When You Long For it All...


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Returning from one of those rare evening walks with my husband, I stopped at the elevator as my knees were hurting. As luck would have it, it was on the topmost floor and would take a few minutes to reach us. I was adamant to use the lift even though there were but a few steps to climb so my husband waited with me and took it upon him to read all the notices on the notice board that hung on the left wall; something I hardly ever do for most of the notices are regarding meetings and social evenings, none of which appeals to me.

Presently, he drew my attention to a notice pinned right at the top in bold, capital letters and said, “Your friend.” My interest piqued, I read the short notice and was shocked at its contents.

“Vimla” is what we shall call her to maintain her privacy even though I am completely sure that she would never read this article. Ethics are ethics whether anyone sees it or not!

Nearly two years ago, I shifted into these apartments with my children and was still in the process of settling down hurriedly, since my husband had a few days to spare before returning to his place of duty, when the doorbell rang. I opened it to see a bright young lady with the broadest smile-Vimla. She was slim bordering on thin, clad neatly in a red and yellow saree, blouse matched to perfection, long hair braided which she played with, from time to time. She had a small red bindi (Indian Hindu women wear it on their foreheads more often than not as a sign of matrimony) between her brows and her small eyes were filled with kohl, adding to her beauty. She was twenty two or so. She had a twinkle in her eyes and her broad smile showed neatly arranged teeth that lent to her charm. “Welcome Amma. Aap new hain? Abhi aaya? Main kaam karegi.” (Welcome Amma. Are you new here? Just came? I’ll work for you.) This she said in broken Hindi. I liked her instantly. I was desperate for help as it is and she fit the bill-pleasant disposition and hygienic. She agreed readily to my time schedule and the wages and said she’d start three days later as per my requirement.

She lasted two months of which she actually just worked a month. She had no sense of time and she took leave without intimation very often. In fact, if she lasted that long, it was because I grew immensely fond of her and tried convincing myself she’d improve eventually. When she worked she was good- efficient and clean. She was quite a chatterbox so I took extra effort to make a serious face for I really don’t take any pleasure in knowing what happens in someone else’s house. It was difficult to resist talking at all for she would find something to awaken my interest and lead me from that to something else!

Vimla lied when she could. The only two things I ask from anyone I am hiring are honesty and punctuality. I usually am livid when lied to but this young lady had me in splits. After repeated admonishments, she failed to show up again so I called her. She picked up the phone coughing, “Amma fever (cough, cough) daakter ke paas jaate” (Amma fever, going to the doctor). I don’t know what came upon me but I said impromptu, “I saw you coming in earlier” to which came a reply that shocked me, “Ok Amma, 5 minutes mein aate” (Ok Amma, will be there in 5 minutes). She did reach five minutes later with no trace of a cold or cough leave alone fever! I looked at her for an explanation and saw that she was trying to make something up but my laughter threw her off guard!

Sometimes when I wouldn’t mind if she lied for I really needed a solid excuse for her not turning up yet again she’d be brutally honest, “Baahubali dekhne gaya Amma…super!! Dekhna Amma…verrry good” (Had gone to see Baahubali-a film- super! You must see it…verrry good). I’ve caught her talking to pigeons on the balcony, watching people quarreling on the road, imitating cats and dogs and generally very happy with life. The only time she came sad (heartbroken) was if her husband scolded her. The whole morning would pass without a word.

This childlike woman was a mother of two children aged five and two but she hadn’t really grown. She was just a girl who wanted to live a full life. The other maids in the colony despised her. The maids working for me now, looked down upon her for talking to men who came to work and for laughing loudly while talking over the phone (she loved her phone) for they believed in the prescribed code of conduct for a married woman.

The notice that I read stated that Vimla had been caught for theft and that she had been blacklisted. I was upset. I found out the following day that she had stolen a smart phone nearly a week ago and had continued working for the family she stole from. They had thought their little toddler had misplaced it and expected it to show up from some nook or corner. Meanwhile, our Ms. Vimla couldn’t resist having a smart phone and not use it. She did and got caught red handed. The maids were so happy and went on to tell me that an example had been made out of her on the street where they lived and that everyone knew that she was a thief. I did not comment but I was sad for her.

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Theft is to be condemned at all costs I agree. The offender must be punished without doubt and I am pretty ruthless when I call out a mistake; I do not like silly excuses either. Then why was I so upset? I believe that once the person has admitted to it and been admonished, they should be let off. Blacklisting was okay but why the humiliation? Why not give another chance? The concept in the West to do some hours of service as punishment is a positive step/remedial measure for those who have committed a wrong but not one that makes them a criminal.



Vimla was one happy go lucky woman. The word woman seems too big for her really. She was still a kid. She had a zest for life and wanted it all. She wanted to wear good clothes, watch movies and have fun. Her birth had imposed limitations on her but her mind had not. I remember the time when she bunked work one morning with no intimation, as usual. That evening, as I stood on the balcony, I saw someone waving out at me with a big smile. My jaw dropped open at the audacity. I gestured to her to get closer. She came and asked me how I was!! I asked why she didn’t turn up earlier. She didn’t have anything to say so she said she’d come up right away and she did! That was how she was. She didn’t have to catch my attention but she didn’t think that far. She wanted to have a happy equation with everybody while having a great time herself.
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Women of spirit and of ambition have always had a tough road to tread on. They are not satisfied with their lot and have no way to break free from their situation unless they “sin”. As depicted in Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” or in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and there are so many examples from mythology and real life as well, it is clear that one must toe the line, society has marked for you or else you live a doomed life and die a miserable death. This is true for both men and women, more so for the latter.

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Isn’t it true that tongues wag the minute someone different comes along? A smiling face amongst a room full of serious intellectuals is met with a look of disdain as is a woman with coloured hair and piercings, tattoos and tattered jeans by modestly dressed women! Eyebrows raised at “loud” women who drink and smoke vis-a-vis quiet and “well bred” ladies! Why is it that instead of being inspired by a confident, articulate person, we try find some defect in her/him? The society does not relax unless it brings every one down to the same level. Uniqueness is not appreciated unless it gains fame, unnoticed. Even then, people are waiting to see a sign of weakness to bring someone down. Why are we such insecure beings? Why does someone’s satisfaction unsettle us so? Why can’t we live and let live? I am not in any way glorifying theft or adultery; all I am saying is that we ought to be a bit more humane in dealing with one another, for each of us is struggling to grow to our full potential, no matter where and to which class we are born.

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A year or so from now Vimla’s crime will be forgotten but her need for more will get her to do something else. She will not learn for she does not understand why she cannot have what everyone else does. Then one day, the society will teach her and break her spirit forever; gone will be the laughter and with it the twinkle from her eyes!





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Comments

  1. I love your kind and compassionate spirit, Anu. I don't think I can match up to it (I can be quite stern in my demand for ethics) but I would like to think I wouldn't break anyone's spirit either.
    On a simpler level, I can relate the disciplining of pups to this story. There are feisty critters who will push their luck and test limits. It is all too tempting to come down hard on them. But if treated with compassion and patience, you get much more than an obedient and meek dog. You get an intelligent and spirited friend who will kill or die for you because of the understanding with which you dealt with her...
    I think you should adopt a pup.

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    Replies
    1. You are just as kind and compassionate and I am stern in my demands for ethics too but you have to have the right balance, that's all. And don't talk about dogs and pups- they are something else!!! I just might...<3 <3

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  2. Well written. Your blog rings a bell. The topic in itself walks a very thin line. I too believe in corrective punishments but sometimes I too become a part of the judgemental gang. As they all say, to live is to learn, so maybe someday I learn to live and let live.

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    1. Thank you Dearie...we are all judgemental either in a positive way or a negative way...that's what happens with an analytical brain...we just don't see things as they are...we have to form opinions!! And yet, as long as we try and keep trying, that's what matters!

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