Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My own Shaamu Kaka... My Vasanti Amma

She has just started washing the dishes and her face looks angry.i know if i ask her to make tea for me she is going to grumble audible enough to be a warning of some sort, an array of strong Tamil words asking me to back out when she is busy doing other things. Funny i can make better tea for myself so why am i being such a sloth. Maybe offer her too which shall be my serious attempt to humour her so that the day is peaceful. The fact being that i am more terrified of my own impatience which turns into anger on being provoked repeatedly. So armed with tea i approach and ask her in my colloquial Tamil "Yain moonji le kopam irrakku,Amma?" (why your face looks angry Lady)(Any woman you want to give respect in local language you call her Amma) She looks at me and if looks could kill i would be dead but this time i choose to ignore. She continues with her work grumbling now paused. So the hot aromatic Tea had that Midas touch after all. Taaza ho le! (get refreshed) i said silently and saunter off.
Later during the day as i sit comfortably with my lappie checking out all my mails and also eager to blog i hear sounds of vessels banging and of murderous fights emanating from the outhouse.

Male yell slurry but clear-"Neeng saav adikirain" !! kezhvee !!! (i will kill you !! old woman !!!)
Female yell in the highest soprano-"Neeng yenge na po! chatte !! yeng porral sapt variya! thevadia payya !!!(Go somewhere ! and die !! coming back after drinking my hard earned money ! you drunkard rascal !!!) Thud! Thud! thud! Craa.......aash!

Oh!no! not again! and not when my husband is away? It takes no time to figure out that the paramour Vasanti Amma has chosen for herself has once again splurged her hard earned money in booze. Not surprising then as this happens on such a regular basis specially either on pay day or a few days after that which rather explains my indifference, immunity and the surety that no one is going to kill anyone. Come evening and they will be seen happily sipping tea together presenting an interesting sight in which he so much younger looking and she much older to be his aunt if not his mom will be discussing the natakam (their nomenclature of the soap operas in Tamil shown on TV) ,as if nothing happened just few hours before.The perfect picture of that calm after the storm. As you can see bruises on both which are forgiven and forgotten as they were not too serious. Before bedtime however there will be a humble request for a marand (medicine rather painkillers). So i get up quietly and shut the doors tightly so that the vituperations from both sides don't disturb my flow of thoughts.

This far from being a chalta hai (just let it be as it is) or a self centered attitude to the issue is rather a deep understanding of my own hopelessness and inadequacy at putting a stop once and for all this drama which unfolds at the drop of the hat.

How do you help someone who is absolutely impervious to help. Both my husband and i have tried various means from offering help, sound advice and even threatened of lodging the paramour in police custody but nothing works. Vasanti Amma begs to let it be and assures us that she will deal with it her own way. Her way is then reflected by her sudden departure from devotion and complete non- adherence to instructions given, also doing things at her own will, what to talk of her absconding from the outhouse without any prior information. Neighbours often talk in hushed tones as to how we are putting up with this kind of nonsense for the last ten years. Initially there was resistance and i was asked to get my outhouse vacated but thanks to the wonderful construction of the apartment which sort of soundproofs and conceals, the resistance dissipated once the neighbours realised that other than bruising themselves these people are quite harmless to them and their surroundings.

Umpteen number of bruised appearances,antiseptics,Volini sprays,and sometimes even trips to the nearby clinics later, now i wonder what is there in Vasanti Amma that has prevented us from evicting her? What is it that stops me from saying-"Enough is enough!"

Is it my own self centered attitude or my compassion ? Sometimes the guilt weighs down heavily and there are times when i feel complacent that this is the best i can do by patiently putting up with the disturbances and inconveniences. Her tantrums which is her way of venting out and making me the victim of her misfortunes is reason enough for me to feel evened out.

Well the answers are all there but we choose to ignore. Who is exploiting whom?. i sit to weigh these out and let me see how i fare.

My attempts to get a replacement failed miserably as the replacement wasn't good enough.He stank to the extent that when he stood in the kitchen the entire kitchen would stink and when he came near to serve we had to keep ourselves from breathing. Admonishing him and reminding him of hygeine and cleanliness was met with cool indifference.
Then there was this dumbness to deal with which was hard to ignore. Even after 3 months of extreme internship under the tutelage of Vasanti Amma, he waited for each and every instruction to proceed or else he would stand like a dyspeptic calf.
Anticipating lots that could happen in our absence, we were quite horrified one particular day to learn that he had entered our bedroom in our absence and fiddled with the TV and DVD player while we shopped for our monthly provisions. Worse still, had left the back door open and gone home happily after completing his chores locking the front door with the duplicate keys we had given him. We did thank the Almighty for saving our house from the theft that would have left us bereft of our meagre but important belongings. But more than the Almighty we were in our silent self but not silent hearts feeling grateful to Vasanti Amma who in all these years has never resorted to such irresponsible and sneaky behaviour.
Of course the cooking was too basic and nothing so marvellous to make that compromise of installing the skunk in the kitchen. So he and the others that we tried were unable to meet the standards set by her. Nobody is perfect and so Amma has her imperfections too but her suitability to our needs is unmatched. i do have my own share when i have to redo the utensils which still has traces of grease or dried specks of food. i don't mind not asking her to make the famous South Indian Sambhar in which she is utterly lousy and instead getting it from Raj Bhawan the restaurant just round the corner as i myself have been unable to hone my skills in making that Mrs Reddy ne banaya hai Sambhar (Sambhar made by Mrs Reddy) inspite of the readymade spices available. Rest is all fine apart from this occasional maar peet (physical duels/ fights) which she has with her paramour and her tantrums which follows later when she feels she performed less in her vindictiveness.
Her occasional pilfering of onions,tomatoes,sugar and tea,cooking oil i really don't mind when they vanish without any cooking being done.No other edible item is lessened in it's proportions than these.This for the simple reason that there have been instances when she has handed over the Rs 500 which would have carelessly remained in my husband's shirt pocket the one he had given for wash.Also any jewellery forgotten in the washroom remains where it was even when Amma has frequented it. And there have been times when she has come back with the stuff reprimanding us to be careful. But the most endearing aspect comes shining through especially in times of distress be it illness or otherwise.My husband's terrible cold and cough vanishes after that lovingly prepared Kashayan (a kind of herbal decoction made with Holy Basil,Oregano, Margosa leaves,ginger and pepper).The devotion with which she prepares and offers this all the time holding a spoon of sugar to wash away the bitter taste of Kashayan exhibits the same sicereity to it as the Japanese Tea ceremony. Can't explain the emotions that come flooding in when she will perform a drishti (warding off of evil looks one may have acquired during the day). This ritual done during seasonal illness and even when i get dressed and come back from a social outing because she feels that her bommai Amma(the doll like beautiful lady of the house) definitely would have got so many evil eyes as she is the most beautiful of the lot.A fistful of 3 red chillies,some mustard seeds,salt and 3 broken broom sticks are first circumbulated round the face and body 3 times and then doused in the fire muttering something which sounds more akin to abracadabra. When loud cracking sounds are heard of the spices bursting in flame there is a beaming smile on her which proclaims -"See i said so" and a loud utterance "rumba drishti" (lots of evil looks).All this when i run away from the kitchen feeling asphyxiated. Often she is my soul mate to my emotional upheavals and i can't forget how she actually helped me with my empty nest syndrome after my son left home to pursue his Engineering outside the country. She cried with me feeling the absence of her Chella Kutti (dearest baby) and her words of consolation ranged from reminding me of the love and care of my husband which will wash the temporary pain to thoughts of happy reunions when he comes for his semester breaks.She would sit with me patiently and comfort me with words which have the healing power. That my son is a Simha (Lion) a boy who has to go out and make a world for himself, that he is a winner and i should rejoice and have no fear because he is going to bring much more happiness and much more pride...drives all my pain away as she tries to subside my loneliness with steaming cups of tea without even asking for it but wanting it nevertheless.

As i sit and recollect all this i can't help remember reading such an instance in Ramcharitmanas in which Lord Rama explains why those who serve us are more important to us than family.He elucidates that these should be very dear to you because they are the first ones to come to your rescue when you are in actual need and in actual distress.So He says that these are precious to us as family.

So much of my Vasanti Amma makes her very priceless for me. What to tell about the stoicism with which she faces the atrocities of that drunkard nincompoop, Mani. My husband once enlightened her about the vulnerability of drunkards and explained to her that she need not fear as she in her full senses can knock the daylights out of him. Strange but true when all my pleas to washing clean has gone on deaf ears this one has stuck. i know now that in his drunkenness Mani would be throwing the food around along with the plates and that Amma will be ready to strike with aplomb after which Mani will cow down and go off to his drunken ,deep sleep,and wake up to a quieter sober self. And no one is exploiting anyone.It is more of a mutual interdependence . i need her as much as she needs me. Settled into my life she is as dear to me as the tea which she brings to lift my spirits every time i hit the blues.
She has been with me since my son was in 6th grade and has done all to deserve brownie points from my son who never ever feels annoyed with her even when she serves him milk with bits of malai(slivers if cream) floating which he detests completely. Instead walks to the kitchen calmly and taps her gently and says "Amma vedikatti kudunga please" (Amma filter and give it to me) to which she responds equally gently "saari Chellum,saari Kanna nee po vodne vaing ke kuduk karain" (sorry baby, sorry little Krishna, you go and i shall get you this immediately). Meanwhile he tries to smooth my annoyance and asks me to take a chill pill and relax.It is my son who always gently whisks me away from the kitchen when i'm ready to hit the roof at Amma's bickerings and cribbings after she has defaulted repeatedly.When he leaves after his Semester breaks he makes equal pleas of peace to both the parties and whispers into Vasanti Amma's ears "Nalla irunga Amma, yenga Ma ka nalla patonge" (stay nicely Amma and please take care of my mother)

Now when i watch these 70's or 80's Bollywood films which has this fiercely loyal cooks the names of whom could be Shamu Kaka or Raju or Bhola i never fail to acknowledge that i too am blessed with one and can't imagine my life without her.And nobody is exploiting any body. It is more of mutual interdependence. i need her as much as she needs me.


  1. Enjoyed every bit of this long post. You are definitely blessed to have Vasanti Amma since so many years. Honesty is one virtue which is very much missing with maids these days. Kudos to you to have managed to retain her and kudos to her too to have got a soft and caring 'Bommai Amma'.

  2. Nandri ( Tamil for thanks) and though the post is long i wanted every bit of Vasanti Amma to filter through.YOU motivate me with your comments which sort of helps me to be true to my feelings.Dhanyawaad,Shukriya...till the next post :)

  3. This is so beautiful Shivani. We all go through situations helplessly as we watch people not taking drastic actions to alleviate pain. Your relationship with Vasanti Amma is so tender and pure. The fact that you both recognise it and respect each other is obvious. The diffrences lie in the sociological manisfestions of it.

  4. @Sociological manifestations? will you be able to elaborate just a little bit so that i can understand better.Sry i am a sylvania lakshman and get things a bit slow.Please please educate me on this and thanx for going through my painfully long post.Just wanted to somehow put in everything and from all angles all the while trying to be honest.:)

  5. @Sharmila if you can find time just a small one in the comment box will do.i really couldn't get that sociological manifestation part.

  6. When people who are so disparate in their educational and economic background live together they may face a problem in communicating with each other, not because they don't care for each other but the manner in which they show it is different.

  7. @Sharmila Thanx again i get ur point and definitely you give me logical perspective something to mull over now...good for me.:)

  8. just want to say your words touched me...i want to see your vasanti Amma now/ want to know more abt her..woh, what a effect !enjoyed it ...........

  9. Vasanti amma is in a difficlt relationship and a solution is not what she is seeking now I think.We all pay a price for affection, a bit of warmth in a non drunken state, a mouth full of sky. Your home is her home,and she loves you. She can sense your care and concern despite you ticking her off when required. Don't leave valuables around and get her to give you some proof of the guys identity so that they both know that he is traceable and that you are aware that he is capable of stealing.
    Moer than anything, its a gift of God to find some one who makes a mean Kashayam !

  10. Posted a blog and they said they would publish after processing. Am being processed and I feel like cheese !!

  11. hilariously touching Shivani. it reminds me of my bua of childhood days in Patna...she helped my mother - a working mom, raise half a dozen kids. She was our Vasanti Amma.

    The taste of food she served us with...I am still to find a match. And no one has oiled, plaited and looked after my hair as well after I left home.

    Instead of your Vasanti amma's Mani, she had a wayward drunkard son who managed to turn up on her pay day every month and take away all her hard earned money to fund his drinking habit. No amount of my mom's persuasion will make her zip up a purse.

    I had a feeling it was her way of overcoming the guilt that as a widowed mother she had to leave her children with other relatives to begin earning for them.

    She is no longer there but lives as cherished in my memory. I had the satisfaction of doing 'Umra' for her soul as I did for my grandparents a couple of years back.

  12. @Sabina thanx dear for reading and acknowledging the same.Good to know about ur feelings for her still.Let me see how i fare on this...

  13. oh thats an interesting read...touching too

  14. @ Nandini thank u not only for stopping by but also being so prompt on my request. Hope i get to see more of u here on my posts exchanging views ...it would only give me joy to know that my experience is a shared one. :)

  15. Shivani, I loved this tale. Yes, we all have our ramu kakas. I had a Mumtaz maid just a couple of years back. She was family. I miss her terribly today. She had to stop working due to health reasons.

  16. @Rachna thank u so much for taking my call.Yeah i've read some more of urs and it's quite a coincidence that i too have done posts on similar issues. Hope i get to see more of u on my posts.In any case u'll definitely see more of me on urs. :)