She would come every day with her brows furrowed deep, looking thirsty and resolute. Brown wrinkled skin that had slogged incessantly under the Indian sun for many summers, a stooping aged frame that shook to her mercurial tempers….receding white hair that she was obnoxious enough to colour an abnormally thick boot-polish black with cheap dye when she managed some extra money....that was Lakshamma for me.
She faught with my brother all the time.
It would start with a thump. Dropping the broom to the floor, she would proceed to argue in her throaty high-decibel squeak. I would leave them to it, knowing that it would conclude sooner or later. Sure enough, she would stomp out of the room irritated, her small frame shaking to her temperamental tantrums. My cheeky brother’s continuous stream of harsh criticisms were what caused this. They would constantly irk her to no end. She would show her anger on the broom, sweeping in a maniac frenzy, her ageing frame bending over.
Lakshamma was never impeccable in her chores---a fact that she wouldn't accept even if the evidence stared at her right in the face. There was coarseness to her shabby work, completed with hasty impatience. She was the busy-bee who always has too much to handle on her stooping shoulders and she never cared enough but to reply with a very blatant “no” if we occasionally complained about the quality of her work. Of course, her work wasn’t anything exciting, she never received promotions. Lakshamma was just the typical housemaid—tough, quick with a mercurial temper, shabby, hasty and gruff.
But nothing I’ve ever seen is more beautiful than the innocent heart of hers.
She was the somebody that had never grown out of childhood. Happily unaffected by the complex chaos that was the world, she had developed into a very pure-minded individual with clean hands. Her mind held the same childlike wonder towards the world…..although she never made any sincere attempt to learn. There would forever be that curious kid in her--- the one who looked at vehicles as marvels, and who didn’t know why aero planes flew or how many continents there were. For her, the world was just a very big puzzle not worth solving. She would admire from afar when god granted her the time. When he didn’t, she would get right back to work, following the bland routine. She would stare at walls and think deeply when we handed her the filter coffee in a steel tumbler. I often wondered what she thought about that much.
It was true life had been unfair to her. Her husband ran away, leaving her to face her world alone. She had seen hard days. And had survived through raw grit and endurance. Life had given her her blows very early and she had accepted the challenges. One thing that stood out about her personality was that she wasn’t the resigned, fatigued spirit who moaned about the injustice in her life. She was ignorant, that is true, but certainly not pessimistic although she had every reason to be. Every single day was survival for Lakshamma. And she knew that she had to work very hard to maintain a crumbling family. Burdened but never submissive to the ways of the world, she would slog under the sun, ignoring the weather. She was a fighter.
I shared my name with Lakshamma. My food. My dreams. I shared a lot. Although she gave me absolutely bizarre advises (like tattooing symbols on my forehead, for example), she sometimes slipped me snippets of her life. I found her a fascinating person to talk to. Her simplistic, honest-on-the-face and gruff habits pleased me in the weirdest of ways. And her antics were even more amusing. I had grown with the house, and Lakshamma has been part of the house ever since I can remember. She, in fact, has been part of my life ever since I can remember as well. She has seen me grow up, but she hasn’t for me. I might grow taller by the inches, but she’ll always look taller to my eyes. Somethings don’t change.
As I unveil my soul scrolls, I see that I have shared quite a bit with this woman---she’s integral to everything that defines home….she somehow has to be there in the background of any significant memory….because she’s always stayed there.
She was my first pillion rider, (that’s a story I would someday share in much more of a detail), and such an amazing flatterer. It was utter delight when I accidentally spotted her walking with those furrowed brows in Hawaii slippers down familiar streets. “There is somebody I know” I would say, if anybody asked. Doing that made me feel warm.
“Lakshamma!” I would scream, no matter if she could hear me or not. Acknowledging her presence in my world has always seemed important to me.
Ultimately, my brother’s criticisms weren’t unjust you know. She was inefficient. She was hasty. She was sometimes really stubborn. But she was also somebody who didn’t give up. She was my friend.
I don’t get to meet her often anymore. She doesn’t work for us from the time we moved here. But if I do get to spot her on the streets, I wouldn’t forget to frantically call to my first pillion rider and acknowledge her presence in my life and growing up.
And I know that she’ll turn right back to smile at me, unforrowing her brow with recognition and throw a friendly wave at me before her Hawaii slippers carry her stooping, aged figure into the streets, her mud-caked feet disappearing into the common masses.