Inspired by her friends, my mother started a new tradition in our home last night – she invited the family of our maid, Madina to come to our home for dinner. Earlier, she had sent dad and me to buy all the groceries to prepare some special food for our guests. We all ate together and had a lovely conversation as well.
This is the first time we have ever done anything like this in our family. It felt surreal to see Madina’s whole family sitting on our couch and eating with us on our dining table. This was especially significant for me as I remember having bitter arguments with my mother as a kid about why our staff couldn’t use the same utensils and furniture as us! It would always end with her crying and me backing down. So you can imagine how amazing it was for me to see my mom organise this Diwali dinner on her own initiative.
It was also a humbling experience for me and made me realise anew what a privileged life we lead. As we spoke to Madina and her family, I learned more about their family and realised some of their struggles.
They bought a small home a couple of years back, but the terms of interest were so high that they now owe back as much money as the value of their property itself. Local moneylenders often exploit the poor in this way. Hence, Madina’s family are now thinking of selling their home as a result. Their elder son could not go to college so he could help pay the loan. He now works late into the night to earn a meagre wage. Madina’s husband is a labourer. Even though one of their sons has an aptitude for computers, but the family is too poor to afford one. The younger son is in the ninth grade but looks tiny for his age. Turns out he almost died of typhoid last year, yet he was smiling the whole evening.
Also present was our other maid, Meena. She lost her husband nine months ago in a car accident. She now works in six houses to support her family. She told me that she makes food for her own kids in the morning, cooks all day in six houses, then returns home to cook dinner for her own family again. On most days, she has no appetite left after being around food the whole day. This brave woman earns Rs25,000 a month through sheer hard work. I’ve never seen her frown or complain. Could it be that the great teachers we are looking for are working in our own homes?
As I drove them home, I realised how far our maid lives. It took us 45 minutes one way in our car. She comes to work via public transport or depends on her husband to drop her. She comes early morning and goes home in the evening. I feel if more people visited the homes of their domestic staff and realised their way of life, they would not be so quick to judge them for being late or for other things.
On our way back home, my mom commented that she had always been invited by Madina for festivals like Eid and the marriage of their daughter. She and dad attended these events to their family’s great delight. Mom said it had never occurred to her that she had never invited their family over to our home! Isn’t it amazing how these poor people have such big hearts? They are certainly not poor in terms of love, generosity and spirit. Mom said she felt content and peaceful after having them over for dinner. It was clear that we received more than we gave last night.
It looks like this is the beginning of a beautiful new tradition in our family, which I hope will only enhance as time goes on. It touched and opened my heart in many ways. I’ve asked their son to send me specs of the computer he needs and I’m going to see how we can arrange that for him. It doesn’t take much to make a big difference in someone’s life!
When I first shared this post, others chimed in with important inputs on how we can give back to our domestic help. Suggestions included organising health insurance, arranging recreational outings and sponsoring the education of their children.
If you want to help, I have started a crowd funding campaign for Madina.
All photos: Nithya Shanti
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