Friday, September 11, 2009

Lessons from the unlettered

Call her Chand bi. It would not matter what her name is, because her story also does not seem to matter. There is no one clamouring to hear what she says or follow what she does. Even her life seems just 'by the way'. At least that is what her family seems to think. Her husband , a drunk son of a drunk mother, has always vented all his frustrations on her through physical, mental and emotional abuse. Her mother-in-law could be straight from an Ekta Kapoor serial. How do I know this? She is my domestic help and though she rarely complains, it is hard to miss the signs of abuse over the last four years. I have tried to intervene, but she would always prevent me by saying that her husband was a good man. She insists that it was the drink that made him do it.


A couple of years ago the husband got work in Dubai and with the promise of plenty, left her fending for herself, her three boys and the mother-in-law. On reaching there, he learnt that the money was a lot less than promised and would procure a lot less than he imagined. This meant that Chand has had to rely on her own wages. Her work as a domestic help gets her about Rs. 3000/- a month. Not really a lot in the expensive city of Pune. To the Roti, Kapda you can add the constant illnesses that haunt the family. Again, not a very out of the ordinary story.


Recently her grandmother passed away, leaving her a small room in Mumbai. Happy for her, I even gently teased her about becoming a land lady. Just the other day, she took off without information, (which is really irritating- one of my standard requests to my help is that they should please inform me when they disappear). A couple of days later when she turned up, all set to take her to task, I just asked her why she had not come. "Mein Mumbai gayi thi, didi. I had to go to Mumbai as my uncles are creating problems with the room my grandmother left me." Curious, I asked her what had happened. Turned out that the uncles felt it was their right to own the little room and had been harassing her sister who in turn, cried on Chand's shoulder. " I hope you told them that it is yours now" I said. "Nahin, didi, I have a home", she said referring to the little shanty her family lived in here in Pune. "I do not need another home. I was planning to make it over to my uncles anyway, but was waiting for my husband. Anyway, I did it now. I am sorry for my uninformed Chutti."


Yes, I did fell very petty at that point. Here was a woman who had a very rough life from losing her parents as a child to a violent marriage, and the only thing that comes to her as a windfall, the easy way, she gave away... just like that. There are those who would argue that women are so used to giving in and suffering, that this is just another example. What struck me was the serenity and grace that she gave. Never having been schooled, she was just learning the alphabet on my insistence. Her wisdom though was beyond the grasp of many. There was no doubt in her mind that it was the only thing to do.

There is no doubt in my mind that she is one of the true givers. A couple of days ago, she wanted to buy some fruits on her way back from work as her children wanted to have some to break the 'roza' fast. I offered her some to save her the hassle on a tiring day. She gracefully declined. That the underprivileged are on the take and out to get whatever they can, is a common refrain. Something like this stops and makes you think.

Her life may never make the headlines and it may not matter to any one, but when the headlines are hogged by the rich and famous unwilling to give an inch to their own (self 'RELIANCE' means something entirely different to them), it may be time to look beyond the headlines!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Teachers Day

Teachers make a very big difference in our lives. Remember the three 'R's? Reading, (w)Riting, and (A)Rithmetic. But that is not all they do. A good teacher can make you and help you reach your full potential and vice -versa. I always did show respect for teachers (my parents would have it no other way), but like everyone else at that age, took them for granted, thought that I'd be well rid of the 'tyrants'. Little realising that this tyranny was the best thing that I would be subjected to. I have not had a chance to revisit my school, or even the city where I went to school, but find myself thinking about my teachers with growing respect.

The movie clips here are about two real life teachers who have made a great difference. On teachers day, I thought that it would be a fitting post.

The first clip is from the movie 'Freedom Writers' , about a teacher who against all odds and at great personal inconvenience, ends up inspiring a group of children whom the world has given up on. It has Oscar winning actress Hillary Swank as the teacher.

Tourettes Syndrome is a little known condition that causes the person suffering from it to make involuntary sounds and even shout out obscenities. It causes uncontrollable twitches and shakes. This singles out the sufferer and many times disrupts normal life. Real life teacher Brad Cohen has the Tourettes syndrome. His childhood dream was to be a teacher who recognised that it was okay to be different and teach children that they can be whatever they choose to be. The movie takes us down the rough road Brad travels and his journey to his dream.

Our own 'Taare Zammen Par' is also a movie that demonstrates the power of a good teacher. I have not put up any clips as the chances are that we have all caught the movie at some point or another. Also, it is not about any real 'real life' person.

All three movies are worth at least one viewing. More power to such teachers! Wishing all the teachers a very happy teachers day!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lemon lessons

"Kharab Jhale, didi. These lemons you brought yesterday are not good" she said. "The rest of the bhaji is good. Why did you pick these up?" asked my domestic help, as she examined the week's supply of the vegetables I had brought home. Not in the mood for a cross examination regarding any lemons, I tried to brush her off with a comment about them being okay and just to use them.

"It has to be okay when we do it" she said. Startled to hear what seemed a bit like an accusation, I looked at her enquiringly. " Yesterday my son asked me who would be punishing me", she continued in a seemingly random fashion. Resigning myself to her obvious need for conversation, I obligingly asked her why her son, age 9, wanted her punished. " The other day I had given him Rs.10 for a hair cut and he lost it. I was very angry with him and shouted at him for his carelessness" she answered. As I began convincing her that she had done the right thing by chastising him, she continued, "Last evening I lost almost my entire month's wages, because I stuffed the money into my purse in a hurry. All the money fell out on my way home. I did look for it again by retracing my path again, but it was gone. When I mentioned this to my son, he reminded me that I had scolded him for losing Rs.10 and asked me who would scold me now! That is why I said that it has to be okay when we do it. When someone else does the same thing, we get upset and tell them all about why they are wrong and how they can make amends. I am sure they feel as bad when they make a mistake, as we do about our mistake", she concluded.

Recalling the number of times I have picked holes in my husband's shopping efforts ( he generally brings home what the grocer gives him, instead of picking and choosing), I must say that she was right. This does not mean that I will become saintly from now on and never get upset with other's mistakes. I am certain that the young hero of this episode will continue receiving chastisement from his mom. Yet, he got us all to examine our actions at least fleetingly.

The lemons may not have been good, but the lesson was!

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