With the rains continuing unabated, me not having resumed my morning walk since I landed here (thanks to the rains), children off to school and hubby off to work, Suman, our new domestic help, became my eyes and ears to the world. As I remained cooped up indoors, watching the tireless rains ( a sight we longed to see in the U.A.E) and little else; the heavy rains obscured the mountains at a distance, the thick cover of trees below and the barricade of apartment buildings around.
While Suman had been appointed to cook and clean the house, she voluntarily adopted a number of other roles as well -value-add services.
I had seen the neighbors when we had moved in and had greeted them after hearing about the ‘friendly Mumbaikars’ from all those who had some experience in Mumbai ( but they hadn’t reciprocated). Not disappointed or offended, I had decided that they probably needed time to be ‘friendly’. Their entrance door remained open most of the time (which implied they were friendly people, or so I thought), the little kids went in and out of the house constantly until one day, after a week there was complete silence, the door was shut and six packets of milk lay at the door, unattended.
It was Suman who very kindly informed me the reason for the silence in the apartment. In a matter-of-fact manner, she solemnly said, ” Didi, the daughter-in-law lived in that house. Her in-laws live upstairs. She had a fight with the mother-in-law and her elder sister-in-law and moved here. Now they have patched up, so she’s moved back with them.”
In a week’s time, I realized, if I needed anything, all I had to do was tell Suman. The plumber, electrician, driver, masseur, vegetable vendor, the lady who sold fish and the lady who cleaned the building gym; she knew them all! They either lived in her neighborhood or commuted with her. Suman magnanimously offered, “Didi do not worry. If you need anything or anybody, let me know, I will give you their number.”
The Goddess herself
With dad out of hospital, I informed Suman of dad’s homecoming. I wanted to make sure she understood his dietary requirements and that he was relatively immobile now due to a hip pain. “Didi, I have managed my husband’s diabetes for 4 years now. I know exactly the food that can be eaten.” With this, Suman listed all the foods that people with diabetes can eat and put my fears to rest. Continuing, she said, “I have also taken care of my mother-in-law who was bed-ridden for 6 years so I know how to manage old people. While she was ill, we took her to a number of hospitals and doctors here, so I’m aware of the difficulties.” And I’m thinking, “Its my lucky stars.” Continuing, she told me how she had worked in a hospital but had to leave to which I asked the next obvious question “Why?” to which I received an answer that left me perplexed. I’m not sure I understood or understand but it went something like this…”Didi, I was assigned the delivery ward of the hospital. But the problem is when I see the birth of a child, the spirit of the Goddess enters me.” At the expense of appearing foolish, I asked, “What do you mean by the Goddess entering you?” to which she replied, “Didi, when I get stressed my eyes turn red and my knees start shaking and I get very angry.” Keeping a brave face I asked, “Does it happen now to you?” “No Didi. That was 8 years ago when I worked in the hospital.”
While I generally am a little dim-witted when it comes to reading between the lines, I had got this message pretty clear: I mustn’t stress Suman, for fear of the Goddess appearing.
The Local Guide
As we sat indoors with minimal furniture (as our things had not arrived), Suman pointed out the directions of the tourist attractions from the different windows and balconies in the house – the mall where you can find anything you want, the lake inhabited by crocodiles, the temple where celebrities flock, the garden where snakes appear. Suman ensured she stuck to one window per day. She was smart (they all are). They know just how much to tell you and when to retract and get back to work again. While I am not much of talker and certainly do not enjoy indulging in idle conversation, I realize that I must pay attention to Suman. Management does involve listening, doesn’t it? I have now set aside half-an-hour in the morning for her stories.
Drucker would be put to shame
Coming to India, I hoped there was a temple close to home, at walking distance that I could visit at any time. The driver had told us the closest temple was 20 minutes away by car, dashing all hopes. However, Suman told me about the existence of a temple 5 minutes away. Google confirmed it and when the rains abated on one of the days, we ventured out together. It was a small, beautiful, peaceful place of worship; just what I had hoped for. After living in the U.A.E ( where the only temple was far from home and extremely crowded), coming back home meant being able to visit a place of worship as and when I chose to. One off my wish-list, thanks to none other than…you know who.
The children loved what she cooked and for me that was half the battle won. Suman was quick to assess that her success in the house depended on the children’s happiness. She made it a point to ask the children if they liked what she had made. She couldn’t care less if I was not too pleased with the fact that she delayed the cleaning or invariably came in later than the agreed time. What began with 10 minutes extended to 30 minutes by the end of the week. Suman would say sorry as soon as I opened the door leaving me speechless, showing me how effectively this one word can be put to use.
This post was for all those who read my earlier post India Days 2 : Laxmi to the rescue…really?! and wanted to know how the recruit was. Have you had a similar experience or any other bizarre/interesting one with your domestic help, which would be fun sharing. Please do share it in the comments box.
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