Thursday, November 17, 2005


Lakshmamma has been around ever since I can remember. She was here when ha-dadu and Madge didi were here. She was here when ma wanted to clean up the yard for her school's playground. She was here whenever a snake was spotted. She was with us when we moved next door. She'd come over to help make luchis whenever I called friends over.

Her eyes crinkle in a smile whenever we open the door for her. And everytime I say Thank you Lakshmi she says right back Thank you, Somi-ma with crinkly eyes and a bright flower stuck jauntily in her bun.

She once said that she was never afraid of coming to work at our place because she belongs to a caste that doesn't fear snakes. Earlier, trees surrounded our entire compound. The winding mud road that made its way back to the house was enough security for our family. The rumours that the place was haunted also seemed to help. But Lakshmi would come to help clean up whenever she was called, balancing a big pile of twigs on her head when she left.

Ma told me that Lakshmi's twenty-year-old son died in the hospital the other day. He had a reputation for spending his mother's money on alcohol.
'But why do you give it to him?' we'd ask her.
'He gets very angry. What to do, he's my son,' she'd say simply, smiling it off as a childish whim.
Finally, he succumbed to the illness that had eaten him up from inside.

I couldn't understand why Lakshmi was doing what she was. To work at so many houses everyday, just to earn more, knowing that most of her earnings would be spent on liquor.
Then I heard that her daughter committed suicide. Long ago.
And her husband had left her.
And it was just her and her alcoholic son.

And ma somehow understood that keeping her son happy was important to Lakshmi.
And Lakshmi did everything she could to keep their small household from falling apart.
Whenever I handed her some freshly baked cake, she'd wrap it up and take it home to share- even the extra portions that I'd insist she eat in front of me. She'd just take a bigger packet when we weren't looking.

She indulged him. She left him alone. She'd scold him, but keep food ready for him whenever he chose to come home. She watched over him when he was in the hospital. She saw him in excruciating pain. And watched him die.

I want to cry now.