God - Kindred spirits
by Shivi Verma
When I first ventured into spirituality, I felt I was unique.
I was appointed as a reporter in a new city, with no staff or infrastructure to support me and I was expected to file stories every day. I still remember the miracles that unfolded every day to help me get elusive contacts or that crucial piece of information that I so badly needed to stay on the job.
I needed the soochna digdarshika (telephone directory of top government officials and politicians) and no other journalist would share it with me. Miraculously, the bureau chief of a local daily handed it to me, as I sat praying fervently for it!
I soon realised that many things happened between the devotee and the Almighty and only those who experience grace recognise it.
Time rolled on and I got married. My husband gave no credence to my ‘miracle’ stories.
Alone in a new city, I started off gingerly to don the mantle of a homemaker.
I needed a domestic help. Urmila the maid, was a typical Marathi help, practical and no-nonsense. I must admit I was slightly intimidated. What if I could not handle her?
“Do you eat meat and eggs?” was the first question she asked.
I replied in the negative.
“Then it is okay. I don’t work in homes where they cook non-vegetarian food.”
“I shall take two days off every month,” she announced.
I nodded in agreement.
She was fast, punctual and spoke very little.
Initially, when she would sweep and swab the bedroom floor, I would try to be present there on some or the other pretext. There were valuables in my drawers and cupboards and what if...?
Mobile phones, watches, and keys were always lying in the open and I wanted to be cautious.
One day, in order to make payments to the milkman I left my purse with lots of cash inside, open on the bed in a hurry. By the time I remembered it, she had cleaned the room and was busy sweeping the next one. On my return, I found my money intact. Not even air seemed to have passed through the room.
On another occasion, my husband forgot to pick up the thick wad of cash he had left on the table, while he was having his breakfast. By the time he remembered, she was done with her work and had left. We found the cash lying in the state it had been left.
This was not unusual. I had come across housemaids who were honest with the owner’s valuables. Many helped trace misplaced gold jewellery. But still there was an air of integrity about Urmila that I had not seen in other maids. Though they would never touch anything that was expensive, they would happily make away with things that they considered insignificant like safety pins, hairclips, empty bottles and even potatoes and onions.
Urmila’s conduct was, on the contrary, unimpeachable. Though short in height, she appeared statuesque and carried herself with dignity. She appeared to be deeply seated and fixed in some form of confidence. It was unthinkable for her to touch anything which I had asked her not to.
I never found her asking for advances or going on leave without information. She was even shy about asking for her wages, and when I added to her work, she complied silently, but never asked for additional compensation. I gave her what she truly deserved.
Unlike other servants, I never found her engaging in gossip about other households, and I knew that she did not discuss me or my family either and this made me feel content. Her appearance and countenance were prim and ladylike. She had two sons but had married at an early age and could not have been more than 27. Her saris were always neatly pinned and very properly draped.
I would often give her tea or light refreshments at the end of her work.
There were times she would refuse. “Upwas hai mera,” was her usual reply. She would be fasting on ekadashi, Thursdays, sankashti, Mondays of Shrawan and Navratri.
I told her that too much fasting would make her weak and was no way to please God. “Sai Baba says God is never happy to find his children starving,” I admonished.
“My mother-in-law told me to observe sankashti and ekadashi fasts and I have been doing so since then,” she said. “Later, one of my husband’s friends who is a follower of the Gaudiya Vaishnav sect asked me to fast on ekadashi. ‘Keep one day aside to remember God’, he advised me.”
I did not have a Vaishnav calendar those days, so I depended on her to help me with the important dates. When I asked her how she managed to keep her date with ekadasi, she replied that she took help of the panchang. Was she literate? I was surprised. “I went to school till Std VIII,” she revealed.
“Tell me why do you pray and fast so much? Does it benefit you in any way?”
She smiled and said, “In our community, it is the norm for men to be laid off and get drunk. Some beat up their wives. At least, there is peace in my home. My husband has a steady job and he takes personal interest in the puja.”
She added, “There are other things too that only a devotee understands;” “Once, I organised a puja at my house and I was worried that I would reach late and all the ladies I worked for would be upset with me. The bus came very late to the stop that day and on reaching, I learnt that there were practically no utensils to clean in any house. All the families had gone out the day before to eat out and no meals had been cooked. Not only was I saved from facing the wrath of my employers, I was also able to finish work earlier than I usually do. Is it not God who watched over me that day?”
I could easily relate with her faith. I knew what she was talking about. So, finally, I had a kindred spirit in my maid. She was definitely God-sent, an answer to my prayers and a small proof of His providence.
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