In the times of Kamala Harris for VP and feminism, I would like to share a real life story from Mylapore from the late 80s-early 90s.
It is about Anandhi, our housemaid. She was from a village in rural Tamil Nadu. I can’t believe that I never even once asked her about her nativity in all those years she was with us.
Actually I don’t think she would have been older than me by more than 10 years. She was married off as an 18 year old when she was still working their farms, to a rickshaw puller in Santhome area. He was an alcoholic who also physically abused her, not earning a single decent rupee. Anandhi’s mother-in-law supported her and the humble lower middle-class home of theirs was her in-laws. Owing to poverty, Anandhi walked to our house, a few streets away for helping us with our domestic chores. She was picky about who she worked for. In our case, she was taken in by the fact that two teenage motherless girls cooked, packed lunch, studied on their own as their saintly father never spoke a word to them. ‘Paavam pa nee’ she used to tell me often then.
Anandhi was very thin herself that I almost felt guilty taking her help for our laborious menial work at home. However, she never took a day off except for one month in summers to go back to her hometown for a vacation. She also slightly limped.
Anandhi told me that her husband had undergone vasectomy for government money of 500 rupees during Sanjay Gandhi period. He married her without disclosing the truth to her. So Anandhi was childless. Often she was sick as well. She also worked for my aunt family. My uncle opened a bank account for her. Anandhi hid the information of working for me to her husband and saved her salary every month in the bank.
Life went on. Life was all consuming. Life was trying. Life was tough.
Finally it was time for me to get married and move over to my in laws’ place. After my marriage I came to know that there was no news on Anandhi’s whereabouts. She had simply vanished from the scene without a trace. It was a time before the cell phones became commonplace. We knew where Anandhi lived but somehow missed finding out about her.
One day when I was visiting Mylapore with my 2 year old son, there was a knock on the door. My aunt opened the door to greet Anandhi carrying an infant boy. We were all shocked and surprised and confused at the same time.
Anandhi had disappeared around the time of my marriage. Next 2 to 3 years there was no information on her. We even feared the worst about her. That probably her drunk husband had killed her in rage in one of their regular nightly spats even if Anandhi was very, very softspoken. So imagine our delight on seeing her! But the baby?
Anandhi then stunned us relating to us what happened to her since 1993.
Around the time of my marriage, she found that she had advanced TB. Unwilling to upset her rural and aged and poor folks, not wanting to disturb us or her family, she quietly got herself admitted in government Tambaram Sanatorium TB hospital as an inpatient without a single penny in her hand, where she resided convalescing and recouping for more than an year. A shy villager who could not read or write, she still was one very intelligent woman. She knew how fatal TB could prove to be if left unchecked. She got herself fully cured with patience and forbearance and used this time to learn about the reversal procedures for vasectomy for her husband and plan for their future.
One fine day, after complete recovery, she returned to her husband’s home unannounced. Mother and son were taken in by surpise. She used the euphoric moment to persuade her husband to go in for vasectomy reversal. The surgery was a success and Anandhi, cured of TB, conceived immediately. Her mother-in-law transferred the title deed of their humble dwelling unit to Anandhi’s name, not her son’s. Soon she passed away. And there was our Anandhi, waiting for her son to turn one year or so, healthy enough to visit us.
We really cried rivers of joy on hearing our Anandhi’s story with a happy ending. My uncle brought out her passbooks for bank accounts. She refused to take them with her. We gifted her generously and as her son was one year younger to mine, I passed on to her a whole range of toys and clothes and other nice things. Anandhi said, she was now unfit to work so she had machines to do her domestic chores at home. She rented out a portion of her small house that gave her a regular though meagre income. Her husband was still not yet totally reformed. He lapsed back to his old ways now and then. Without her mother-in-law’s moral support, she was feeling tired and alone but the little boy brought her so much cheer.
At three years, Anandhi admitted her son to a christian convent in Santhome. I left for Malaysia. My uncle handed over her savings entirely at that point even if she refused to take charge. That was the last I saw of her.
Today her son would be 25 years old. Whether Anandhi is still alive, i do not know. I do think of her sometimes. May be I should find out. Too much happening in life ever since that we hardly have time for everyone sadly.
Anandhi who took her husband for reversal of vasectomy and got herself admitted alone in TB hospital severing links with one and all for more than an year completely, always makes her the boldest heroine to me somehow. A total illiterate who knew nothing but sowing seeds, weeding, washing clothes and dirty dishes, who wouldn’t utter a word but give you only that silent smile, was so brave and strong-willed in real life where and when it really mattered. Her quiet courage, confidence and conviction amazed me because, she never even boarded a bus on her own until she was diagnosed with TB. Her decency and concern in not revealing her health condition to everyone fishing for sympathy or seeking help or not even causing distress with the news, showed to me the refinement in her character. Her compassion for two motherless girls and their widower father even if she was only a housemaid, would be touching. She barely spoke a word or two. But in those two words she always managed to convey to me her total love and affection. In that age and time, that was so very heartwarming to me no doubt. That silent company. That shy presence. But that heart that always cared.
How to go invisible and remain unobtrusive if situation demanded. This knowledge and knack many of us have not mastered or are unwilling to learn. Coming from peasant background, Anandhi knew the etiquette without having to be told about that. Setril mulaitha senthamarai really.
I hope Anandhi is well and happy wherever she is, if at all she is. Her frail health always remained a concern.
Today we hardly have such genuine affectionate people around us. People who make real sense. People who are of substance. I used to share my morning coffee with Anandhi for years in our house ‘mitham’ (mutram) where she would be washing our dishes as early as 6 am. I do miss that kindness even if it came only from someone who worked for us for a paltry sum.