Saturday, November 21, 2009

See How they Run

"See how they run",a line from 'Lady Madonna' by the Beatles,reminds me of one of our domestic maids who came,worked and fled.When we moved to North Bangalore,like the average urban Indian family,we needed a domestic maid.This 'amma' (a term of endearment assigned to a lot of domestic maids) was recommended by nearly all of our neighbours. She worked in several other houses and had a reputation for being honest,pious and meticulous.

One could see amma cleaning the premises of the local temple,during the wee hours of the morning for absolutely no charge.She would then clean our house as all of us left early in the morning.She had a striking young daughter who was an excellent cook.The duo worked in our house during the evenings as well.Although generally reliable,she was also known for going on sudden pilgrimages and trips to her 'native town'.She also suffered from stress related health problems owing to the domestic work at ten different houses.

Her personal life was unimaginably complicated. She had a truant husband who happened to be an unemployed parasite in the bargain.He cheated on her and married his mistress.Amma paid for the wedding and she also funded his life with his second wife(bigamy among Hindus is illegal but not uncommon).The daughter was married to a man who epitomized the proverbial 'bum'. She had a school going son and had a kind of 'on and off' relationship with her husband. Every time the daughter separated from her husband she came to live with amma.

As a family they lived beyond their means.They had a refrigerator and a plasma TV.They splurged heavily on ornaments and religious functions and were always short of funds when it came to paying the school fees of the little boy.In due course of time the daughter went back to her husband and they kept five purebred dogs as pets. As amma's health was taking a turn for the worse,she decided to quit domestic work.She opened a convenience store in the heart of the slum and ran it with the help of her daughter.

Setting up a convenience store and living beyond one's means almost never go together.They needed an initial investment and a loan.Most domestic workers are unaware of facilities provided by cooperative banks and hence don't have bank accounts.Banks usually don't grant loans to 'slum dwellers' over issues related to getting a surety.Entrepreneurs like amma end up relying on wily creditors and dubious chit fund schemes to fund their ventures.When business doesn't go well and the chit fund fails to pay,they default on their loans.

Amma and family were no exception.Their creditors were after them.Things went on till the day they just disappeared.No one ever saw them or heard from them again.

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