This story might seem a straight lift from one of Salim-Javed’s Bollywood movies of the 1960s with Nirupa Roy at the centre stage. It is not. It is a fact, and it is about Gauri (name changed), the domestic help in the apartment complex we stayed earlier.

As a lass, Gauri lived a simple rustic life helping her father in his tiny agricultural land in a remote village in Mandya, Karnataka. She would carry hot lunch for him from home. As she waited for him to finish the job in hand, she would watch the birds fly above the paddy fields with gay abandon, mimic their sounds as though to invite them for a heart-to-heart chat with her. Occasionally she would pick the spade and channel water to the next paddy field, as her father ate lunch with relish. Her mother tended a cow to supplement the family income. Gauri’s elder sister was married off and had children. A contended family, altogether.

But that was not to be. Her sister fell ill seriously. The village apothecary couldn’t reassure her survival. Two growing children and a baby in arms, this shattered the son in law. He asked his father in law to give Gauri in marriage to him while his wife was still alive, so that she could rest in peace that her children would be in safe hands. And so Gauri was married off to him.

As fate would have it, Gauri’s sister recovered, rather rapidly, and became fit like a fiddle. But she understood Gauri’s predicament. That which cannot be cured must be endured.  And their lives went on without much bitterness. Gauri bore a girl and a boy for him. While they were still attending school, she brought them to Bangalore to eke out a living. Her husband would visit her occasionally.

She took up a domestic help’s job in a few flats in our complex. Her work as such may not be gold standard, nor will she sparkle the utensils as an ad for a cleaning liquid would, but her sincerity, honesty and reliability won the hearts of housewives. Thus it became clear, “Once Gauri, always Gauri,” in any house. Yes, she has been working in houses for ten, fifteen or more years without break.

Not just that. Soon residents began to count on Gauri for assisted-living seniors. She would help my friend Narasimhan (name changed) with stiff joints to take a shower, put on his clothes, and would take him for a slow-motion walk around the complex in the evenings, till the family moved to Chennai to be with their children.

And now? Yes, she helps my 87-year old friend Krishna Kumar (name changed) who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s. I have known KK as one of the most active persons while the going was good. He was at one time a trapeze artist in a circus, as he shared the information with me.

Years rolled. Now time to admit the daughter to college. Gauri was particular that her daughter should pursue engineering. Many advised Gauri that with good marks, her daughter would easily get a ‘free’ seat under the OBC quota. But Gauri didn’t want the OBC stigma to be appended to her daughter while she pursued engineering. She opted for the ‘payment’ seat – whatever might be the loan amount she would need to take. In addition to whatever she managed to save through these extra jobs, that is.

The girl came out in flying colours in Electronics and Communications, got a campus-interview job, changed for a better one, yet another one. And now? She is all set to marry. The boy? An engineer too. Last week his entire family flew from Hyderabad for the engagement ceremony. If only the old saying had not been modified to mean Man Proposes Covid Disposes, Aunty and I would have attended the marriage held in a 4-star hotel.

Her son? Well, everything doesn’t work every time in one’s way. He too pursued engineering. But more often he was spotted sitting in the public park rather than in the college. Consequently he is stuck with some papers. But the incurable optimist that Gauri is, she is confident he will clear them.

Let’s hope he lives up to her expectations, lands up on a good job and gives his mother some years of well-deserved rest.

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Sundaram Venkatesh

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