Like every morning, this morning too Mom and I carried on with our early morning prattle. I call her for an hour most days, which could become two some days. Generally we talk of the maladies that life poses like how our very kind husbands are taken for a ride by this utterly base world because both my Dad and my husband happen to be such simple hearted folks and how we (my Mom and I) have to valiantly defend these hapless men from the cruel and mean world. Amidst all the talks of us poor Vikings having to save our men, she mentioned that her everyday house help Jahaanara did not come to work. Jahaanara is a very diligent and loyal lady; one of those rare house help who don’t think that help rendered by their employers is the employee's entitlement. She is honest and cheerful. She is also very poor. She quite reminds me of Friday in Robinson Crusoe.
Jahaanara , a mother of two, is in her early forties. I hate to call her a maid because as I said before she is a very ethical human being, very clean and she is unthinkably fit thanks to the everyday hill climbing to get to work from home; her waist line and abs can put true blue health freaks and celebrities to shame. She also proves very eloquently the point that most of eat us 100% more than what we need for sustenance. Jahaanara survives on two plates of rice with occasional meat and lentil, lots of tea and few slices of breads. I don’t endorse this less than 1000 calories diet. She has no other way because she is poor. But if you are reading this maybe cutting 400 or 500 calories from your diet will not be impossible. (By the way, you can easily cut 500 calories from your daily intake by drinking 10 cups of black tea with no sugar and not drinking any other beverage other than black or green tea, eating no sweets and dumping colas, eating three chapattis less or two helpings of rice less, avoiding fried stuff and walking for 40 minutes briskly. Clichéd but tried and tested by yours truly). Jahaanara works at two houses. At my Mom’s she gets her mid day vegetables, carb and taffeine fix. She has a late breakfast sitting next to Mom as Mom indulges in her elevenses. Her husband a daily wager these days is of no help to the family. Some heavy work has hurt his elbow and has rendered him temporarily incapacitated. So bearing the expenses of the house is now Jahaanara’s sole responsibility. She has so far managed to educate her son as an electrician. Her daughter unfortunately this year had to repeat her metric exams.
This year due to incessant rains in Guwahati one beetle nut tree near Jahaanara’s house lost soil due to erosion and in matter of time collapsed, caving in one of the walls in her house. Given that her house is a typical rural thatched and mud house, one of those many houses that dot Assam’s hill tops and valleys, it was not a very conducive living condition for her and her family. With incomes low and only her salary of less than 3000 Indian Rupees to bank on, getting an advance of ten thousand from a bank is an impossible feat. But don’t they say for every one door shut some windows just yank open. Jahaanara and her neighbours, one of the poorest of Assamese denizens are nonetheless a cohesive and a surprisingly smart lot. For years now her neighbourhood has a community micro-finance facility where everyone deposits some money and depending on someone’s pressing needs a micro loan of about 5000 to 10000 thousand rupee is doled out. The interest is very minimal of just 1 rupee a month. Jahaanara with this scheme could borrow a sum of 7000 rupees to rebuild her house. She would be repaying her loan at the rate of rupees 601 per month. Every few months a few non-profit NGOs supply her and her neighbours with spools of white and red threads for free which they spin into fabrics called “gamoosa”, an Assamese cotton towel, best suited for a very rain prone region like Assam where terry towels take ages to dry. Jahaanara earns some money through this. She also makes brooms which my Mom and likewise buy from her. Very recently she has started growing papayas in her back yard, which are organically grown and ripened. She supplies them too. So Jahaanara a very poor but ethical lady is doing every bit that she can to keep her family eating and living decently. It would have been easy for her to join a factional terrorist group and gun down people and extort money. But better sense prevails and she is leading life with courage and dignity. There are occasional gifts during festivals and my Dad generally gives her "pocket" money more than once a week which he misses giving me and my brother now that we are all grown and away. She appreciates the help my Mom and her other employers give her but like any self respecting human being she does not consider these help as her right and always over delivers through her very good house work. She also, despite being illiterate, unlike lots of urban house helps I have experienced and am currently employing, is cognizant of the fact that charity can only assist till a point. From that point on your own hard work, ethics and a pleasant disposition can get things rolling.
You rock Jahaanara. I just love your ways. You reiterate oft searched but seldom found perspective of humility, a sense of humour and hugely help to endorse that hope is a very strong prop. I am glad I got to know you and I am sure brave that you are, life will see you through