“Had I seen those two <bleep> guys, I would have taken my slippers and beaten them black and blue for doing this to you! Since you were a child, I’ve seen you grow in front of my eyes! Look how they’ve hurt you! I curse them! Oh how much badly did you suffer my child!” Govindamma held my face and did a small gesture symbolizing the removal of any evil eyes that were presumably cast on me! She had come yesterday evening on her usual rounds to give flowers.
Govindamma is our florist. She has been giving flowers to our house ever since I remember moving to Padmanabhanagar. She has indeed seen me grow from a lad of 14 years to the mammoth I am now! As she held her squinted eye brimming with tears, I could sense the unadulterated concern she had about my accident. I remember her suffering a fracture and how mom had helped her with some finances time and again. Even a couple of hundred rupees, given to her, would elicit long lasting gratitude. There have been countless evenings when she’d finish distributing flowers to all the houses and finally come to our house and spend some time with mom – exchanging stories (mainly complaining about her worthless son but loving daughter-in-law). Invariably mom would complain about how far strung the flowers are, and she’d fake an angry remark, saying, that she had preserved the best only for our house! I’d either be sitting near my mom or between them, playing with her huge round bamboo basket.
It seems to me that she had already reached her maximum age, and couldn’t get any older! Govindamma, has remained the same, perhaps a tad thinner now, but it seems as though her age has a pause button! She now brings the flowers in a plastic bag, instead of the huge basket. “I can’t carry it like I used to my boy!” she quips, if I ask about it. Apparently its been passed on to the third generation – her grandson uses it now! On the days that Govindamma doesn’t show up, its her grandson who delivers the flowers to us. Her grey hair is the only testimony for her age, for she doesn’t know how old she really is! I smiled at her concern, and gave her the money that was due. She received and asked mom if she needed flowers for the day – “It’s fresh jasmine and I’ve saved the best for you!” she yelled from the gate. Mom replied that she didn’t want it that day. “What a woman! It’s friday evening, ask her to wear the flowers! It’s always auspicious for a sumangali” she told me as she cut a length of the strung jasmine flowers and handed it to me. I asked how much it costs and she said, “I am giving it! It’s evening time, ask your mom to wear it! I don’t need money for this!’ and once again asking me to be careful she went her way.
When people talk about how the globalization kills the local vendors and brings in a destructive competition that the local vendors can’t match up to, I am always reminded of people like Govindamma. Her association with people wasn’t merely commercial. She went beyond and established a personal contact and relationship with her ‘clients’. Though it wasn’t about sharing personal issues or concerns, there was an inherent trust that was built and sustained through out. Govindamma may probably be amongst the few vendors who are not mere vendors but an aspect of a social relationship that is built in an economic environment that is governed by humane values instead of the monetary profits alone.
Some of my most fond memories of childhood are related to being with Jayakka. Jayakka was our maid, cum my aaya, cum my playmate cum my ‘transport co-ordinator’! 😉 She was incharge of getting me to the school and back. Jayakka was basically a tamilian but spoke fluent kannada, & telugu like most of the maids in Bangalore. Her chores in our house began with finishing some basic cleaning, and then dropping me off to the school. She’d pick me up and bring me back and later on continue with some other chores. After her afternoon meals and a cup of strong coffee, she’d then return to her house. On certain days she would be accompanied by her daughter Jyothi, and those were the best, because I used to get a playmate! I remember an incident where I happened to slip into a drum filled with water while trying some gymnastic moves in the backyard of the house. Thankfully, Jayakka who was washing the clothes nearby rushed and pulled me out, giving an already wet child a complete water down! When she got angry, her decibels could make the loudspeaker run for cover! I was ever guarded after that! Jayakka probably dropped me to school and brought me back till the time that I got to 3rd standard. What was impressive was that, all through that time, she used to always carry me! I cannot figure out the amount of strength her figure may have had. The cynosure of her eyes was her son Igesan. He was a resourceful lad. He was always against his mom working as a maid but since there was no other way to sustain the familiy, he had resigned to the inevitable – atleast for the time being. With a sole purpose of enabling himself to earn enough, he pursued his studies very well and eventually was able to land a good job. The most happiest moment in Jayakka’s life was when Igesan landed a well paying job as a medical representative. She came to our new house in Padmanabhanagar with sweets, and informed that she doesn’t have to do work as a maid anymore as her son is taking care of the family now. Jayakka had to part ways from our family when we moved to our new house. What was endearing was that, till the time that mom was able to find a new maid, Jayakka used to travel all the way from Rajajinagar to Padmanabhanagar to help mom with the chores. And one thing I can never forget was the fact that she used to bring a “kiss me” toffee bar whenever she used to visit us. She’d lovingly sit me on her lap (even as I squirmed awkwardly) and give me the chocolate watching the happy glow on my face. It was Jayakka who had bought me my first kite (she got scolded by mom so much for pampering me! 😛 ).
Jayakka and Govindamma together represent a class of vendors/service providers that are a vanishing race in the present times. Their motive went beyond monetary interests. They knew that the benefit of money is assured once they establish the trust with their customers. And trust was something that was built over a period of time by rendering timely and quality service. Both Govindamma and Jayakka were watchful of their quality. Irrespective of how much my mom may contend with them, she would always remark that they were amongst the best florists and maids she had. Her faithfulness with Govindamma is so strong that on those days when Govindamma may not come on her rounds, my mom goes to the place where she sits and buys the flowers from her. When Jayakka wouldn’t come home due to sickness, I remember mom sending me to check on her health! This mutual bonding of a service beneficiary and a provider is getting severely dented as financial benefits super cede the humane qualities required to underline the connection. With a change in the economic currents, appreciating values of every commodity from vegetables to real estate, the agonies of the serving class is only mounting leading them to take on more than they can handle. This clearly impacts the quality of work which in turn leads to a strained relationship between the households and the serving communities. Unless there is a balance that can be developed between the financial benefits and the quality of service, there’ll be a persistent tug of war. Probably its to their advantage that Govindamma and Jayakka represent a class of people who are having to experience this change of air towards the end of their lives. But what’s tragic to me is that some of us, who had experienced the best, may have to resign ourselves to the mediocrity that may be served in the coming days.