When I first began this blog I wrote about the one woman who had become the centre of my slightly shaky life at that point – Nagu, my domestic help.
A year and three months later, Nagu is dead.
It must be said that I have been very lucky with domestic help. With one exception, all those who have come to me have been nothing short of a blessing. Be it Darshana Didi who used to bring me Bombay duck curry if she made it at home and lay it out with rice, spoon, and papad by the time I got back from work. Or my Saraswati who would not ask me one rupee in a salary advance even if it was three days short of pay day; even if it meant she had to get the urgently-needed money from a money lender at exorbitant rates.
But no one won my heart more than taut, sprightly little Nagu did. She’d work with a fervor that I have never known when I work. She’d take care of every detail in my house – whether it was cleaning the window grills or the twisty-twirly wrought iron thingies on the banisters; whether it was cooking a nutritious meal for me when I was pregnant so I’d have enough milk when the baby came or climbing all kinds of odd corners to find things I had stored and long forgotten.
I remember her when she first came to me. Her hindi was comical at best. She actually told me at one point early on. “Akka, aapka aadmi mar gaya.” Needless to say I was torn between laughter and shock because I knew Mathew was hale and hearty in Bombay. It struck me later on that she confused ‘apna’ and aapka’. What she, then, meant to say was her husband had died. My heart went out to her. Sincere to the last finger nail and a widow at 32 with a 9 year old girl who was already way ahead on the road to precocity. When she told me her husband was a Nepali – it was he who taught her to make fantastic atta for phulkas – I made sure to ask if she had seen his body and if she had done his last rites and everything. Because there are so many Nepali men who desert their women as soon as they’re done with them. She assured me all was in order. It turned out that her husband wasn’t dead and that he had run away when their daughter was 9 months. But she prefers to call him dead because to her she is, her mother told us after Nagu was gone.
Three months before Shyama, my daughter, was born, Nagu came to me with a bad throat and a fever that would last one day and appear three days later. I thought she was just getting lazy when she started taking too many days off for fevers. I don’t know too many kinds of fever that disappear in a day. But I didn’t pay too much attention because there wasn’t too much to do around the house then.
In two months when her chest and throat were still aching we sent her in for a thorough check up. She was diagnosed with throat cancer. The saddest part was when the doctor told us it was caused due to malnutrition.
A lot happened for the next two months with her family saying radiation wasn’t a good idea and us insisting she should go for it. Well, suffice to say two months of utter confusion followed and one fine day, Nagu lost her voice. It broke my heart to hear her hoarse whisper on the phone telling me she was laid up. The next thing I knew was she was taken to the hospital and her sister called to say if we want to see her we should go now because the doctors had given her a couple of hours to live.
She lasted a week and the last thing she said to me was to take the baby away from her house because there were too many people there and she might get ill. After we left her house, she is said to have told her mother that she wanted to get well quickly and return to work for us. At that I remember her telling me six months into her employment with me, “Akka, even if you move away I will come there and work. Akka, I will work with you till I die.” Those words were strangely self-fulfilling.
Be happy, Nagu. I for one miss you something terrible.