Monday, June 16, 2008

Bai

I don't have a hero. There is no one person in the world who singularly inspires me to reach for greater heights. That probably pretty much rules out my already-remote chances of winning a beauty pageant. I respect Mother Teresa but not convincingly enough for the judges to crown me Miss Beauty with Brains.

I have heroes. Many of them. Some of them famous, some of them averse to fame, some of them just common people. I look for inspiration in those around me and in those who're around those around me. I find inspiration in mundane chores (like I realized about finding the right balance while cooking), polite small talk that sometimes ventures out of the fence of discussing the unpredictability of the weather, in the old woman who until recently came home everyday irrespective of scorching, biting cold or stormy weather for 21 years to keep our house clean, was a second hand to my mom and who I fondly call 'Bai' while looking up to her as my surrogate paternal grandmother.

An extremely capable, and agile
multi-tasker, my Bai (her real name is Laxmi) is the epitome of steadfastness or obstinacy depending on the way you look at it. She supports my mother blindly while looking disapprovingly at my father's rebukes of my mom (even if he is justified). It's a running joke in the family as to how she is my father's second mother-in-law when she reports his mischief to my mom and asks for the culprit rhetorically when my dad messes up with the grocery lists. Despite being dependent on her children, she has saved a lot of self-respect for herself - that makes her support her daugher-in-law against her wayward son and that alienates her from her close ones who try to reason out and criticize her for her own good. But I love her for her high self-esteem. Of very diminutive build, she walks with her head held high. Bai pampers me as if I were her own grandchild, she knows what I like and what I dislike more than my dad does - like knowing how much froth I like over my coffee and how I like my lunch plate to be.

Her husband left her for another woman, fathered children with her too and never really returned. But Bai (albeit never forgiving him) single handedly took family matters in her hand and supported her daughters and their families too. (It's a different story that it was usually my family supporting them, but she atleast had the courage and humility to ask for help without ever feeling inferior about it).

That's what she taught me - I realize this after so many years - to take help when you really need it and not feel small about it. I didn't use this lesson when I should have, but henceforth I will.

She has taught me what dignity of labour actually means.

Bai was my mother's right hand. Our house would run like clockwork when she was around and the days she didn't show up, it would be utter pandemonium in the mornings. I know in saying this, I speak for most of our pampered Indian households who're so used to the benefits of gross economic disparity. Looking back, I remember my mother often dreaded the day when Bai would retire. Bai was already a grandmother when she joined our household in 1986. Over the past few years, her own health was failing her. She gave up on many of her other jobs and stuck to our home eventually. But age has its own way of creeping up and enforcing rest. So repeated attacks of arthritides prompted mom to offer bai long-delayed VRS with assured monthly pension and other benefits. She was a great-grandmother when she retired.

We wondered how we would manage without her, though Bai had long arranged for her daughter and grand-daughter to take over; yet, it would never be the same as it was with her and it really isn't. The old has given way to the new.

And what did I learn - No one is indispensable. No one at all.

5 comments:

Abinav Kumar said...

And to this, I can relate in entirety! The situation is more or less the same, if not exactly - in the sense our bai is a lot younger; and still around!

But the rest of the story - ditto! :)

Anita said...

Heyyy...I loved this so much.Loved the first para..it was so 'u' types!!!

I liked the bit where you mentioned that we shouldn't be ashamed of taking help. However, I still shy away from it..feel kinda weak to do that. Need to learn. Trying to put a strong face always and doing things by myself has made me kinda hard and indifferent. I like labelling it off as self-dependent...but then that's just a tag, I guess.

You know that last line "Everyone is indispensable"; I read a poem to the opposite effect...that no man is indispensible. Guess you direct that statement differently to different people...big headed ko mera wala; low morale ko tera wala line.

Remember that mera wala red-ad!!!

Ramya said...

I can especially recall the "yeh kaun kiya?" uttered condescendingly when Dad did stuff she didnt quite approve of.

Vineeta said...

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I loved all your articles and reviews, but esp this this one coz since school days, you were always one of those brilliant, intellectually stimulated students and that is reflected in this article. In addition, here I could see the true "you", how you have made a simple oridnary thing hapng every morning in your Life a powerful motivation. I loved your thoughts and appreciate the qualities in people that drive you. At the same time, its balanced. We all keep learning so many things from everyone and we meet everyone for a reason. God Bless your writing skills and may u enhance them further. All the very best, Honey!

Harini said...

@ Anita

The 'taking help' bit was indirectly meant for you too and to help you get rid of foolish assumptions you make. :P

You are crazy - w.r.t to the big headed ko mera wala and low morale ko tera wala byte.