What is my legacy? I came across the word in some Whatsapp forward. It was the word I was looking for to encapsulate all the questions that floated in my mind regarding my life. What was I doing? Why am I alive? Was 40 years worth it? Did I do what life wanted me to?
Legacy – sounds perfect, sounds right. So what is my legacy going to be? What will it be that will make my being a burden on Mother Earth worth it? My two (one is on the way) children? Would they carry on my values and thoughts and sprinkle the Sujatha sawdust on the world and make my existence relevant? The people I taught and trained throughout a career that lasted a good 13 years, a fruitful decade - would they be the ones to lend meaning to my life? While teaching them the concepts that I had to as the equivalent for what I was paid for but also touching their lives in some small ways – would that be my redemption?
I have wandered along these lines for a long time. I guess being jobless, at home and carrying a child in you, one has all the time in the world for these inane thoughts. Otherwise, one would be too busy “living” life or “making a living” to care about what it will all mean at the end of the journey. Have I reached the end of my journey?
One afternoon, as I was cooking, I overheard my neighbour yelling at her maid. She keeps all her windows shut and drawn with heavy curtains. But her voice was so loud that it blasted through my kitchen door which leads to our utility area and is always open. Her words were not clear but the anger was evident. The maid was mumbling something in defence. She works for my neighbour for Rs 2500 for 3 hours of back breaking work. It’s a 5 member family. So imagine the clothes and utensils that the maid has to clean. The clothes are washed by hand. How do I know? Our backyards are adjacent to each other. I can see the 4-5 long rows of clothes including bed-sheets, curtains and floor mats being hung out to dry daily. The neighbor has, in less than 2 years, changed four maids – fighting with all of them, sometimes screaming for coming 10 minutes, sometimes shouting for doing the work 10 minutes early. Everyday there was some problem. At first, I thought the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law were at each other’s throats.
And then, I sat on the sofa, rested my head back and closed my eyes for a long time. I felt a strange sense of calm. I knew my life was indeed worth something. I was not a loud, abusive woman like my neighbour. I don’t say that all maids are nice. Some are nasty, some lazy, some downright greedy. I heaved a sigh of relief that I was not, never was, a monster. For a few 1000 rupees a month, working 2-3 hours daily, with no holidays or weekly Sunday off, no hike, most of them illiterate and hence not able to work anywhere else or at anything else, it’s definitely not easy being a maid. And if I have been civil and tolerant with them, this insignificant life hasn’t been so insignificant after all.
At an age where everyone mistreats everyone else, sometimes just to be human, is a big deal. It is easy today to consider someone even a wee bit below us as “low”. To not succumb to abuse of power, even if that is of a house lady over her maid who she hardly considers a human in the first place – is quite something. If nothing else at all, I’m glad I passed at least this test. I’ve never ever been mean to any of my maids. Even the ones I fired, I politely asked them not to come from next month telling them I’ll do the work myself. It takes a great deal of effort for rich, educated people to not be rude to others. Empathy and decency are the first casualties in the pursuit of wealth and knowledge.