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The Story Of My Amazing Domestic Help, A Strong Woman Who Knew What She Could Do

A strong woman need not have knowledge of feminism – she just needs to decide upon the right thing to do, and do it! 

Ganga! I have known her for more than ten years now. The first time she came to work for me, I hired her as a cleaner. She was without a flicker of a doubt, the best cleaner I had seen in my life. While she was brooming and mopping the floor; the cobwebs if any got cleaned, the foot mats were washed and replaced with fresh ones, corners of dust invisible to others were cleaned up minus my having to tell.

She had that intrinsic quality of going a step further from ‘service’ to ‘delight’. In a way, what came as gyan through big conferences to us marketing professionals, this illiterate woman knew by default. Strategy in its basic unit is nothing but common sense, hence proved! If I could put a smiley here just not to offend serious strategists, trust me I would have put one. Wink, wink!

Soon, Ganga became more important in my household machinery. She moved on from being a basic cleaner to someone who also handled my launderette and dusted my house. Her home was a walkable distance from mine, and she needed the money. I needed someone whom I didn’t have to followup constantly; so assigning her more work was a natural choice.

The surprise came, when I moved out of the house I stayed in and she decided to take a bus, spend the extra forty five minutes commuting but work for me still in my new house. She was diligent and meticulous in her work, why would I have minded?

I gave birth to my daughter in this house and Ganga being the responsible and hygiene-freak that she was, graduated to becoming her nanny. She helped me find a cleaner and supervised my other house helps while training them. Her perpetual smile no matter what the situation never failed to surprise me. Even when she was consistently late for ten days and I reprimanded, she smiled. Odd that it came so easy to her despite all not being so hunky dory for her personally.

Ganga I knew was the sole breadwinner in her family setup. Hers was the classic domestic help story with an alcoholic husband and three kids to support. Only silver lining was that she never got beaten up; her hopeless husband was sensible enough to let the sole earner’s physicality stay fit.

In a way, this arrangement worked fine for Ganga. She earned while the husband took care of home and kids. So barring her punctuality issues, I had little to complaint and she hadn’t much complaints from life either for all seemed to be going okay.

Trouble arrived when she conceived her fourth child. Her awfully alcoholic, insecure and irresponsible husband who had lost all his interest in home, kids and the concept of family altogether harboured a new notion that this child was not his!

In due time, Ganga decided to take a break owing to her pregnancy woes. I found a replacement and then another one in short span of time. Invariably, I found myself comparing the replacements to the benchmark she had set. Needless to say, others failed miserably.

By the time she gave birth to her fourth child, my daughter had grown up a little. Now with a newborn baby, dynamics changed. She couldn’t work full time and neither could she travel long distances. Thus we settled for an arrangement where she worked close to her place of residence but every fortnight she would come to my place for about five hours. For me, it meant getting some extra cleaning and organising done. For her, it meant extra bucks.

I often wondered what happened to her situation at home? Has her husband started working now that there is one more mouth to feed? If not, then how is she meeting the extra financial burden? But mostly, has her husband changed his ‘not my child’ theory after seeing the baby in flesh and blood? However, the way Ganga behaved- cool, contained, conscientious about work and instructions given; I assumed all must be well.

One day though, while she was organising my cupboard and I sat on a chair giving her a set of instructions about what goes where, curiosity got the better out of me. What this woman told me as an honest answer to my question was incredible. It goes:

“Didi, my husband doubted me so I threw him out of house. I had savings and you had given me enough advance, so I sustained through first few months. Your daughter’s hand-overs of clothes, bottles, shoes and even pram took care of lot many worries. As of now, my pregnant sister in my kind of alcoholic-husband situation looks after my house and kids while I go out to earn.”

I was stunned to hear this. Here was this woman with real strength! Not only she did away with a redundant, burden of a man; she took care of a full family plus a pregnant sister and was ready to shoulder the needs of a newborn all over again. I saluted her from the core of my heart for the substance she had shown. No big libertarian talks, no woman of today exhibitionism; plain action was how she rolled. I applauded her for her decision and strength. But yet again, I couldn’t help myself from asking how she survives such pressure and pulls it all through with a smile and exemplary work?

And here is the life lesson she had me revise with her easy smile, “ek baar mein ek soch aur ek kaam Didi, ek baar mein ek.” (One thought and one thing at a time, Didi, one at a time.)

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Published here earlier.

Image source: wikicommons

soul searcher, magic seeker, word wanderer

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  1. True a lot of our house helpers and assistants have taken on the challenges of life with remarkable determination and are true super heroes. They brave insurmountable odds and make smart decisions about many challenges they face- budgeting, finance, family presssures, physical and monetary security etc everyday with wisdom and grace that can be quite humbling for the urban educated activist feminists among us. Their strength is no less formidable and empowering in bringing change. We often forget that change must come from the grass roots as well as from the top for real progress to have any impact. Its good that you chose to highlight this point in your post.

  2. My domestic help was the only child of labourer parents, married very young to a guy she chose, who got abusive and she bore a lot of dometic violence in her in-laws house. She consumed poison once but survived luckily. She came back to her parents house, found solace in work for sometime. There wsa this other guy who willingly took her as wife and they are living happily now. I dont even remember that she was married to another guy earlier.
    My sister, an educated fool got married to a conman – who faked his degree and job. When I got inquisitive about these details he brainwashed her to keep me away from home and her marriage – which she meticulously did. She figured out the lies (he claimed to be an Architect, graduated from this excellent tech colleage in Bangalore) – was a 10th class pass/fail! No job in hand all fake degrees. She got upset, tried to take her life manytimes and was advised by my parents to move away from him as there was no future in that relation. But she decides to stay put as he is still not a human trafficker, he is still not a murderer or a thief.

    Education, courage and the grit for doing the right thing regardless of whatever are different things altogether!

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