It was a grey winter night. I had been at home for my vacations and was curled up on bed with a book. As the night proceeded, the house became animated with the aroma of dinner being prepared, the sound of television and closer to the bedroom with the songs of a lone bird or two making their way home. This flow was interrupted by the occasional conversations and the sound of utensils being washed that came up from Sompa’s quarters.
Sompa had been our house’s caretaker for long now and she stays in her quarters with her three children. She is separated from her chronically alcoholic husband and apart from what she made at our home, she lives off doing humble jobs in the neighbourhood. She is the most cheerful woman that I have ever met till date. Raising three children single handed, with no security as to from where the added money would come from along with the fact that her husband never cared was a huge burden to bear. But this is one woman that I know who breezed through her days. Sometimes, the only laughter that you would hear in the neighborhood was hers. She made our home a base where all her basic needs of life were taken care of and rose every day with an unending enthusiasm and lust for life. After completing her chores at our home she often ventured out to work in the neighborhood homes for extra money.
That quiet night had been suddenly pierced by peals of voracious laughter. I was curious and so went out to the kitchen to check out. I saw that Sompa had come over with a plate of freshly made chutney. She seemed to have got an extra bunch of greens from the house where she went to work that day, so she decided to share what she had made with us. When the world is reeling with the selfish motives of people, there are these ones like her who find pleasure only in sharing. It did not matter if that was all that she had. While she came she shared a joke with my mother about something that happened that day. It was something very simple, but evoked immense pleasure and joy in her.
Later after dinner, our family usually sat around a crackling fireplace. It was a ritual that had continued ever since I remember. It was not that heaters were not invented till then, but there is something about the heat that comes from wood fire that is more fulfilling. I loved it more because of the lingering smell of wood fire that stayed on one’s clothes, long after the fire had gone out, like some after taste that lingers after a good meal.
Sompa and sometimes her sleepy kids joined us in this ritual. The conversation between my parents and her rested on how her day had gone, the neighborhood gossip and her children’s well-being. I will never forget the conversation that they had that night. In between conversations Sompa with the most satisfied smile said–
‘We had a grand meal today. The place where I went to work gave me x amount of money and some meat that I can cook at home. This added with the vegetables that I take from the garden made the food so complete. Tomorrow, I don’t know how much I will make or where I will work. Maybe we can fish in your pond tomorrow. But tonight I will sleep well because today had been so good. I will think about tomorrow, tomorrow.’
I could not help but look up at her. She was beaming with gratitude because of the one meal that she could provide a little luxuriously to her three children. Her children who sat by her gave out shy smiles at her while huddling closer to the fire. Although she was free to ask for more than what she received from us, she never did. She believed in getting those extras by herself because she was capable.
Now I stay far away from home, but Sompa still continues to be our house’s caretaker. Her eldest daughter is married with a kid now, her second daughter has found a salaried job in a shop nearby and her son has recently passed his 12th boards and plans on doing engineering. The other day I was feeling overwhelmed about handling all the household chores, writing assignments, etc that kept on piling up every weekend. I was on the verge if a privileged tantrum when my mom called. She gave me the latest updates on Sompa over phone. This was when I realized that I had been behaving so ungrateful.
There are many lessons that are hidden in people’s stories. But I feel, lessons that come from strong women who have unwavering courage and the ability to laugh voraciously in the midst of struggles are the lessons that stay with you. And change you for the better. This is no fairy tale. The other day, while browsing through a magazine I read Nigella Lawson’s life story and was left flabbergasted. Who would have guessed that this woman has so much to face and still managed to remain the Diva of cooking? These are real women who breathe fire. These are women who make destiny their friend by their ability to cling on to hope and joy even when life seems to say a little different story. These are women who tell you that you have the ability to not only survive but also thrive, all because you are a woman!