*Kalyani, who occasionally comes over to help me with cleaning, always looks as if she is just an inch away from bursting into laughter. And despite having known her for just a few days, we have shared quite a few laughs.
Like the time when she recounted how, after she cleaned a bathroom, the owner was so overwhelmed that he kept marveling at how she managed to make it sparkle like that. “I told him it’s all about experience – like any other job!” And bursts out laughing.
Did I say that her laughter is infectious? Well, it is.
“Twenty-seven years of cleaning experience, madam. No small thing, is it?” I nod in agreement.
Kalyani is thirty-seven – started working at ten, madam! – and a proud mother to her 21-year-old college-going son.
“What!?” I must have heard wrong. “How old were you when you had him then?”
“Seventeen, madam. The nurses who attended to my delivery threatened to complain to the police for marrying off a minor,” she laughs again. I can’t.
“So at what age did you get married? Sixteen?”
She shakes her head slowly. “Fourteen.” To a man twice her age.
Her father was an alcoholic, and an abusive one at that. The mother had to marry off the daughters early for their own well-being.
“And your husband? Is he in India?”
“He died. Brain tumor, madam.”
“I was twenty-one when he died.”
Married at fourteen, a mother at seventeen, and widowed by twenty-one.
“I couldn’t sleep for six months…” She stops smiling. “Kept thinking about — Things… That affected my health…”
After that, she continued working in houses, earning money to send her son to school. “My husband’s last wish was that. Neither you nor I could study, Kalyani. But you send our son to school. Give him a good education. But when he reached higher classes, I needed more money to pay his fees and all that.”
There were people ready to marry her, of course. One of them asked her how much money her late husband had left her. “I threw him out of the house! And then I thought, it’s better if I just take care of my son, madam. Live my life as Kannayya’s wife, you understand?”
Somebody advised her that working abroad will fetch her more money, so she got herself a passport and entered the country through an agency that provides cleaning staff to companies.
The agency still takes two-thirds of her salary as their commission, and gives her the rest.
“But why can’t you request your company to give you a visa? That way you don’t have to pay the agency!”
“They would have given me if I had completed tenth grade, Madam. But I got married when I was in eighth. And did not study after that.”
Kalyani’s son is now studying to be an aviation mechanical engineer. “He’s very good, madam. Passed his 10th grade with 94% marks! Plays the drums, guitar… O-grades in art, and a state level athlete.” She beams with pride.
“Two more years for him to complete his studies. I will hold on, somehow. After that, once he has a good job, I will go back. Then I won’t have to work… He will get married… And I will just look after my grandchildren…”
Her wide eyes are dreamy. Mine are moist.
Kalyani, here’s my heartfelt Mother’s Day wishes: May all your dreams come true! Every single one of them.
*Name changed for obvious reasons.
Image courtesy Google