Jaya was a simple god-fearing, illiterate woman; and, an excellent cook. She loved her four daughters very much and her son, may be, a little bit more.
The festive season was just round the corner, and I was in the midst of a cleaning frenzy. I was expecting house guests and I requested Jaya to put in some extra work. As expected, she gave me a volley of excuses – not because she didn’t want to extend her working hours, but because it gave her a legitimate reason to converse incessantly.
“Do you think my husband is happy that I work? No! I work because it gives me a chance to get out of the house. I don’t need the money at all! My husband earns well. He just wants me to look after the children. I cannot put in more time.”
Was it time to ask her to “quit?” I quietly fumed, but I knew that I was fighting a losing battle.
Two hours later, things suddenly changed. I was speechless when I saw Jaya walk in briskly, her verbal assault enveloping the air.
I managed to say, “How come.?” Her riposte: “Oh! Let’s forget it now!! Just tell me what needs to be done?” Like an admonished child I obeyed, and quickly rattled off my list of “to-do” things.
For the next hour-and-a-half we both worked frenetically, and silently.
As she finally readied to leave, I broke into a polite “thank you” conversation. I first began asking about her children being home alone.
Jaya lived in a nuclear family like me – so I knew there was no one to look after her children once they were back from school. She assured me that the shopkeeper’s wife across her small lane helped by keeping a watchful eye. “The advantage of living in the slums was community living,” she said plainly.
“Have you locked your house?” I pressed on, knowing that she was proud of her new TV and steel cupboard that “housed” all her prized possessions. “No! What if my children need to use the bathroom, or drink water, or simply watch TV? I have only warned them not to light the stove,” she explained.
“You left your door open?” I was quite taken aback. After all, a slum was a slum. Wasn’t she risking it all with an “open invite?”
“Oh, yes, but I don’t care!” she replied.
I was quite worried and cautioned her with what I thought were prudent words. But, what she said was sensible beyond her years, experience, or social status.
It was a lesson in faith.
This was a woman who could lose every bit of her frugal material comforts if [God forbid!] her only cupboard was ever ransacked. And, yet she said, “What is the use of fretting all the time, ma’am? If it has to be taken, it will be gone! I firmly believe that thieves can only rob from my house – not my destiny, or fate!”
Her sense of wisdom rattled the floor beneath my feet.
And, as Jaya left for the day, my spirits rose. I was no longer worried about being the perfect host, or presenting the cleanest home. I realised: “What destiny has in store for you cannot be robbed! It is all yours to be discovered, and also to learn from.”