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The Story of my Papad Lady. And her MIL.

September 21, 2014

I buy my papads, pickles etc from a regular woman door-to-door seller who also bulk-buys salwar kameez materials, saris etc from wholesale dealers and sells them in installments mostly and rarely for full cash.  Yesterday when my Sindhi neighbour had dropped in, the papad lady knocked on my doors. She was carrying a huge weight – i don’t buy anything else from her because (1) her tastes don’t suit me (2) i don’t buy in installments and (3) my kurthis are priced under 1000 bucks mostly being wash-&-wear type and not the designer stuff. My most expensive suit is 4000 bucks that is all. I keep buying round the year but I buy cheap. Pickles and papads the old lady sells are home-made.

My neighbour liked her designer catalog very much and asked her to come home today being sunday when her daughter would be home (the girl is working). My papad lady called me this morning to ask if the buyer was seriious. My neighbour is very shortly moving to her own place so I said I had no idea. I shouldn’t have taken the liberty to speak about someone without knowing them fully well, i understood today. Who are we to assume things about others or take anyone for granted. I was doubtful because I know how many bags the lady who is over 70 years carries. I was bothered that the whole tiring exercise could prove to be a waste if my neighbour did not buy anything. I should have atleast passed on to the seller my friend’s phone no but that did not cross my mind.

By 11 my neighbour came home to ask me what happened to the sari lady. I called her up again and fixed an appointment for the afternoon.

My neibhour bought some expensive stuff and did good business with my papad lady finally, all ready-cash, when I took her on her arrival to their flat. I was ashamed how because of my laziness and thoughtlessness I could have deprived a hardworking woman of some extra-income. My neighbour is impressed with this old woman that she wants to buy from her regularly.

Before leaving the sari lady told us how many rounds she had already done that day. She had bought a 50 bucks ticket on PTC so she was entitled to board any bus plying any route in the city the entire day. She carried heavy bags – in our apartment there is a lift but imagine walking to the bus stop and then boarding the bus with that burden. My heart went out to the poor woman who is widowed and who is supporting her 99 year old mother-in-law even today. She had lost a son a few years back and the surviving one doesn’t care.

I need no papads from her – but I buy merely to give her some business. The lady also runs a chit fund and makes some impressive income. Its amazing the way she carries tens of thousands of rupees in her worn leather handbag that she clutches to her chest. She is like an all-in-all and many times I fear for her safety. I would like to help her more but I am not into her kind of stuff at all. Through out her life this woman is working so hard – I am seeing her for years now.

Even if there are door-to-door sales girls knocking on our doors, I never turn them down without buying anything from them even if I don’t absolutely want the product they are trying to sell. Well, the rule does not apply to male door-to-door sellers. Ours is family flats built by siblings from an old ancestral house and only a couple are on lease out of the 5. Mostly we don’t allow outsiders. But I have instructed the watchman to consider door-to-door woman sellers.

Once upon a time I was a working woman too and even now I shudder to think of bus travel. Not that I feel elevated over our masses but it totally feels like another life now. I fell down from steps during my 3rd month of pregnancy from a moving bus that I was trying to board – and its a miracle that God saved us (me & son!) without a harm. I have skidded in my scooter on way to my office many times and have fallen headlong in main roads – looks like God was on my side everytime as the buses and cars would narrowly miss me. Because when you have to take care of your baby, nurse him, leave him to your MIL, cook and pack lunch for 2 people and then leave for work in a 2-wheeler, what will be your frame of mind. If there would be spilled oil on road on rainy days, I would in all probability skid, as my scooter had very small wheels. Once my clothes were torn and i had to return home to change! And I dwelt in a belief system in those days like I was the only hardworking woman on entire earth! Well, I was woken up to my senses by a woman decades older and wiser than me. All that i’ve endured all my life pales in significance compared to what this senior matron is going through even in her seventies today.

My heart goes out to poor women who sell door-to-door for making a living. Our friend can ride a scooter but listening to strong advice from her well-wishers, she does n’t any longer. I feel like thrashing her useless menfolk for doing this to her. ‘What time you will go home?’ I asked the sari lady and she said, ‘around 10 pm. because this bus pass allows me to travel for one entire day so economically that I try to make maximum out of it always.’ Before leaving her home, she leaves for her ancient MIL breakfast, lunch, evening tiffin or snacks and a light supper – practically everything – in casseroles within arm’s reach. Tea she leaves for her in a flask. She rises by 4 am everyday and completes her household chores even in this age without having a paid servant and starts her business. She has to travel to one exact opposite corner of the city to buy the clothes. Her customers are distributed around the city. And the chit fund business is very risky but she has some better-off clients that make it all worthwhile Another interesting facet of the woman is how she also functions as a marriage broker. Quite a few alliances have been fixed thanks to her because she has some loyal customers who value her judgement. There is practically nothing she has left undone! She diligently maintains accounts and issues receipts for every deal she makes and every chit she draws. Her memory is so sharp. Her rental single bedroom flat is in a lower middle-class colony. Her MIL in her 99th year still works on the handpump to fill their water drums with metro water because this is the only way they get water. No running water in their run-down place. Together the old MIL and DIL make such a moving pair. The connecting bond called the son (husband of the lady) is long since departed. The children have left…. But the 2 old women stick together against all odds holding their whole neighbourhood in awe.  Oh what a team! The neighbours keep an eye on the oldest MIL and the 2 anyway stay connected via phone through out the day.

The papad lady enrolled her widowed eldest DIL in a beautician course and the young girl now supports herself and her 2 little sons. She sent the girl also to some computer courses to give her better shot at life. She set her up close to her parents’ place for security reasons and  made sure the girl led an independent life with her children. More than all, the lady asked her DIL whether she wanted to marry again when she was widowed at a mere 28 years. She said, she would look out for someone willing to take in the girl and her boys – like a mother. The girl refused and the girl’s own parents were shockingly against the idea.

While she was with me, the woman got a call from her MIL who was inquiring her in phone about the time she was expected home! “Amma does not like me roaming in the city roads late at night!’ says my 72 year old dear friend and I felt like embracing her as words failed me completely. All I can do is, whenever she comes home give her a hot meal. She refuses at first but gives in finally.

‘What will you do if anything happens to your MIL?’ I asked her once and she said ‘I don’t know. Old age home? Or I will have to grin and bear in my younger son’s home. i prefer a home for the aged’ said the woman and my heart grew heavy at that. I said, ‘I am waiting for your MIL to hit a century, I will pray for her to live as long as she can so that you will have her company so long as you wish.’

Rare to see such a kinship among MIL and DIL. Its true with my MIL I have crossed many boundaries. To the extent that she keeps harping on me telling me how she stopped sleeping with my FIL by her 40th year. I give back, ‘you still had 5 kids before you turned 30. If we are going to be like that in this generation our husbands will pack us all back to where we came from.’ That silences her totally! My MIL comments on my clothes, chides me for things as if i am a teenager – all this happens. She is at her rudest best if I ever have male visitors. But I think of the sense of security she gives me in the bargain. Over years I am actually starting to like this meddling I suppose! I understand her heart when sometimes she talks long into the night keeping me awake until dawn, telling me about her personal life with my FIL. From that I know I am the privileged DIL she confides in, like I have succeeded in breaking the invisible barrier between us (we started our innings hating each other… she did not like my lower middle-class background and I hated her elitist one.)

I won’t still say we are closest yet, but I guess we are getting there finally… after all I am married for over 21 years now. But after seeing the relationship of my papad lady with her MIL, I am stopping myself from arguing with my MIL a lot these days. Let her have her say. Winning an argument is not everything. One of the most understated relationships in our lives is this MIL-DIL bond. Its not always like it is portrayed in pictures, tv soaps. May be we all begin there, but we move along with time… My papad lady shows me how to be kind with old people, and how your husband’s mother is your mother too. I want to have no expectations, there is nothing wrong about being the perennial giver. May be God makes some of us to fit that role.

Seeing my papad lady, I also feel so ashamed and want to push myself to my limits. ‘If I stop working as hard, I will die’ says she and I believe in her. There are a lot of lessons to learn from her. The woman has 3 daughters who are all married. She spends her profits on buying stuff for her grandchildren. She easily makes about 20-30k a month selling door-to-door. Rain or shine, the superlady is on the move. From 10-10 she is busy all 7 days of the week. She goes on tours, she has been to Kailash and Nepal a number of times and has traveled around India. When she is gone, one of her daughters takes care of her MIL. The lady still does not expect anything in return from her children. She has been a giver all her life. And she harbours no bitterness whatsoever, no grudge, no disappointment. If customers test her patience, she refuses to get emotional which is good for her business.  How cheerful she always appears pressing my door bell. There is no such a thing called self-pity in her dictionary. There is simply no time for that kind of analysis in her life. Its a shame her folks have failed to give the woman the rest she is entitled to given her age. Even government prescribed retirement age is 58 years.

The woman also does not gossip (she also sells to a large part of our extended family), there is minimum and useful interaction with her always and business is quick and easy, so that’s something else I like about her. With a loose tongue, such a person having access to our entire family can create a lot of flutter. The way she maintains the distance and sticks to her agenda impresses me.

My prayer is that the papad woman outlives her MIL. A septuagenarian, she is also long since a senior citizen. I am scared to think of what will happen to her MIL if anything happens to the DIL. The old MIL is also the house accountant (!) and not at all senile believe me or not! Such a sharp mind at 99, her eye sight is perfect and so are her hearing capacity and knees. It seems the DIL took her to a doctor for an assessment and the middle-aged doctor fell in the old matron’s feet seeking her blessings!

Life is what we think it is.







From → Bharatiya Naari

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