Sowbhagya arrived with Dosa for her breakfast. The dining table was converted to one of my four workstations but she managed to find space. She was trapped but I blame her. She did show interest. So I launched into the synopsis of Manjula and my story, written for Anita.
SB was immediately engaged and liked it. We both enthusiastically remembered Manjula: her character, her kindness, her fun. SB could see connections with her and other women’s experiences but also how she was especially adventurous, strong and independent in the face of so many challenges.
Last Saturday was the first session of Anita’s Attic. A programme for writers — yes, that’s me, officially a writer, of sorts — over the next twelve weeks.
There’s ten of us in the online group: taught, facilitated and mentored by Anita Nair.
Anita is a famous writer of English novels, here in India. My own favourite is Ladies Coupe and I hope that our story will feature similar expansive characters to help us discover more of India and wonderful people I’ve been fortunate to meet.
Manjula was the kindest person I’ve probably ever met yet she’d be let down badly by people throughout her life.
I also try to be kind and considerate and I’m beginning to realise it doesn’t work well when others are insensitive, thoughtless, can’t appreciate the ‘other’ and are ultimately unkind. I know, I know I’m a naive 63 year old.
I’m now isolated, in quarantine at home, the street is blocked by fencing on either side of my house, the washing machine is disconnected, I’m unable to shop. Lucie is confused and I can’t walk her. I’m disrupted.
Sowbhagya who works for me is also in a difficult situation quarantined with a sticker on her door confined to a postage stamp house separated from her son.
On the positive side I am in a comfortable home, received home deliveries, stocked up the freezer, Lucie is a street girl and can figure things out. I am extremely fortunate, there are people in terrible situations and have been for months. I should complain less and be sensitive to their situation.
This situation is however completely unnecessary and could have been avoided with a little thought and care.
Two weeks ago the owner asked if they could use the downstairs house for a couple of months. I readily agreed as we have no guests in the current situation. I use it but can manage. There’s one of me and counting the ground and first floor house it’s four bedrooms, library, two lounges you know the sort of thing. Help others, share it out.
The five members of family: grandparents, parents and daughter were living in an apartment in Bangalore and were concerned about the increase in the spread of the virus. At least one of them has underlying health conditions, and the elderly are from a vulnerable group. Once we discussed a few conditions primarily about looking after my stuff and complications about shifting the washing machine plus getting confirmation this was a temporary arrangement (many of my friends were suspicious it was a con to get back the houses) but I checked that one out specifically.
It was a hard thing to do emotionally. Manjula died a year ago. This is our home. She moved and properly set up the Mysore Bed and Breakfast when we took over the downstairs house around eight years ago. But I could so I should help. They could exclusively have the downstairs house with me and Lucie upstairs, separate entrances etc.
They moved in ten days ago.
The adult son of the owner who I deal with now informed me after six days, he’d been tested positive for coronavirus and would go into isolation in hospital.
The rest of the family and I were tested the next day. It seems that the only one other who tested positive was his daughter and she’s now with him in hospital.
Of course it’s just one of those things we have to deal with the best we can, everyone around the world has the same challenges. However, we’ve spent almost three months in lockdown being careful not to get the virus. That care paid off as we’ve had no cases in our layout Siddarthanager, until now, that is.
Now we have what seems to be a completely avoidable situation. Were they suspicious that they might be carrying the virus? Probably, otherwise, why go for a test the day after arriving?
If there was a suspicion a test should have been taken before shifting from Bangalore or gone to their isolated rural farmhouse rather than completely disrupting our lives.
It’s a practical problem but was quite an emotional pull letting them use the house. Manjula’s room was downstairs and for her last few months we created a lovely set up for her. This was her place I was letting go. I’d asked for her picture, the one on which we’d placed flowers every day for a month and then every month to be left on the wall. I discovered they’d taken it down and stuffed it in my storeroom down there. It’s now upstairs with five other pictures of her so maybe a bit over-the-top.
It’s now reflected, when I said at the beginning, kindness met by at the very least insensitivity, to me and my situation and to Manjula even after she’s gone. People don’t care for others enough.
The world is in a sorry state, we just don’t care. The virus, climate change and our responses are actually symptoms of that malaise.
It’s late at night and the page is blank so I turn to Laozi and Pooh bear.
Actually that’s not true. I turn to you…… to help me get the ball rolling, to create and share my and Manjula’s story. It’s the age old writer’s conundrum. As you see I have a pile of full notebooks but how to get the blank page filled to begin to start the actual story. Can you help?
If you know Manjula and I or even if you don’t 🙃 what’s the key ingredients of our story that might interest you or a wider audience. What are the main themes that will interest people?
On the plane before we landed I’m watching an episode of Fleabag. A hit TV comedy in the U.K. that’s managed to pass me by, until now. In this episode, the family are at dinner and after a fight, almost all of them have bloody and bleeding noses. At exactly the same time the traveller in the next seat starts to have a nose bleed. I’m not making it up.
Off the plane and immigration are their useful helpful best and the finger print machine isn’t working so I have to wander off to find a different desk. That one isn’t working either. The Babu squeezes and rubs my fingers, squirts hand hand cleaner on my hands and manages to get it in my eye, gets me to rub them (the fingers that is) and try each finger one by one while chuntering on about how dry my hands were! He gives in.
This is all pretty irrelevant, I’m avoiding thinking about returning to an empty home without Manjula. I need to be tender and tough at the same time.
Shafi is waiting for me to drive me home. It takes ages as the Jains have got a big three day event that’s blocking the main highway between Bangalore and Mysore. Lots of people in white with their masks on to stop inhaling and killing living things, thousands of others venerating them.
I explain that over the years I’ve probably arrived in India over forty times. All bar one feeling very happy to be back. This time I have mixed feelings of being both sad and happy. We’ll have to see how it goes.
The place seems pretty messy. Rubbish everywhere. It doesn’t compare well with the three countries I’ve visited. I think it’s the longest time I’ve been away from India since moving here nine years ago.
Shafi kindly points out that Manjula was very lucky to meet me and especially as she had two trips to the U.K. and her medicines paid for. I point out that I was also very lucky to have met Manjula, to be looked after by her and had such happy times together. We buy some flowers for Manjula’s portrait, just like the ones on my tattoo. Their aroma now fills the house.
The other flowers also featured on my tattoo have already bloomed and died as they last just one night. We used to have bets on which night they would come out.
Lucie is not here. I whistle manically and eventually find her at someone’s house and we go for a walk. I keep catching Manjula out of the corner of my eye. No one is like Manjula of course, but just with a glimpse, the colourful saris can easily confuse.
I wonder what Mangla the cleaner has been doing while I’ve been away. The place is the dirtiest and dustiest I’ve ever seen it.
We have a parcel on the sideboard, from a lovely young couple, Johanna and Piero, who visited us last year from Switzerland. Johanna has painted and sent a beautiful picture of Manjula. How cool is that?
Don’t for one minute think ‘out of sight – out of mind’ or that I’m not still with you.
I am here…… and you worry me
Have you learnt nothing?
I came as your maid, then nine years later, do you know what I’m going to say?
Yes, you’d become my maid.
That doesn’t mean it’s alright to lean on me soooo much. You should also stand on your own two feet.
I taught you how to manage things. All you had to do was copy me. Now look at what’s happened. The house is in a mess, the cleaners aren’t cleaning even when they manage to turn up, and you just hang around doing nothing in particular. (reading? I’ve told you its overrated) and the list of jobs, like hanging those pictures you’ve not done, just gets longer and longer. You seem to be specialising in self-pity. Now that’s sad. I don’t know about glass half full more like empty empty.
You’re a disgrace 😉.
Please get your act together.
Above all ….. realise that I love you more than anything and will always be with you.
There are just so many….. photos everywhere (Manjula would complain that there were too many but I never believed her)
These are in prominent positions in the house.
This one with lots of her things as part of the pooja on specific days, they’re not always there!
The logo created by Punith.
Article in the Guardian (photo is taken from the article)
The river Kaveri where Manjula said a prayer after our wedding celebration in the field on Srirangaptnam. A tender memory.
Facebook and blog postings, meals at the Ashram for the elderly residents ……. remembered happenings, and most importantly the piece of her that’s in my heart that will always make me smile, ( the T-shirt I gave her in recognition of this and the rosette I made awarding her best maid in Mysore after working for her for one year…. early signs of my love?)
the jokes, the giggles, bossing me around, the hair (she was losing it) I still find in nooks and crannies.
And what about this from Kate who came to stay with us years ago?
A lovely gesture, trees planted by treesthatcount.co.nz in New Zealand in memory of Manjula.
The two lovely palms in our drive whose tops form a backdrop for our rooftop garden have been removed by the owner of our house. I’ve managed to hold off the inevitable for a year or two. I’ve used every argument you might imagine, to no avail.
THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED FOR THEM TO GO.
So is this…. Idiocy? Stupidity? No it’s probably not those things.
You might see this as a gross over-reaction on my part and maybe it is. It does in my view reflect something that diminishes all our societies. There are at least two key issues. The first is about the ‘trees’ themselves.
Looking around our area, where beautiful trees are regularly chopped (I’m the one that will go out and challenge, when I see it happening, credibility gone there then) where people dump rubbish (another key question for our guests will be covered on the blog) on the road verges, its a mess, one eyesore after another. You’d think it’s lack of awareness of environmental issues or appreciating what is beautiful. It is those things and it’s depressing.
Its also impractical. Trees are useful they provide amenity. They help freshen our air, create oxygen and now we’ve realised, a week after the carnage we’ve experienced here it provides well needed shade to reduce the temperature and make life bearable in the heat of the summer.
you already know, there was only one place to choose for our wedding and the formalities themselves were completed at the registry office 🙂
no it wasn’t in a glitzy bhavan with hall for reception (means a totally different thing out here – its the photo opportunity and gift giving session with the newlyweds seated on thrones on a stage) and another hall to feed hundreds, nor a band, althoug that would have been nice
instead, we decided on Srirangaptnam island, of course …… my favourite place. As you may have seen already we chose a tree in a field
once we decorated the tree… all sounds a bit pagan 😉
we made final personal preparations at Satish’s house…
there were around twenty guests: local friends and members of our team,
Vasanth’s family (V was ill), Satish (project manager) and his family, Rakesh (mr energy), Lokesh, Babu, Vidya ( a good friend who transcribed Manjula’s recordings) Heechang and her friend and family (husband Justin was away picking Henna), Asha, my yoga teacher, her family and Suresh, (who arrived fashionably late so aren’t n this photo) and the friends from the UK: Mike and Sue, Tom and Amy. We’re sorry to say that Tanu, Vasanth and Vinay were indisposed with a heavy bug so they just had to watch the royal wedding ceremony on the TV (I’m joking, OK) and not together!
the ceremony itself
we and the children used a traditional Mysorean Tonga (horse drawn taxi) to our next stop
where we visited one of the wonderful riverside locations on Srirangaptnam for a prayer beside the Kaveri and to float our flowers
followed by lunch
and finally …. tea and cakes at Satish’s house
here’s a link to the full set off photos of the wedding ceremony and here for the meal