by Rita George
Our maid, the woman whom we called Ajji fondly, came as an eye opener in my life. This incident occurred about thirty five years ago, but is still fresh in my mind. My family consisted of my husband, our three sons and myself. I was working in the hospital in the Nursing field.
We were always lucky to have good maids to do the cooking, house keeping etc. In addition, they looked after our children also well, which obviously helped me to concentrate on my job and further studies.
One day, on an emergency call, our maid left us to take care of her ailing mother in the village, which left me rather panicked. I was not equipped well to take care of such a situation as it was my first experience.
Then one of my friends brought home an old lady and told me to try her. They also told me that the old lady needed only a loving home as she suffered in the hands of her late husband’s nephews. Though I wanted somebody badly to take care of my home, one look at her told me that she was miserably dirty and wouldn’t fit our household. Her torn sari smelt cow dung, and her shabby hair without any stain of oil danced in the breeze, and her pan-stained teeth and dark lips frightened me to fill the post of a maid in our household with her presence.
My friend told me her husband was a land lord and the couple had no children. After his death, her brother-in-law cheated her of the property and sent her out of her own house.
Knowing her sympathetic story, I half-heartedly decided to take her on humanitarian conditions. It took me about a week to transform her into a presentable state to the household. To every one’s surprise, she looked so healthy and happy in a month’s time that even my friend who brought her to me, could not recognize her immediately.
By then she took charge of our children, kitchen and other house hold work and discharged her duties appreciably. She took care of our children like her own grand children taking care of each one's needs meticulously and they called her “Ajji” (grand mother). She respected and loved my husband as her own son and me as her loving daughter-in-law in such an authoritarian way that the visitors to our house mistook her as my real mother-in-law, which we accepted fondly. She got the love what she had never got, and we got a good Ajji whom we could depend on. Gradually all of us called her Ajji.
Ajji soon learned our way of cooking which pleased my husband very much. One day she experimented with some different vegetables with mutton for lunch, which my husband did not like. He told me to tell her not to cook that particular dish any more, which I informed her casually.
Immediately she lost her temper and shouted at me. “What do you know about cooking? Girls like you only know to sit at the table and eat the food what the servants brought to you. You might me well educated and holding a good position. But, do you know anything about cooking? A married woman must know to take care of her family first and cook tasty food for her husband and children. You cannot even cook and manage your own family. Such a woman, how can you instruct me?”
I was shocked and dumbfounded for some time. Then I was so angry and wanted to throw that ungrateful woman away from our life. Suppressing my anger, without telling a word in response, I went to my room and sat for some time to get back to my senses. After a while, I got up and simply walked towards the hospital where I worked. But I was not as cheerful as usual, and my irritation was clearly seen in my behavior and I was unable to concentrate on my work. My colleagues were surprised to see me in such an unpleasant mood, and wondered what had gone wrong with me suddenly. Gradually I got back to my sense and started thinking about the words Ajji said. Somewhere in my mind, a question came up, “Wasn’t Ajji right?" I knew I was a woman who depended on maids to cook our food and took care of our home. I knew very well about my capacity of carrying on any amount of work outside the house, but not at home, which always scared me. I asked myself again and again, "So why should I be angry with her? After all she has come as an eye opener in my life."
Soon I applied for one month’s leave and returned home with a determination. After tea, I called her and said gently, "Ajji, you can now go home on a month’s paid leave and enjoy with your family members in the village. In your absence I want to learn cooking and take care of my family on my own. Thank you for opening up my eyes. If it was not for you, I would have never thought about it". It was actually true, through my point of view.
She apologized for her mistake of taking a mother-in-law’s position and begged me to forgive her. I assured her that I was not angry with her and only thanked her for making me realize of my actual duties.
After sending her on leave, I purchased a cookery book, and began my cooking experiments. Tasting my food, my husband and children started screaming at me for sending her home. Then I made my husband understand my intention of learning cooking, and requested to tolerate with me until I learn. “It is my pride as a family woman to learn cooking and manage my family without a maid’s help. Until I am capable of doing that I have no right to instruct a maid as to what she should do.”
As I was so keen on learning cooking, I managed to serve reasonably good food to my family in a month’s time, and gained their appreciation. One day, my husband said at dinner. “I liked your fish curry. It has come out just like my mother’s cooking. Delicious! well done, dear!” That moment, I felt satisfied as a complete woman. My sons also started asking for more curry and enjoying the food.
On her return, Ajji was at a loss of words seeing my achievement in becoming a perfect home maker, without knowing her role as an eye opener in my life.
She stayed with us for the next eight years, and later left for her home with her savings, when we moved to another city. Today she is no more in this world, but I still thank her silently for being my eye opener.