I met wonderful people when I lived in India and many of them are still friends today. Those friendships were vital when I lived so far from home. They formed a network of support which I relied upon; a family away from family.
There was another, very special group of people, who’s direct and daily involvement in my life and the lives of my family members made our time away in a new and unfamiliar place much easier. These were the men and women who worked in and around our villa in Whitefield. The housekeepers, the driver, the gardeners and all the others who played a role in ensuring that things ran smoothly in our home. I am especially thankful for my driver, Siva, and my housekeepers, Mary and Regina, who helped to make India home for my family for four years.
I remember the first time I met Siva Kumar. It was 1:30 am. The sky was dark, the sultry air congested with voices and horns as humans and vehicles jockeyed for position in front of the airport entrance. Drivers were picking up and dropping off what seemed to be hundreds of travelers that early morning in June at the congested HAL airport in Bangalore. The HAL airport was on loan to the city of Bangalore from the Indian Air Force and has now been replaced with a shiny new airport north of the city. But in 2004 it was the only airport in use.
Our Lufthansa flight arrived on time and, after retrieving our bags and going through customs, my husband, myself and our three kids, aged 4 to 11, ventured out into the mosquito laden air of the early morning in search of our driver, a man only my husband knew. Siva emerged from the crowds, a smile as wide as his roundly handsome face, welcoming us and grabbing an armful of bags before heading for our car. Siva maneuvered our vehicle to our new home that late night/early morning, with ease, confidence, and grace. He continued to care for us in the same way for the four ensuing years.
One event in particular stands out in my mind when I think of Siva. This event truly demonstrates his deep care and generosity of spirit. My youngest son, then only 5 years old, left after school on the bus one afternoon, per usual. His brother and sister stayed later for after school events. They returned home with Siva but my youngest was stuck on the bus in what became a 5 hour ordeal. There had been a strike or bandh that day in the area. I don’t remember the issue that caused the upheaval, but the protesters had blocked roads, making it impossible for the school busses to take their usual route through a local village. We were unaware of the problem when my son started for home on the school bus.
After dropping my two oldest children off at home, Siva set off to find my little boy and bring him home. He located the busses, stuck in a long line, unable to move. My driver parked our car, walked a kilometer to the bus where my son waited, frightened and hungry, and when he found him, Siva carried him back to the car. He also brought several neighbor children home with him. My husband and I were very thankful, as was our son. In a bandh, foreigners are wise to stay clear of the protest. Siva knew that my husband and I couldn’t get in the fray or we risked being harmed. The school had advised all parents to stay home and wait. And, while our son was never in any danger, Siva also understood, as a father himself, that we wanted our boy home. His act of kindness is one I’ve never forgotten.
My first housekeeper was a woman named Mary. It is customary to have house help in India and, after years of taking care of my home, I was ready to give this a try. My husband hired Mary before I arrived and when I got there she was in control. While this sometimes caused conflict for me, it also helped me immensely. I didn’t speak Kannada, the language of the region. And I didn’t understand how things worked in India. Mary liaised with the gardeners and salespeople. She gave orders to the refrigerator repairman, the electricians, and the men measuring and hanging my curtains. Mary cooked, cleaned, spoke and wrote English, and organized my house with ease and efficiency. She was a whirlwind, a bit overwhelming, but very helpful. I would not have adjusted as easily into my new life without a strong woman like Mary to look after my children and me. She was like a mother and a stern school mistress. And eventually, as I grew stronger, it was time for her to move to another family. And time for me to take back the reigns of control in my own home. We parted friends, and whenever we met I was happy to see her, happy to know that all was well with her. And grateful for the solid start she gave to me in my adopted country.
Regina replaced Mary during my second year in Bangalore. Where Mary was hard, Regina was soft. Where Mary was forceful, Regina was hesitant. At first, the very differences between the women made the adjustment difficult. Ultimately, however, Regina grew into her role as housekeeper. She learned to trust herself. Together she and I created a cookbook of western dishes adapted to Indian ingredients for her to use for my family and later, when she moved on to a new family. We made lists and schedules and she learned how to run a house. There was another, part-time lady who came in to assist in the housekeeping. Regina learned how to be in charge yet she was always kinds. I never heard her raise her voice. But I did see her stand a little taller as she learned to assert her power and become a leader. Regina not only cared for my family, she cared for her two children and her elderly parents. She managed all of this even when her husband left her. And she did it with grace.
I learned a lot about grace, about patience, and about kindness from the people in my daily life. There were days it was difficult for me to be patient while living in India. Days when the very differences that made the time overseas so thrilling became burdens. Days when I just wanted to cry, or go home. Days when the power went out right before dinner needed to be prepared. Or the water was turned off right as my children were ready for baths. Days when my tolerance for the chaos was at an end.
I wish I could say that I always put on a smile and let the difficulties flow off my back. I didn’t. Especially not at first. Things got easier as the years went by. I even began to see the humor in the turmoil. But even when I was not at my best, my house help stuck by me and helped me even if it was just to ignore my bad mood. For that, and so many other reasons, they were my angels in India.
A big thank you to Siva, Mary and Regina. And to all the other Angels on earth who make our days brighter, easier, more graceful and infinitely lovelier.