If loyalty, trust, and concern can take a physical form, it would be the person I’m about to write and share with you. It involves one long dutiful journey of our custodian and nanny. And we used to call her Kumari, and she never revealed her full name until today. She is a simple, modest, very careful in using her words. I often found the collected and self-controlled manner of her going about involving herself in her duties in our home stretching an emotional thirty years long pilgrimage involving the lives and passage of my father, mother, and my dear wife!. And Kumari was the invisible expertise in ‘home- caretaking’ and culinary art.
My father was a demanding kind, rather impatient and quick to utter a harsh word if things weren’t going in an orderly manner. He was the person who expects works to happen then and there. Inconvenience and time of the day were not his considerations; his peculiar ways kept most of the teachers who are working under him on edge most of the time. However, his academic demands had learning prospects in it, sensibly; all teachers’ realizing his methods as learning tools; he was more revered than feared.
Kumari played a role of an envoy-to announce, after serving his cup of morning coffee, what was my dad’s level of temperament for the day. She alerted us to be prepared to any barrage of unexpected outburst; thus all of us are prepared and mercifully felt less ‘hurt’ for the day. Her role was to keep the office and serve cups of hot coffee to my father and relay bits and pieces of his moods when he was in the office.
Her benign services, after my dad’s sudden death then shifted to my ailing, mother who most of the time confined to bed. If my father was demanding, then mom was impossible to please. My mom has a way of irritating anyone whoever stands within her kitchen boundaries. Kumari was now promoted to assist my mom in her kitchen chores. Mom was a typical iterative gossiper, with no particular target, intention, or a purpose. Her voice was loud and intimidating making often known, to whoever is around that she wields some clout as head of the family.
Kumari was smart enough to please my mother, withstanding any biting remarks, or insulting barbs. Two rooms away from where my mom stays I started making my little family. My daughter and son in their early years and my wife and I are busily engaged with school administrative tasks. Caring for my two kids was also entrusted to her. And with no murmur of objection, I would see her coming as early as seven in the morning and not wasting a moment; she gets down tending my little ones first with bath and dress followed by breakfast and then walks them to the school bus.
Fifteen years later, she was tearfully there to witness the second death in my family – my mother. No sooner putting behind the memories of my father and mother she seamlessly had found herself assisting my wife in her regular home and office tasks. I find my two young ones now as nagging and demanding teenagers, but one aspect of her never altered; her affectionate care and concern that made its impressions in the smooth flow of everyday routines. It’s almost twenty years since she started being a silent member of my family. Whatever are the family affairs that would make an impact: a painful twist or a happy spin she would always stand with an obliging stance with dark watery eyes a little away from my wife being handy to take in any instruction?
Honestly, matter-of-factly, when I look back into my attitude, I keep wondering, “Did I maintain the same courtesy towards her?” when she was providing to my parents. The answer would be “perhaps, not.” Maybe, I’m ignorantly young; possibly not too sensible to understand her indispensable ‘helpful hand’ she was to our family. For sure, I have not endorsed her ways back then the way I’m lauding and appraising her today. The significance of her unblemished dutifulness for three decades towards my family only became repentantly apparent when an unendurable, devastating tragedy struck me!
My wife was swallowed by ruthless, merciless disease – cancer. Although it made its appearance six years back; hectic, desperate treatments, therapies – chemo, radiation, strong doses of medicines were prescribed. For five years situation seemed under control and things started looking hopeful, and nothing appeared to my wife or me as a life-threatening alarm to be urgently handled.
One casual visit for a persistent, irritating cough, subsequent reports and scans revealed the enormity; the rapidness and devastating diffusion the treacherous disease went on building in my wife’s body. The doctors’ prognosis, “she can hardly make it for next six months” the words crashed into me like a tidal wave, and in one tiny second my life tumbled into an irreversible descent to deafening emptiness.
Mani, my wife was confined to bed and mobility was in a wheelchair. Kumari once again stepped into her angelic role. For about eighteen months she held the complete responsibility of her movements, her little ‘walks’ along our long open corridor, bathing, feeding, facilitating her visits to the toilets, physically lifting her onto the wheelchair and back to her bed. She coordinated like clockwork with the nurses appointed to provide medical supervision. Whenever it is required, Kumari’s sixty-one years old fragile, yet dedicatedly willing hands were the quickest to guide an alert grip around my wife’s withering body.
As fate would dictate its prescriptions and expiry dates, my wife lost her stubborn battle for eighteen months with the deadly malady.
My children, friends, and relatives started whispering about my imminent hermitic subsistence! I too had apprehensions would Kumari willingly give away her largesse in the absence of my wife whom she adored so dearly. Does she have enough toleration to maintain that sentimental poise in a house as she is bound for more than three decades besides intimately attached to my wife?
It’s now seven months that my wife took her last breath but like as if she has made a whispering farewell to her “take care of my husband as you took care of my children and me.” Today, looking after me, sixty-two-year-old Kumari is as dutiful to me as she was to my parents and my beloved wife. Blessedly, a guardian angel is staying in our home.