Joanna Lawson: Many roles of women prove feminine genuis is alive and well in India

12 Mar 2008

By The Record

Along the way back home from Hill Road in Bandra, dodging rickshaws (who seem intent on using pedestrians as obstacle practice), I spotted Anita, my aunt’s housekeeper, always so immaculately dressed in a colourful sari and her black hair combed neatly into a perfect bun. “Hi Anita, how are you?”

Hard yakka: Along the road on the way home from Bandra during her mission work in India, Joanna dodged some determined rickshaw pullers like this one. Photo: Joanna Lawson

“Fine baby, thankyou.” She looked in a rush so I bade her goodbye, we parted ways and I expected to see her later on in the day.
Twenty minutes later, sitting at home and enjoying a cup of tea, the
key turned in the door, and Anita popped her head around. “Ah baby is
Aunty at home?” she asked, and my Aunt, busy pottering in the kitchen,
called her in. Anita wanted to start work a little early so she could
finish and take care of some matters in her own home. She set to work
and I noticed she’d changed saris and had combed her hair again.
The situation at home meant that sometimes Anita has to do her jobs
(she is houskeeper for eight families) every day, and then take care of
her own household in the evenings. Living in a joint family is
traditional in India, where the families of all the sons born to a
couple live together, and the grandparents are heads of the household.
Anita therefore lives in a family of 18, and she has the responsibility
to wash the dishes after breakfast, lunch and dinner. When a sister in
law gets sick, she takes on the further responsibility, and has to
still get her paid work done. How she had time to change her outfit was
a mystery. I asked her what her day was like, amazed that the fabric of
the time/space continuum did not have a tear in it to allow for  such a
lot of work to get done in one day…
“Well, I have to get up at five in the morning, take a bath and then
get breakfast ready for everyone. My sisters will help my daughter get
ready for school so at least that is something I don’t have to worry
about,” she said, while pummelling some clothes to eradicate any trace
of dirt from their fibres. “Then I go and do three of my houses, and
then go home to do the lunch dishes, and of course eat lunch myself.”
She giggled a little mischievously, probably feeling a little
irresponsible at not having a hand in the preparation for the lunch.
“Then, the rest of my outside work gets done, and you know I come here
last in the evening, before I go home and have some dinner, see that my
daughter has studied and clean the dishes up.” That’s washing up duty,
every day, for 18 people, while doing the dusting, mopping, dishes and
washing of eight other families. And she has a smile on her face  while
narrating the story.
“Wow Anita, I can’t believe you do so much,” I said, looking at her now
as if she were superwoman. She probably can’t believe I do so little.
It’s just the way life is for some people, and she is lucky to have her
large family to help her raise her daughter, especially since she was
widowed a year ago. For her, a regular income is a blessing, and being
up from five till midnight is a matter of fact.
“But why did you change your sari today?” I asked her. She looked a
little puzzled. “Oh, that was my twin sister you saw. She was a little
late for work today.” And what work is that? A computer programmer. Two
women, looking identical, even answering to each other’s names, with
such different lives. How does it happen? Only God knows.
We made our way to Santhome Basilica which is built directly over the
saint’s tomb, and we descended the stairs to pay our respects and to
pray to this man chosen in a special way by Jesus to carry on His
Church.Carrying our precious package of intentions written out by
friends, family and fellow parishioners, we offered up the petitions
for his intercession. Saint Thomas, a man who brought Christianity to
India and made it a cradle of the faith in the world, now lies quietly
under a marble block. But he continues his work by inspiring those who
are lost, afraid and doubtful to stay close to Jesus and find their way
back to faith, the Church and the life that comes with it.
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