Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Gift of the Magus

தமிழில் இப்பதிவை இங்கே படிக்கலாம்.

I have written about some unusual delectables prepared by our cook, Smt. Indira. For a while I have wanted to write about our servant, Smt Mary. A servant and a cook are luxuries, perhaps obnoxious privelges of the rich, in Europe and the Americas. But servants are integral and indispensable and cooks quite common in most middle class households in India, especially in urban India. The advent of the mixie (blender), fridge, washing machine, etc have dramatically reduced the work load of servants and housewives alike, but not eliminated either class.
Maryamma in our kitchen
When I lived in Jain Apartments in Director’s Colony in Kodambakkam, Maryamma, as we call her, and who lived nearby, was engaged to sweep the public are by the apartment manager, at a very low salary. My brother engaged her for domestic services in our apartment, where she wash vessel and sweep the floor, once a day. We did not have a cook then, and an experiment with Maryamma as a cook for a week, was discontinued – her skills were unsuited to our taste, especially our father’s. 

Unlike some servants who wear a permanent grouch, Maryamma had a smiling charming countenance. We have had servants as long as I can remember, though very intermittently in my later school and college days, when my sister cooked once or twice a day and I would wash the vessels at night. Washing clothes was a worse nightmare, which I disliked at home and college  - the washing machines of Texas to me were as amazing as their supercomputers or nuclear reactors – and far more valuable and useful.

When we moved to another house in the neighborhood, Maryamma followed, though it was a longer daily walk. My brother Jayaram is a rigorous but kind and generous taskmaster, and thanks to him, Maryamma continues to work for us. She would take the bus once a day to our Vadapalani house for the four years we were there, too. Nowadays, ours is the last stop for the day after her morning hours in other households and an office nearby. In the evenings, she has a cup of tea, discusses current affairs with Indiramma, critically analyses a couple of soap operas, and then sets to work.When the TV they watch broke down, she brought the TV that the DMK government had issued after 2006 to low income TamilNadu residents, where it has startled visitors to our house.
Tea and current affairs - Mary and Indira

The Opium of the Masses and the Classes
Actually some visitors are perhaps still stumped that I have an Onida TV from 2001 or an even older car, but are too polite to mention it.

In January, Maryamma visited Bombay and when she returned, she gifted us not one, but two sets of tea cups. I take it as a sweet token of gratitude and affection for my brother, and pleasantly bask in the shadow of its benevolence and decency.

I have never gifted anything to my managers – the thought never crossed my mind. Gifts were few and far between when I was growing up, whereas nowadays, birthday and wedding gifts, and for several occasions a year are a social compulsion. I value her work everyday, but it is easy to takeany servant, even Maryamma for granted. I was overwhelmed by her generosity. I have struggled since January to write this essay, for want of metaphor and expression, but gave up the ghost, for this simple statement. 

Tamil version of this article here

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