Vimala Bai, a maid who looked after me as a Child is someone who holds a very special place in my life. I have written about her in detail but the chapter that was written did not have a closure. But before I go further let me copy paste some parts of my previous write up so that I can put the entire experience and narrative in perspective.
Vimala Bai lived in a slum in a place called Sangamwadi in Pune. Our house was just half a kilometer from her house. One day after her work at my place I accompanied Vimala Bai to her home. She tried to discourage me as she knew this would not be acceptable. But I insisted. I really loved the place and the swing that was outside. She asked me if I wanted food and as a child I had never learned to say no. The dal and rice I had was of a different league. To this day the dal she made has had no parallel. I loved the way she cooked. My mother used to make food for me but after eating Vimala Bai’s food, I knew where my preference lied. When my mother came home, she was happy that I had eaten the food she (my mother) made and had wasted none. She never realized that the food she made was exchanged with the daughters of Vimala Bai, Rekha and Radhika, and their food I had. Radhika was just a year elder to me and we played together. She was the one who taught me to fly a kite and I must say I was a very poor student. She taught me all the childhood games like Blindfold, Chor Police, Dhapandi Stop and what not. I started becoming very popular in their house and I loved being there. I loved the attention and respect that I got. Every holiday I used to be at their place living life with abandon. During Raksha Bandhan , Vimala Bai asked permission from my mother, if Rekha and Radhika could tie rakhi on my hand. My mother agreed and there I was beaming with joy with 2 rakhis. The ladoo that you get after the Rakhee is tied was my favorite part. My mother used to buy gifts for both my sisters for whom now I was a Rakhi brother. This ritual continued every year.
Paradise could not go on for long. I, as a child fell ill quite often and the diagnosis of a very worthy neighbor was my frequent trips to the slum. My mother could not agree to this but my health was important for her. So indirectly she informed Vimala bai not to take me to her home. This was a big setback for me. Everything that I associated with joy and fun was in that slum, in the small house of Vimala Bai. But disobeying and rebelling is how childhood is explored and I broke the sanction imposed upon me, time and again. Vimala Bai tried to dissuade me but I did not relent. I found a roundabout way to go to their home where my neighbours would never suspect my going. I made it a point to go there every Saturday as Vimala Bai used to make ‘Sabudana Khichadi’ which is my favorite dish to date. She always made it a point to bring a ‘Dabba’ full of Sabudana Khichadi whenever she made it. She always called me “Monu” as that was what I was called as a kid. But a day came when we left Sanghamwadi for good. Now we had a flat of our own and we were far from the abode where my childhood took wings.I missed Sangamwadi and especially the adventures of going to the house of Vimala Bai. The only consolation was that Vimala Bai continued coming to our new house. But her health started to take a back seat. She informed my mother that she could not continue for long. Finally the last day dawned upon us. After 6 long years of having her around it was too difficult to digest the fact that she would not be around. My attachmet was that profound. I still remember that I refused to come out when she was leaving for the last time. I was inconsolable. When she walked out, I rushed to the balcony to say good bye with a heavy heart. But there was one connection still left. Radhika and Vimala Bai came on every Rakshabandhan day so that Radhika could tie me rakhi. This helped us to relive all the moments. This went on till I was in my 6th standard. When they came I felt embarrassed and I kind of indicated through my body language that ‘I was not liking this’. I don’t know why I did that. It puzzles me. From next year they stopped coming. I know my attitude might have really hurt them and I recently told my mom “I wish I had not done that, I want to see her again.”
Honestly, I feel that the innocence of my childhood had faded and now the discrimination of people took seed in me. That is the only reason why I guess unconsciously or subconsciously I showed reluctance. I guess I did not want to associate myself with my maid. After writing about her I knew that this incident was the biggest act of humiliation that I inflicted on a lady who took care of me like a mother.
We invited her for my wedding and she came a day earlier. She was so excited to see me in the Cassock of a priest. She hugged me and lovingly called “Arre Monu, Tu kitna bada hogaya.” (You have grown so big). I was very overwhelmed. She kept looking at me. After sometime she went. But still this visit did nothing. I knew for sure there was something more to our story. There is something more.
On 20th August 2013 I arrived in Pune. It was the day of Raksha Bandhan. And out of nowhere my mother said “It is Raksha Bandhan, let us visit Vimala.” This statement caught hold of me. I absolutely said yes. At around 5 pm we started to call her. There was no response. I kept calling her after every 15 minutes. This ritual happened till 9 in the night. I was so disappointed. 9 is just too late to go. This was just not how I wanted this to turn out. My wife knows I can be very annoying if I begin to Sulk. Around 9:30 there was a call on my mother’s phone. Eureka. It was Vimala bai. I picked the call and spoke to Radhika. But she did not understand who was on the line. I spoke to Vimala bai after that. She was all thrilled. She told me to come right away. I said “Bohot late hua. (It is too late)”. She said “Tu aaja, late nahi hua hai( You come, it’s not too late)”. I was all excited. I told my parents and wife that we are going. And all of us were game for this as they knew how much this meant to me. After having dinner we set out to Sangamwadi. I just can’t articulate my excitement or my state of mind. It was a journey that needed healing. The guilt that I had needed a closure. But it was just not about my guilt alone. It had multiple layers and textures. When I was driving through Sangamwadi, nostalgia hit me. The place had changed beyond recognition. But there were some landmarks that still evoked memories. Outside a place we saw Vimala bai standing. She guided us to her house. This was not the same place that I went as a child. It was a different place. It had one room with a small place marked out as Bathroom. I met Radhika. She looked very different now. Vimala bai was deserted by her husband long back. Similarly Radhika too met with the same fate. She works in a military canteen. But this is a temporary post. Vimala Bai still works as a maid in Koregaon Park. Vimala Bai was seeing Soji for the first time. She placed her hand on her signifying her blessings. She told my mother with a beaming smile “Bahu Bohot Achii Hai (Daughter-in-law is very good)”. For next some minutes she just kept looking at both of us. I still was in a daze. I was just so happy to see her and Radhka. But she now looks very weak. She made tea for us and asked me “Monu, idli sambar kayega (will you eat idli sambar)” which I just smiled and refused. Then she told my mother that she learnt to make idli sambar from her (my mother) and I added that my mother learnt to make Sabudana Khichadi thanks to Vimala bai. We all had a laugh. Then she said “Monu abhi bada hogaya to Rakhi bandhana pasand hai kya nahi, malum nahi (You have grown up and I do not know if you like if Rakhi would be tied on your hand)”. This did prick my conscience and I said “Main yaha meri behen ke haath se Rakhi bandhwane ke liye hi aaya hu (I have come here so that my sister could tie rakhion my hand)”. She beamed and signaled Radhika to get the Rakhi. Radhika prepared the Aarti with the Diya, Rakhi and the kumkum with rice. When she did the aarti it was like a snapshot from childhood. This was so surreal. My eyes started getting very moist. After the aarti was over she tied the rakhi and gave me a ladoo which I always enjoyed eating. I looked at the Rakhi and felt so happy. I felt immensely blessed. Then as custom I gifted Radhika. My parents had a broad smile. But it was not over. Next they called Soji. I kept wondering what that was for. Aarti was done to her. And a new saree with rice filled in it was given to her. I was surprised. “Hamare ghar mai pehele baar aayi na, ye ek garib aurat ka dua hai. Hamare ghar se khali haat koi nahi jaata (You have come for the first time to our home. This is a poor woman’s gift. Nobody goes empty handed from our home)” I was totally moved beyond imagination. She had no clue that we were coming. But still she had a gift for Soji. And she told Soji “I worked for them and looked after Monu, but more than money what remains is the love that still remains.” I looked at her very fondly and said “Kya mai prarthana kar sakta hu (Can I pray for you)”. And I prayed in Hindi which I am not very familiar with. But when the prayer ended I felt very peaceful. We said goodbye and left.
When I now reflect this incident I am deeply overwhelmed that I could amend my wrong doings. The broken thread of relation was again mended by the delicate threads of Rakhi. This story will always remain with me. It has taught me a whole lot of things. I thank God for the gift of relations and the possibility of forgiveness and healing. I now completely believe that no matter what mistake one makes in life, God gives us an opportunity to make amends. It may seem very insignificant but such events in life help us realize “Life truly is amazing and beautiful.” All one needs to do is accept that “I have done what I should not have done and I have not done what I should have done (sins of omission and commission).”
For those interested in reading my earlier write up about Vimala bai can find te link here https://merinmathewz.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/she-helped-me-steal-away-to-my-neverland/
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church