16th August, Thursday
"Suraj abhi tak nahin aayi,"(the sun hasn't come as yet) said 'M.'
"Isn't 'suraj' masculine gender and shouldn't it be 'suraj nahin nikla aaj'?(the sun hasn't risen today) I said showing off my very limited knowledge of Hindi.
My friend 'M' laughed and told me that she was referring to her domestic help named Suraj, hence the feminine gender in the verb 'aayi.'
Suraj is a Hindi word and it means sun. We have a Suraj bringing in her sunny disposition everyday into the house. She's talkative, ever ready to help and she has an opinion about everything and doesn't keep it to herself. But she's not arrogant or obnoxious in her candour. It's just the way the local working class people are in this city. They are simple and uncomplicated. They have no compunctions in expressing whatever they feel and social etiquette as we know it does not exist for them.
So I met Suraj for the first time the day I arrived. She gave me the once-over. Staring isn't taboo for her and neither is eavesdropping, if she's within hearing distance. There was no conversation between us and that was normal for me, as my domestic help doesn't make small talk with my guests and that is the norm in our parts. However that wasn't the reason for Suraj's silence. Two days later, she decided to break the ice!
It was Janamashtami. This is a major Hindu festival which celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. Usually the womenfolk observe a fast and eat one meal which doesn't have onions, garlic and common table salt. They use rock salt in food during fasts.
I was comfortably ensconced on a sofa in the sitting room, lost in a book and oblivious to the preparations going on for the day. A voice broke into my cocoon of silence.
"Vrat rakha kya?" (Are you fasting?) I looked up to see a pretty Rajput face smiling at me. Suraj had decided to speak!
"Nahin" (No) was my brief reply. She mulled over this a moment.
"Vrat rakhte nahin kya?" (You don't fast at all?) I heard the surprise in her voice.
"Nahin," another brief reply. She thought over this a bit longer.
"Teej ka vrat toh karte hoge" (you must be fasting on Teej) Teej is another major festival in Rajasthan.
Another short negative reply bombed her this time. She shut up. She walked away leaving me amused by her expressions and mannerisms. If I thought that was the end of discussions on the topic of fasting, I had another thought coming.
Later that evening while my friend's daughter and I were salivating over some hot snacks and going yummmm, our friend Suraj walked up to me and said, "Bhooke nahin reh sakte ho, par mandir toh jao," (If you can't stay hungry, at least you can go to the temple) and she walked away leaving us in splits. She must think I'm the biggest atheist in town. What a tiny world she lives in! However, I was not offended by her bluntness, she was genuinely flummoxed by my apparent disregard for God.
Today I was alone at home,the others were out seeing to various jobs. So it was just Suraj and I. She had observed many things since my arrival and was aware that I have a problem with stairs and generally avoid them when I can. But today she wanted me to have a look at the wooden floor in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Due to the wet weather it had swollen up in parts and she found it odd. I refused to budge. She wouldn't take a no. She held my hand and coaxed me to climb two flights of stairs as slowly as was comfortable for me! After she showed me what she wanted to show, and said all that she had to say about wooden flooring, she guided me down slowly, gently and full of concern for my condition. I knew that she would soon have something to say about my knees and my back and my general health. What I didn't know was how soon! I had barely seated myself on a chair and she started.
"Aastha jante ho?"(Do you know about Aastha?)
"Haan, TV par dekha hai" (Yes, I've seen it on TV) I thought she was referring to one of the channels on TV.
"TV par bhi aa gaya!!" (It's on TV too) she sounded amazed. Then she added, "Aap wahan gaye kya?" (Have you been there?)
"Kahan?"(where?) was my monosyllabic reply
"Aastha. Ghar ke peeche hi hai."(Aastha. It's right behind the house)
I knew we were talking about two different things. But I kept quiet and didn't respond. She carried on, undeterred by my reluctance to continue the conversation.
"Ek jagah hai. Buddhe log rahte hain" (It's a place where old men and women stay)
"Achcha, par mere ko kyun bata rahe ho" (okay but why are you telling me this?)
"Achchi jagah hai. Kaam waale rakhein hain safai ke liye, khaana banane, kapde dhone, press karne. Doctor bhi aate hain. Bahut achchi jagah hai. Guard bhi hain...subah, shaam"
(It's a nice place. They have workers to keep the place clean, cook food, do the laundry and ironing. Doctors visit regularly. It's a very nice place. They even have guards at the gate...morning and evening)
I maintained my silence.
"Ek baar dekh kar aao. Badhiya jagah hai buddhon ke liye. Bachhe nahin rakhte hain toh yeh log yahan aate hain. Kabhi apna koi nahin hota toh yeh jagah sahi hai."
(Go and see it once at least. It's a great place for oldies. When children don't look after their old parents they come here. If one has no relatives it's the right place to come to)
Finally I got it. Her concern for me was touching though ill-placed. I assured her I had no interest in visiting Aastha and I'd take her word that it was an ideal place for oldies....but I didn't qualify as one right now, and by God's grace I had children who looked after me! This seemed to make her happy and she smiled a broad smile and went into the kitchen. I was off the hook and relaxed, but not for long. She popped her head out the door and asked, "Ramdevda mela dekha kya? Main aapko le jaoongi" (Have you been to the Ramdev fair. I'll take you there)
"NAHIN, nahin jaana hai" (NO, no I don't want to go) I said rather firmly emphasizing the 'no' as much as I could. She gave up without a fight.
So even though the skies remain overcast, we have our Suraj everyday...sunny, warm and caring in her own way!