Doing our bit

Jars of pickles, papads, freshly ground turmeric, soap nut scrub and a host of handmade products were on sale at the Malnad Mela, where I went with my friend last weekend.

The Malnad Mela is the initiative of two women from Sirsi in North Karnataka. Sunita Rao and Manorama Joshi of ‘Vanastree’ help women with forest gardens around Sirsi sell their produce here in Bangalore. They have been setting up their stalls at a small ground off Richmond Road every year for the past 6-7 years. This year there was even a Siddi (African Indian) woman selling kokum butter made by her tribe, which means these women are reaching out to tribals too. I came away feeling happy that these two caring women were putting this event together every year with such commitment.

I know that many women, at least in Bangalore, do their bit for the disadvantaged. They pay the school fees and buy books and uniforms for their maids’ children. They try to help when maids share their troubles, often giving a little money to tide over a crisis. Our maids are often the only earning members in a family of 4-6, quite a few of them married to unemployed alcoholics.

Maids can be annoyingly irregular and invent the most improbable excuses for missing work. They can sulk if upbraided, and be recalcitrant when you want something done a particular way. Their work hours have to be somewhat flexible, either because they need to deal with things at home, or have to suddenly rush off to attend a funeral in their colony. Ultimately though, both maid and employer adjust to accommodate exigencies in each other’s lives. The relationship is based on mutual dependence and adjustment. And some genuine affection.

Once when I was down with ‘flu and couldn’t get out of bed, my part-time maid whose job was only to clean the house, cooked two meals for my family, and rice porridge for me. She wouldn’t take money for the extra work, because her act of kindness was ‘punya’ and couldn’t be monetized. That’s how nice most of our maids are. It isn’t only about money and number of hours worked, there’s a lot of give and take that goes on.

Occasionally someone might do a Sangeeta Richard, but after the initial feeling of betrayal, you get over it. Maybe Sangeeta Richard was depressed, homesick, missed her family in India, was jealous of her young and successful employer, hated her job –  who knows? Or maybe Devyani Khobragade is the cruel woman newspapers say she is. We’ll never know the truth, because the facts of the case are already as distorted as they were in the Arushi Talwar case.

The point is, no matter what the government does or doesn’t do about poverty, the fortunate among us can extend a helping hand to the struggling people whose lives touch ours. Maybe, as my maid indicated, we should value ‘punya’ more, and not place a monetary value on everything, as has been the trend in recent times.

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