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Lights, Sweat, and Action!!!

Dr Navniit Gandhi Sunday, September 4, 2022
Lights, Sweat, and Action!!!

Scene 1

Brrrriiiiinnngggg….. the alarm goes off---twice... thrice… brrrriinnnnggg…brrrrrrrinnng

19-year-old Lakshmi wakes up with a start. Sleepily, she rubs her eyes, mumbles about the alarm going off early, and looks up at the wall clock. It is 4.30 am indeed. She gets up and rushes towards the bathroom, before the other ten sleepy-heads scramble towards the same door. She briskly finishes up all chores, except cooking. She gets ready, gulps down a cup of tea and steps out. She opens her umbrella while it is still 5.45am. She must reach the first house she has to go to, by 6am sharp. Her steps are fast and furious. It is a 20-minute walk and the heat is scorching. After all, it is nearly 40* Celsius early in the morning.

She is happy though, despite the heat, the parched throat and the sweat trickling down. She clutches at her purse tightly. ‘Will try to finish early today at Delhi-Madam’s house and then go to the market’ , Lakshmi murmurs to herself.

She is excited. After one year in Kuwait, and working as a domestic-help in six different houses, she has saved and paid for space in a cargo-container and is going to send lots of goods for her family---clothes, milk-powder cans, toys for her two kids, lots of other eatables, one iron, one mixer-grinder, etc etc

Cut!

Scene 2

Bbbbrrrriiiiinnngggg…. the alarm goes off at 4.30am and is promptly shut.

47-year-old Lakshmi is already wide awake. She closes her eyes and tries to get a 5-minute rest but her brain is brimming with worrying thoughts. She must have slept for barely an hour at night. She gets up with a painful groan. Her knees are numb and aching. She slowly takes her steps towards the bathroom. All her movements are slow. By the time she steps out, it is 6.15 am. She is expected in the first house by 6.30 am. Her steps are heavy and hesitant. It will take her nearly 30 minutes to reach. The heat is unbearable. She checks on her mobile phone. It says 41* Celsius, but it feels 46* due to the humidity.

She puts on her ear-phones and calls her son. Every day, she speaks to her son for the entire duration of her walk. At night, when she reaches home by 8pm, she has her food and then she calls her daughter. She listens to her and her problems for about an hour and then tries to sleep for the night.

The latest crisis is worrisome though. Her son-in-law has had an accident and 50,000/- rupees have to be sent in a day or two. She keeps calculating at night: it will be 200 KD. Will send the new mobile to my son, after 2-3 months. He won’t be happy when I tell him tomorrow…’

Cut!

Scene 3

55-year-old Lakshmi gets up in the middle of the night. Without switching on the light, she tiptoes carefully from between the 7 others who are sleeping in the living room and 4 in the adjacent bed-room. She goes to the kitchen and pops a painkiller. She wistfully looks outside the window at the lights in the buildings and stores even in the middle of the night.

She leaves home earlier than usual today. She has taken up work in two more houses.

As she walks grudgingly and talks with her son on the phone, she keeps looking at the screen. It is the first day of school for her second grandson and her son has sent her pics of his son in the school-uniform. Tears and beads of sweat are mingling and falling on Lakshmi’s wrinkled cheeks at the same time. Her voice shakes as she expresses her joy on looking at the pics.

“Amma, before going to school--the elder one has told me to tell you to send for him a Tab or he won’ t go to school”.

She replies vaguely and disconnects the call, even as a flood-gate of memories fling open and she recalls: her own son was four-years-old and a week after he was enrolled in a school, she had left home to work as a domestic help in Kuwait. She had missed all of her two kids’ schooling altogether. She had not once gone to drop them to school or fetch them.

From that first journey onwards to Kuwait 37 years ago, till that day when her second grandson was going to go to school, Lakshmi had gone home about eight times only. Her last visit was seven years ago. She had not yet seen her son’s two kids.

Every time her cell-phone rang, it gave her a start. She knew that either a crisis or a happy pic awaited her as she took the call. The daily video calls sometimes made it all easy to be a part of her loved ones’ daily lives and often, made it all so difficult to bear the pain and longing.

She often wondered if her elusive and distant husband ever remembered her or longed for her. He used to excitedly talk with her for the first 3-4 years after she left home. They used to longingly wait for an occasional ISD call whenever possible, while their pucca one-storeyed house was being constructed. Thereafter, he had stopped working or earning and avoided talking with her much.

Every day, she spoke with her kids, but the talks were all about the sudden expenses or issues that kept cropping up almost every other day: either someone was sick or hurt or prices of essentials had gone up or a house-repair had to be urgently made or a relative was dead and a funeral had to be arranged or birthday celebration of a grand-kid was on the cards or a new mobile needed or a two-wheeler was to be bought…

Cut!

Scene 4

“Madam, I have decided. I will not renew my iqama (visa) after this coming December and am going to leave Kuwait and go to India for good. My knees now hurt a lot. I walk with such great effort from one house to the other, day after day”, and saying so---she burst into tears. Her Madam brought a glass of water for her, made her sit down and comforted her. In between her sobs, Lakshmi showed the pics of her grandson clad in the school uniform to her Madam.

“I have not seen them once. I want to take them to school and then go to fetch them too, before it is too late and I can’t walk at all…”

Dr.
Dr. Navniit Gandhi is an academic, writer, author and a trainer/counsellor. Her write-ups can be read at navniitspeaks.wordpress.com
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NikeyMel
Tuesday, September 6, 2022
So true and heartbreaking..

Soja Banu
Monday, September 5, 2022
I see my househelp Aruna in this article. In fact it is the story of so many like her who work as part-time domestic help after stamping their visa from a Kuwait sponsor. All their life is spent running from one house to another earning pittance to send their folks back home, manage expenses here and then to repay the loan taken for visa. Sometimes I am in awe of Aruna''s financial management prowess. She has a plan in place of repaying her loans, educating her children, building a house...
Most of them spend all their youth slogging to take care of their family, unable to meet their loved ones for years. They miss out on the important milestones in their children''s lives, but take it in their stride. Sadly many of them end up disowned by the family once their earning capacity diminishes. Hope the protagonist (and others like her) don''t meet that fate. Thank you Ma''am for highlighting the plight of so many women-young and old- we see briskly walking in scorching sun to reach "Madam''s house" on time, as we sit in the comforts of our air-conditioned cars.

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