This Independence Day of India, the 15th of August, I want to talk about those unacknowledged Indians that run like a network of capillaries beneath the skin. The underlying support system. Those men and are often berated as being greedy and opportunistic but then who isn’t?
Some 14 years ago, I was a new mom in India who wanted to pursue her career. Working from home was unheard of. Clock-in and out times were strictly enforced and monitored. Work and motherhood loomed like a nebulous cloud.
Then, this woman named Sandhya was referred to me by a friend. Could I trust her deep-set black eyes and the quick smile?
This woman became the sunbeam to me and the first mother to my son. He used to happily wave goodbye to me in the morning from the crook of her elbow but wailed inconsolably when she left in the evening.
I was a tad jealous, but so content. Love’s touch and tenor are not lost on babies.
She also made me a cup of tea in the evenings though it was not her job. She knit colorful hats and socks for my son from yarn she brought from her home.
Sometimes, she asked me for Dettol or Band-Aids to tend to the purple and red wounds inflicted by her husband in his drunken rage under the cloak of the night.
The morning after, she stood smiling at my doorstep ─ hands around the newspaper
, hair in a neat bun ─
extending her arms for my son.
I saw India in the bright vermilion she wore in the parting of her hair and in the dancing knitting needles in her hands.
Three years ago, my father broke his hip and was bedridden. My sister hired a nurse, Alice, who arrived promptly at 7:00 AM, sponged him, changed his diaper and left him smelling fresh and fragrant. She was also called other times when his sheets were soiled.
Sometimes her starched sari was drenched under her raincoat when she arrived on a rainy monsoon day but rain or shine did not deter her.
I heard India in the distinct sound of the brakes of Alice’s scooter at our gate every morning when I visited.
A year later, when fathers health worsened and he needed a full-time attendant, Alice referred this young and sturdy man, Arvind.
By that time, dementia had corroded father’s brain. He used to shout and lambast anyone who approached him. This man ignored the invectives and patiently helped exercise father’s limbs, emptied his urine bag and tended to his bedsores.
He also ran errands for mother, took care of beehives and pigeon nests that lurked in the nooks of air coolers.
Mother rolled her eyes when he pleaded her to lock the gate when he was leaving. Times are bad Amma, he always said.
I remember the day when mother asked Arvind to accompany her to the hospital for father’s check-up. He eased father into the car, loaded the wheelchair and then came running back in to get father’s shoes because his feet often slid from the footrests on the chair. None of us, his family, remembered that detail.
He read the newspaper to father and shared highs and lows of life with mother over a cup of tea when father slept.
I tasted India in the homemade walnut cake he brought us in a hand-decorated bag on Christmas. I was lucky to have visited that time of the year.