I was very touched when I came across this by Archana Raghuram, who left a comment a few days ago. Reproduced here in full:
If you happen to pass by Lakshmi, you wouldn’t give her a second look. She is the typical maid you come across everyday. But if you happen to know her for many years, as I do, you will discover that there is more to her than meets the eye.
I first met her when I was 12 years old. She had three daughters and a husband who was permanently drunk. She used to wash the cloths and vessels in my mom’s house Very often, I used to hear stories of her husband abusing her. I just could not figure out why she tolerated him, who used to steal her hard earned money, beat and humiliate her in public, so much so that she became partially deaf. I asked my mom “wouldn’t she be better off leaving him. She much more prosperous and will be able to take care of her children better”. My mom told me, “You don’t know how tough life is, Archana. What kind of security she will have if she walks out of her home with three daughters. Now it is only her husband abusing her. She will have to face abuses from many people if she leaves”. It is something like a choice between the devil and the deep sea.
I used to know her daughters too; not surprisingly, they absolutely hated their father. For a long time, I thought it was only lack of choices that kept Lakshmi with her husband. As I grew up, I came to realize something very startling – she actually loved her husband. His health had deteriorated because of heavy drinking. She used to take good care of him and do a special prayer for his health every Friday. She was very angry with her daughters because they were always wishing he was dead. I heard Lakshmi telling my mom “You know madam, he is not a bad man. His only fault is his weakness for drinking.”
Finally, one day he died because of liver failure. It was only after this, Lakshmi’s life took a turn for the better. She worked hard, saved money and got all her three daughters married off to responsible, well placed, teetotalers. She is truly a self made person who rose in the face of poverty and abuse and made a good life for her children. You know what is even more amazing about her, during each one of her daughter’s marriage she remembered her husband and cried. She said “he would have been so happy to see this day” and I thought to myself, “Well Lakshmi, I doubt if you would have seen this day if he had been around”, but I had grown up by then and knew certain things are best left unsaid.
Lakshmi continues to work in my mom’s house and I have another maid called Renuka who has been working in my house for past seven years. Her story follows similar lines. She was married off at 18 to an alcoholic, had a daughter when she was nineteen. Shortly after that her husband killed himself. She stays in her parents’ house and has to support her alcoholic father and a mentally retarded brother in addition to her daughter. Her day starts at 6:00 in the morning when she comes to my house to wash clothes and goes to three other houses for work. She returns home cooks for the family and leaves for the garment export company where she works as a tailor. I help her in whatever small ways I can. I finance her daughter’s education. I give/lend her small amounts of money when she is in trouble. What I admire about her is her fierce sense of loyalty towards her family (her parents, her brothers and sisters) and her scrupulous honesty.
A few years back she was in need of 10,000 rupees. Her roof was damaged and she needed money to get it fixed. She promised to return Rs1000 every month. In the past, whenever I have lent her money she has returned as committed but I was not sure if she could this time since it was a pretty big amount. I did not have the heart to refuse her, though. Three months later her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She was devastated. Her mother was her only support in her lonely life. She was now busy taking care of her mother. She did not return the money for the next two months and neither did I ask her. On the 3rd month, she returned Rs3000. I told her, “I don’t need it now. You can return it to me after your mother recovers.” I still remember what she told me, “You never ask me, Akka. If I yield to the temptation of not retuning when there is a problem, I will keep finding excuses. There are always troubles and money is always short. I gave you my word and I don’t want to go back on my commitment.”
I have learnt so much from my maids. How to keep smiling even when there is no reason to, how to love unconditionally, how to be valiant in the face of daunting difficulties and above all I learnt, character and honesty is not a luxury.