!” She recalls even now. “Like I slapped him or something!”

And I was very happy his baby-talk was all in Tamil.

Amma! Menaam!” He used to scream when he didn’t want something.

Inniyum’ meant another. “Biyam’ meant he was scared.

Our initial ecstacy over his utterences soon turned to worry when we realised he hadn’t graduated beyond his one word sentences at three, when my friend’s son who was a few months younger was belting out full sentences like an adult.

I panicked as usual. He had just started play-school and there were so many more to compare him to.

One friend suggested it was because we were confusing him with too many languages. “He just doesn’t know which one to communicate with. Just stick to one language and see the difference. I’ve seen the same thing happen to so many kids”.

It made sense to us and that was the end of Tamil & Telugu for him. We conversed with him only in English and lo and behold, he was talking nineteen to a dozen in a month.

Cut to present.

At ten, my son has made me eat my words all over again with a lot more pepper & salt. Since English is the only language he uses for communication and thanks to the All-American entertainment he gets from Disney channel, he is snooty and refuses to talk in Tamil.

And when he utterly has to, he sounds exactly like M.R.R. Vasu in an old Tamil film playing a Marwari money-lender.

I still would have shamelessly shrugged, blamed it on TV and went on with life. But trouble brewed when I had to choose Tamil for his second language. Only other choice was Hindi and my knowledge of that language ends with the sporadic bollywood movies I watch.

Last year I realised the gap between his textbook and his actual understanding of Tamil was greater than the widest of oceans.

So I now sit in this drawing room three days a week amidst a cacaphony of voices which strangely reminds me of a 80s Bhagyaraj film set and giggle shamelessly at my son saying things like “naan en amma veedu ponaan” (Which is supposed to mean I went home with my mother.)

When I asked him why I should wait there instead of running some errands he replied, “Because it’s all your fault Amma! You did the crime, so you do the time!”

Serves me right.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Morning rides

A pink hat with white dots.

A black cap shading the eyes.

A bare head under the sun.

Another head with a fancy flower.

 

Mums riding fast

to reach the schools on time.

Sometimes it’s the dads,

or occassionally a grandpa with a frown.

 

Scooters, scooters, scooters.

Zipping, zapping, zooming.

With their precious packages

standing tall in front of the seat.

 

Dreaming of their day in school

or dreading the lunch they’ll have to eat

or simply hoping and praying

their teachers would keep their cool.

 

Speeding lorries, faster bikes,

angry drivers tooting horns.

Slow down, pipe down.

Have a thought.

 

For these little flowers,

Smiling, laughing, waving,

blooming on your way.

Every morning, everyday.

 

200614_children_set_03

 

The driver who ditched.

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I must have been in the 12th grade. I was cramming for an exam late one night (it was past 10.00 pm which was really late by those days’ standards!)

I was plonked on the drawing room sofa with all my books around me. My father was at the dining table, having a smoke after dinner and listening to some old hindi songs. My mother and brother had retired for the night.

The door bell rang.

Our driver was standing outside looking very tearful.

My ears perked up while my eyes were fixed on the book in my lap.

The driver told my father that his child was suddenly ill and in hospital. He needed money for some important procedure if the child was to be saved.

Immediately my father gave him the money and also the car keys.

“Take the car.” he said generously. “You never know if you’ll need transport late at night.”

“Aiyyah!” the driver sobbed and fell at my father’s feet. “You’re my god! I’ll never forget this for the rest of my life! May you live long and help others like this”

Deeply embarassed, my father shushed him and sent him on his way, after asking him to update him on the child’s condition.

By this time I had forgotten all about my books and was gaping open-mouthed.

Needless to say, I hardly manage to retain anything I studied after that.

********

Early next morning the ringing phone woke me up. Still asleep and curled up in bed, I sleepily heard my father on the phone very somberly and my mother rushing from the kitchen…

Fearing the worst, I too scrambled to my feet and rushed out.

My father hung up and looked at our worried faces.

“That was a call from the police.” He said.

We gasped. “What happened?”

“Our car was found in a ditch in the early hours of this morning. The cops traced the number plate to my phone and called me. Thankfully the driver and his passanger escaped with minor injuries.”

“But you drove the car and was home early yesterday!” my mom said, totally unaware of the driver drama that happened after she went to bed.

She was quickly updated on that front. From what my father muttered to my mom out of my earshot, I gathered that the passenger the driver had was a woman of ill repute. And both were inebriated.

“I am 16, please!’ I wanted to tell them.

My mother was furious. “That means his child was never ill.” She concluded. “I can understand you falling for his story and giving him the money. But what was the need for you to give him the car?” She raved and ranted till my father  screamed her down.

My father then spoke to the cops he knew and left to sort out this mess and rescue his car from the ditch.

In school, I was shocked to hear my friends speak of the car they had seen in a ditch enroute and how big cranes were trying to haul it out.

I sheepishly told my close friends that it was my father’s car and the story behind it. And basked in the limelight for two minutes.

*********

Growing up and having my own share of such frauds like this and this and this, I still haven’t learnt my lesson. I suddenly remebered this driver incident from my teenage years and now convinced that I’m genetically designed to be the sitting duck!

It’s a wonder how I still manage to have faith in humanity after all this!

 

Boys vs Girls

IMG_7417

I was in the car with my husband and son a few days before Diwali.

“Guys! Both of you need new clothes for Diwali.” I said, hoping we can stop somewhere enroute.

“No!” both father and son cried out in unison. “We don’t need new clothes & that’s final!” said my son.

“But it’s Diwali!” I protested. “We need to keep new clothes in the puja that morning!”

“Just because you have some lame rituals, it doesn’t mean you can drag me to a clothes store! When I want new clothes, I’ll ask for it!”

“Exactly!” chimed in my husband.

“How come you insist on a Christmas tree every year? And insists on gifts under it, even after you figured out that I was the Santa all along?” I countered.

“Christmas is fun Amma. Diwali is nothing but crackers. I hate getting out of the house. Can we just move to another peaceful country till Diwali is over?”

I saw red. He managed to get my goat on festive spirit and patriotism at one shot.

But reining my irk I plodded on. “Diwali is a beautiful festival. I have fond memories of  waking up early in the morning, ganga snanam, yummy sweets, lighting up diyas… ” I reminisced.

“Not interested…” My son muttered.

… drawing kolams, and visiting my grand mom in new clothes…” I continued, as if I hadn’t heard him.

“I’ll pass..” he said.

“Can you help me decorate the house this time?” I asked him.

“Nope!” was the reply.

Then I totally lost it. “What’s wrong with you?” I bellowed. “Indian festivals are designed to bring families together. The fun is in enjoying each others’ company and bask in the warmth of family”

“And you know what? I just realised we never do anything fun as a family.” I said.

“Like what?” asked my son, fingers still clicking on his gaming device.

“Even when all 3 of us are in one place, each of us are busy with our own gadgets. There’s no sharing, no talking, no bonding… We always go for holidays only with friends. We rarely go out for a meal or a movie … Why cannot we do stuff together like a regular family?”

“Because Amma, we’re not a regular family! We’re special! So don’t make us a regular family by suggesting these things!” he grinned.

My husband laughed out loud, proud of his son’s wit.

“Fine.” I said. “This Diwali, I’m going to adopt a baby girl! Girls are so much fun to have. They get excited about new clothes, love to decorate and are so warm and loving”

“Fine.” said my son with barely masked anger. “I’ll find somewhere else to live. You obviously don’t want me around.”

“I did not mean that.” I said, very annoyed. “Just because I want one more person in the house, doesn’t mean I want you to get out.”

“I’d much rather you adopt a dog!” he replied hopefully.

“So I get to clean after one more person? No thanks!” I said sullenly.

I maintained a tight-lipped silence till we reached home, all the while wondering how the male species is so different and how jealously they guard their personal spaces and how they avoid any kind of obvious bonding with their families.

If my son had his PSP, my husband has his phone and facebook.

***************

On a saturday, a few days after Diwali, we were out with friends for dinner. My son’s best friend, (whom he fondly calls his weekend bro) came back home with us for a sleepover. My husband had just landed home from the airport and called me to say there was no power at home.

My phone’s battery was really low. So I culdn’t call the Electricity Board.

Once we reached home, we found my tired husband snoring away in the bedroom, with a fan on, thanks to the invertor.

We cautiously switched on one light in the drawing room and sat around cursing our fate. It was past 11 and both the boys were very tired after playing football all evening.

“Why don’t both of you go sleep with Appa on the big bed?” I suggested.

“What about you?” Asked my son.

“I’m charging my phone on the comp, so I’ll wait for a while. If the power is not back, I’ll drag a quilt and sleep on the floor.” I told him.

“No, Amma! You will not! You wake me up. I’ll sleep on the floor.”

Surprised by his sudden burst of chivalry, I laughed and said “No need! I can sleep on the floor..”

“No way!” he said, very angry now. “You have to wake me up.”

“Okay,” I said placatingly.

Soon the boys had brushed their teeth and went to sleep near my husband.

I picked up a book and lay down on the drawing room sofa to while away the time till my phone charged.

A few minutes later, my son wandered back to me.

“What happened?” I asked him.

“I can’t sleep.” he said.

“Rubbish! Just look at your eyes! Go to sleep baby!”

“No, Amma.. I cannot sleep…” he insisted.

“What about your friend?” I asked him.

“He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. He was super tired.”

“So are you..” I said.

But he refused to go to sleep and sat around very sullenly.

A few minutes later, the power was back.

“Yay!!” we shouted together.

“Now what?” asked my son.

“You go back to sleep with Appa & S,” I instructed him. “We cannot wake up your friend to change rooms now.”

“And you?” he asked.

“I’ll sleep in your room. See? Now the power is back, I don’t need to sleep on the floor. I can happily sleep in your nice bed.”

After a moment of thought he replied, “Okay. I’ll sleep in my room too”

“Why?”

“Because you’re scared to sleep alone!”

I was touched he remembered this from what I’d told him in passing a year ago.

“That was long ago…” I placated. “I’m braver now. You don’t worry. I’ll be fine. And your friend has not come for a sleepover with your father!”

He insisted his friend was fast asleep anyway and will not mind.

“I’m just concerned about you, okay?” he said and that was final.

Refusing to listen to any of my protests, he retrieved his spiderman toy from my bedroom, curled up next to me and was soon fast asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow…

As I too drifted off to sleep I thought to myself, “Sons are not so bad after all!”

Cheers to the Bar Maid!

sundae2

This post is about yet another help of mine. The top-work this time.

She is a small-made, 4 foot nothing, mother of two grown children. But her diminutive frame belies a super-efficient, powerful worker who gets my house spic and span in no time.

Once she realised I was not interested in small talk and needed my peace to work, she left me alone. And most importantly, she is very trust-worthy. My wallet, watches and other loosely lying around valuables have never tempted her.

it’s been more than a year since she joined my house-hold and the only grouse I have against her is her frequent leaves of absence without notice. After many stern warnings, she now calls me or lets me know the previous day about the various events in her personal life or sudden illnesses that keep her away from work. (though I’ve heard from people that she was seen dressed in her finest with a gang of women the same afternoon she had called in sick)

Anyway, she is only human and I am quite okay with all that.

But what happened a few weeks ago shook me up.

I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but that particular day, I felt she was definitely acting very strange. First she told me to go lie down since she has finished cleaning my room. I never take a nap at 11 am, so I shook my head and continued to stare at my comp.

A little later, she burst into my bedroom when I was sitting right there,  stared at me blankly and said, “I forgot to switch off the fan here”

“Hello! What’s wrong with you?” I laughed. “I’m still in this room and I need the fan!”

“Sorry, Amma!” She said and went back to the drawing room.

Later, I plonked myself in front of the TV, bone tired after the morning’s work-out.

When I finally dragged myself to get my lunch, I saw a movement in the corner of my eyes. I turned back to see her hastily going back into my son’s room.

I didn’t think much of it and carried my plate to eat in front of the TV.

An hour later, it was time for her to go. She came to me and asked for the keys to my neighbor’s place where she cleans regularly after finishing at my place. Since the house belongs to a working couple, I have their spare key which she uses and returns.

There was definitely something odd in her demeanor. She stared at me vacantly and looked very disoriented.

‘Is she pulling a fast one on me about being sick?’ I wondered to myself. “Can you take it, please? I’m in the middle of something” I said, typing furiously.

“I cannot find it, Amma.” She reported, after a few seconds.

Rolling my eyes, I walked to the shelf and there it was. Right in front.

“Hey, it’s right here!” I said as I turned to hand her the keys.

But she was sitting on the floor, looking dazed.

She looked up at me blankly again, heaved herself off the floor and took the keys. When she reached the door, I realised she had forgotten her basket with the food I give her everyday. She came back for it after I reminded her.

Half an hour later, I left to fetch my son from school. I locked my doors and was half way down the stairs when I heard my neighbor’s door open and shut immediately.

Was she spying on me? What was happening? I couldn’t take it any longer. I bounded back up the stairs and rang my neighbor’s door bell.

To my surprise, my neighbor’s mother opened the door. “Is V here, aunty”? I enquired politely. “I need to tell her something.”

“Oh, I sent her away. She was in no condition to work. I think she was ill or something” said the good-natured lady.

“But her bag and slippers are still outside!” I said.

Puzzled, we bid each other good bye and I left for school.

I was sure all this was some prelude to either a few days’ leave or a loan.

But to my immense surprise she was bright & early to work the next day. No trace at all of the previous day’s puzzling events.

But the mystery was soon solved when my husband opened his liquor cabinet the following weekend. “Hey! My Black Label is almost gone!” He screamed. Both of us were puzzled at the sudden decrease in levels.

Then it dawned on us. Was she inebriated the other day? I was shocked! We lost the keys to that cabinet long ago and we never had a need to lock it. Until now.

That evening I went over to my neighbor’s and asked my friend if her liquor cabinet is locked. Negative. I then asked her if she heard about the help’s strange behavior in the last few days.

“Of course!” she said. “My mom told me she was definitely inebriated! Her bag and slippers were still outside our door at 9 pm, but had vanished when I checked again the next morning. Oh my god! Does that mean she’s been taking from my place too?”

“So what?” Her husband asked, walking in. “She slogs her butt off in both our houses and I personally see no harm in her helping herself to my liquor” He said.

But we women couldn’t bring ourselves to agree. “But it’s a breach of trust!” I exclaimed.” And how can she drink during working hours? Especially when I’m sitting right there?!”

“I know!” agreed his wife.

A few days later, I heard that  she had actually passed out that day in the terrace of my building after throwing up. The watchman just couldn’t rouse her from her stupor.  She had come back to her senses and left only after 9 pm. That explained her basket and slippers disappearing after 9 that day!

Also heard she regularly sleeps in the terrace and goes home only after 6 pm.

My friends had a good laugh when I narrated this to them. “What strange problems you have!”  They exclaimed.

The same topic got me a long lecture on the socio-economic conditions of people in our city and women empowerment from my husband.

But it’s finally me, who is home alone with her and plagued with trust issues. Do I replace her? What if I get someone who is not trust worthy? Or inefficient? Or a psycho like my previous cook?

After breaking my head over all these questions, I finally decided to keep her. Of course I tactfully told her that booze has been frequently missing from home and she should watch out next time a handyman/watchman comes inside for any repair work even when I’m home. To which she tched tched and said, “you’re too trusting Amma! You should never leave these men unsupervised. See what they can do!”

Now the cabinet is locked and I never leave her home alone. It’s been a week and there hasn’t been a repeat performance, but hey, you never know what i’ll have to see next!

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