Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Another one of the unanswerables

In our ancestral home, they have servants who do most of the work. Cooking, cleaning, washing and all other chores are done by a few pairs of hands. Most of them have their own homes and come thrice a week to earn their pay. But there is one who stays in the house permanently. She does most of the daily work including cooking the food for the residents. She was hired a few years when my grandfather became very sick and had great difficulty moving around the house. She comes from a small village near the town where my grandfather used to live and where he is buried now. She works hard and does most of her job quite well albeit a bit slowly. She is taciturn and rarely displays any emotion. Seems like a normal maid servant, doesn’t she? Well, not actually. She is mentally retarded. Now that doesn’t mean that she is crazy or anything. She behaves perfectly normally but has the mental capacity of a child and a well-mannered child at that too.
I always wondered about her life. What must it be like? She does not get paid, at least not in kind. For her services, she is given a home to live in and food to eat. She is not over-worked and she is treated humanely. She has a perfectly comfortable life. But is she really treated or perceived to be a human? I thought that she was. But I was wrong. The last time I visited the place, I happened to eavesdrop on a conversation about her between two of my elderly relatives. I heard them repeatedly refer to her as 'it'. That made me realize that she was may not be mistreated but she was being looked as something sub-human, like a pet dog at best. She does not deserve to be treated like that. She might be ok now but what about tomorrow when she gets older and unable to handle the job that she is given. Would they treat her like an old dog that is past its prime? People generally dismiss servants from their jobs once they have outlived their utility. People can be very cruel when they deal with their servants. Most servants are over-worked and under-paid. Most of them are abused and quite a few are beaten, especially children. It pains me to see old people working in dabaas or begging for their living. But what would she do if she is forced onto the streets in her old age?
She does not have any savings nor has she ever handled any money. If someone gives her money, she is sure to lose them to some fraud. There would be no one to look after her as she comes from a poor family and nobody would want her to be a dependent. Can there be anything done for her? When the time comes, I hope I would be able to help her.
Sometimes I think that there is a different aspect to her. Perhaps she is very intelligent and observant but prefers to keep everything to herself. Maybe she lives in a whole different world and does not really need anybody's help to live in this world as she is smart enough to do anything she wants. But who am I kidding...

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