Getting out

I need to get out more.

Sunday was the second Mysore literary festival. Great to get out, meet old and make new friends.

Discussions about wildlife and how we can promote conservation, Roy’s films, presentations on Mysore Palaces and our wood inlay traditions, all great stuff.

Maybe the best of all for me was hearing from a young woman from a very poor background who at age four had been given a new opportunity in life. A philanthropic organisation sponsored her residential education through to her 20s. Not straightforward. An amazing life opportunity but controversially perhaps takes her completely away from her family. I’ve ordered her autobiography. More later.

A great new slogan 🙃

A different segment and layer of society in Mysore. Mostly women, middle class and of an uncertain age.

Great people watching and meeting. I only knew a handful of the maybe 150-200 people..

I do realise from this, that with the challenges at home and the build up to busy-time I do need to get out for a bit of newness now and again.

Maid in India 7

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One of Manjula’s many talents is tying garlands

“My hometown is Mysore. I was born and raised in Mysore. I have struggled a lot as a young girl. My father sent me to school, but education wasn’t something that came easily to me. I attended school till 5th standard. As I wasn’t good at studies my father stopped me from going to school. After leaving school, I started doing household chores, tying flower strands and other things. As a small girl, I learned many household works. As I grew up, as I started to acquire some knowledge I started to make money by tying flower strands and selling.”

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Manjula with one of our maids, Kamlama and her mother, Parvathama

“My mom left us when we were still young. She had a quarrel and disagreement with my father and left us all and went to her father’s house. Later, my father raised us all even with some difficulties. My mother came back after a while, but my father didn’t let her in. My father married another woman, she didn’t look after us very well, and she didn’t give us enough food. Later my younger brother started working at a hotel; he would bring us food for the nights.

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As we grew up and started to learn things, I joined as a housemaid to a family in Bangalore.  The family for whom I worked wanted a housekeeper for their younger brother’s house in Bombay. They took me to Bombay and I worked there for 10 years. Even there, I looked after a baby for 3 years and the household works for the rest of the years. I never came back to Mysore. After 10 years, the family shifted to Singapore, they offered me to continue the same job with more pay. I didn’t go as my family was here in India and it would be difficult for me to come back from Singapore. I came back to my hometown, Mysore.”

Farrell Footnote.

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I’m not altogether sure what happened at school. One of the stories she tell me is she would ask the teacher if she could leave the classroom to go for a number one (pee). Then legging it, with her brother left in the classroom having to carry her bags home. What a naughty girl! I don’t think she was there very often. There was a big bust up with her father and it led to her being taken out of school. This was the very school featured in our tortuous journey to get her transfer certificate (TC), to get a PAN (tax) card to get a passport as the TC was the only evidence she had of her birthdate. check here

There are so many things to unpick here: starting work from a very early age, her mother abandoning her and then returning ( a pattern she repeats to this day), relations with her various ‘step-parents’ (their favouritism and neglect) and the fluid marital relationships in some communities in India, the multiple jobs to earn a crust, life as a maid travelling across India to work with an unknown family in a completely alien city or even travelling internationally into what can be quite stark and challenging circumstances (more of that one later). Which seems to be a pretty standard thing for ‘children’ from poor families..

One of the obvious observations is that its a pretty hard life if you’re poor in India (and no doubt elsewhere). Here in India, have been incredibly stoic, dealing well with life’s paradoxes, whilst necessarily being resilient, adaptable and creative. It’s one of the first things we notice as first time visitors and as we get to know the country and it’s people better, we notice how wonderful they are and how mean some can be.

Maid in India 2

It’s almost eight years ago that I moved to India and mentioned to my grown-up sons that I was looking for a maid. They were horrified.

We’re from the UK, are quite liberal and left wing. I’m actually from a relatively poor working class background. The idea of having a servant was also way beyond the usual more acceptable (in the UK anyway) middle class practice of a cleaner.

It introduces a class dimension. It’s seen as a bit 19th century, old-fashioned, elitist and servants are employed by people who are not like us! Who see themselves a cut above the rest, or the hoi polloi , a case of upstairs/downstairs. In our world view, its all completely unacceptable.

 

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as you can see its a big house and I need help! Fact is, I only had the first floor eight years ago

 

I explained as best I could. It was important to provide employment particularly as there was no real welfare safety net in India. I was fitting in with the way things are, and my approach would be different (yep, it would be!) I would be a sensitive and caring employer.

So I asked my friends Ganga and Cariappa if they could recommend someone. The maid network came up with someone pretty quickly.

I was called round to meet someone.

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So what’s the bigger picture? once again Tripti Lahiri helps out:

“Britain saw the number of servants drop from 250,000 in 1951 to 32,000 two decades later.”

India followed a similar trajectory until that is, the 1970’s when there began a dramatic increase in the numbers of servants (we’ll come back to terminology later) employed and this is a situation reflected globally.

“According to international labour groups, as of 2010. there were more than 50 million such workers globally, an increase of nearly  20 million from 1995, most of this made up of women. There are now over 40 million female domestic workers globally.” 

So OK that’s enough with all the big numbers, what does this mean in practice for the women involved? who are they? where are they from and what lives do they lead?

 

 

 

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Quotes taken from ‘Maid in India’ by Tripti Lahiri :

 

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an image from a postcard that we publish

 

“We eat first, they later, often out of food portioned out for them; we live in the front, they in the back; we sit on chairs and they on the floor; we drink from glasses and ceramic plates and they from ones made of steel set aside for them; we call them by their names, and they address us by titles: sir/ma’am, sahib/memsahib”

 

Think that’s in the past?

Well, think again.

“In today’s India its not unusual to see, often in largely empty restaurants, a couple seated with their child at a table for four, while the help is despatched to sit not one but two tables away….. or a nanny dandling a child on her lap at a nightclub while her employers and their friends drink cocktails as it creeps towards midnight, her hours of sleep dwindling since she is no doubt expected to be up and ready for another day at sunrise…. or for example children playing in a neighbourhood park, seeing a plump, light-skinned boy on a swing crook his finger at the petite darker woman standing nearby and utter a single word: Push”

Womens’ life experience is an incredible indicator of how a particular society works, from top to bottom.

In India the situation of women and particualrly those who are most socially and economically excluded, in this case, the ones that serve others, shines a spotlight on the social mores, the rules by which we operate, the structures and belief systems that helps maintain the status quo.

It also shows something else.

That is, how these women in often extraordinarily challenging circumstances not only manage but can thrive, can flourish and through that, show their astonishing abilities. In a sense, the influence they subtly exert and how they deal with the changes facing them can also demonstrate to us, on a macro level, how to deal with some of the challenges and opportunities facing contemporary India.

Let’s take a look.

 

want a boy or a girl?

Manjula was hanging out at her friend the tailors. It’s become quite a place for women to gather, to pass the time of day and chat!

A customer four months pregnant was wishing for a girl. She already had a three year old boy but now wanted a girl. It created a big conversation of the relative merits of boys and girls.

 

“my husband is no good, my husband’s brother is no good” (drinking every day, not bringing money home, lady is therefore having to work) “so I don’t want a boy”, said the pregnant lady.

the lady tailor says boys are good, come back home no problem if girl comes home late big problem, with ‘monthly’ starting things start to get expensive, clothes, gold needed for the marriage

Manjula says girl is good, looking after Mummy and Daddy if there is any problem, boys don’t care, some boys are good. Some boys are bad. Our next door neighbours son, maybe unusually, has a disabled mother and he is still unmarried carries her around and generally looks after her.

Manjula reckons that girls are like our dog Lucy, she didn’t mean that in a pejorative term. Lucy is sort of allowed out to do what she wants but must back in by a certain time!

 

Saris are in!

The tailors seem to be a bit of a hangout. Another customer gifted a Sari for, the Ganpati festival has brought it to leave at the tailors to sell. It’s yellow with red border. Another of the gathering asks Manjula … Why doesn’t she buy it, her friend and our cleaner Kamlama interjects, “Manjula has over 50 sarees  and doesn’t need or like it, Manjula has good taste and you should go with her when you go shopping for sarees.” 🙂

 

So there!

Manjula’s attitude is if you don’t like it, give it to someone else in you family such as your daughter, the woman says no, I want and need the money

 

Postscript

that conversation was a couple of weeks ago

Just this week we learned that the pregnant lady’s husband has died of jaundice.

The husband’s family where she lives will now look after her and her children.

things will however be very hard

Death is of course a regular occurrence but happens for what seems to be avoidable reasons. Jaundice does seem to figure a lot, maybe it’s the alcohol.

This does however show how difficult things can be. Families have to pull together and deal with the situations that arise with limited if any help from the State.

Farrell Factoid

please note: all photos are posed by models

traditionally a boy is seen as more desirable for a whole host of reasons, it leads to abortion and even infanticide and in some areas there is a massive imbalance between the sexes. For this reason that it’s actually illegal for a doctor to reveal the gender of a foetus after a scan. It’s led to some doctors winking a lot.

Manjula’s Background

379003_10150528283149937_1371457865_nManjula is from a poor background. Her poverty, family instability and her experience as a woman in a patriarchal society is not atypical. She  has shown great determination, fortitude, even stoicism. It’s a common story in India. Women (and men) managing to survive through very challenging backgrounds and life circumstances.

Manjula’s story helps illuminate what life is like for so many people living in contemporary India. There may be explosive growth of the economy and the middle classes – we can see the evidence in many ways – higher disposable income, rising prices, spare money sloshing around, building-building-building, the glorification of ‘development’, leisure holidays, flash cars, waste everywhere, traffic jams, disposable nappies (diapers), house dogs… you name it, we’ve got it!

But as with everywhere else and even more so in India, the rich and poor whilst living cheek by jowl are far far away from each other. People are left out and behind, there is the risk their story is not told or realised, their needs forgotten, a myopia of the modern age.

 

 

 

Why a blog?

the journal, our bloglet  is an experiment. Is there a story to tell? can it be told competently and ultimately, will it be engaging?

Only you and time will tell.

Our guests at the BnB are always asking for our story and often  suggest we share it to a wider audience. So here is our humble attempt, to relay our story of life in India. Manjula as a ‘young’ Indian woman and me as a much much older English guy. (the age gap isn’t a big as it looks…. he said defensively!)

We intend to introduce ourselves and our life here in India, local characters and the wonderful guests, from around the world, who come to Mysore to join our Mycycle tours and stay in our Mysore Bed and Breakfast. Its already a bit of a mad mix. On the way we hope to share insights into this amazing, crazy, challenging, annoying, ‘consistently inconsistent’ beautiful place and it’s people.

Please do regularly check into meandmycycle.com

If it’s of interest do share and pass on to others.

We value your opinion.

Do you want more of the same or something different? what shall we post? insights into Manjula’s life as a poor woman in modern India? an understanding of what its like for me as an English guy adjusting to life in this ‘differently organised’ world? our personal story of coming together from different cultures and backgrounds, the fun we have and the challenges we face? a better understanding of India (is that possible?) from our own limited experience.

Do let us know.

our very best wishes,

Manjula and Stephen

Oh, and exactly on cue I hear Lucy calling from downstairs. We haven’t forgotten she is of course the third and, dearly loved, part of our family here in India.

and Lucy, of course…

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