Sukanya was resting in her bed one hot afternoon reading a novel. Her children hadn’t yet come from the school. The day was busy and she had to attend to many things like going to the bank, sending an important letter through courier, a visit to the tailor and the library. It was then that she heard someone singing happily some village tunes. It was melodious and soulful. She waited for the song to be completed and then went into the small room in the rear wherefrom the song came. She found Muniyamma lying on the mat on the floor and humming another tune.
“Hey, I never knew you can sing so well. Did you learn singing when you were young?” asked Sukanya even as the maid got up in a hurry. She replied shyly, “No, Amma. I just picked up these songs from my mother when I was young. She sang so well, you know.”
Sukanya’s thoughts went to Muniyamma’s chequered life. It was only a couple of months since she had hired her. She was a real find for Sukanya who had to keep looking for a new maid when every alternate month they left the job for one reason or the other. Muniyamma lived in the small room at the rear of the flat and was provided with food too. She took care of the house-hold chores including giving a helping hand while cooking. Sukanya was relatively free to pursue her other interests.
Muniyamma, though past sixty, was slim and in good health. She had a charming face with a pleasant smile. But fate had not been kind to her. She was married when young and her husband gave her nothing except for four children. An alcoholic, he treated her badly and died young of ulcer. Life was a struggle. Her only daughter had eloped with an auto-rickshaw driver who was fifteen years older than her. Muniyamma later learnt that he had deserted her when a baby was born and that she went to Mumbai to lead a life of shame. None of the sons studied well and two became vagabonds. The eldest, it seemed, was serving a long sentence for raping a child and strangling her. One of the other two fell into bad company and was in and out of jail. The last one went to a city in the North to eke out an honest living and she never heard of him again. Her life was one of continued misery and want. She worked all day long in two or three houses as a domestic help and led a hand to mouth living till she got the job at Sukanya’s house.
Sukanya started to wonder how in such a careworn life of drudgery, Muniyamma could feel happy to break into a song with abandon. Sukanya had all the blessings a young woman can dream of: a good husband, high education, wealth, two well-behaved children and good health. Yet she was frequently unhappy at some minor inconvenience or disappointment putting on a scowl on her face. On the other hand, this poor woman with apparently not a single thing to rejoice about was singing merrily like a lark.
Muniyamma looked at Sukanya and asked “Amma you are lost in some thought. What is it? You are not uttering a single word!”
Woken up from her reverie, Sukanya asked, “Do you sing like this often?”
“Yes Amma. I do sing when I am in good mood and ever since I came to work for you I am happy.”
Sukanya was rendered speechless and wondered how this poor woman, whose life was drudgery all day long with no joy in her personal life thus far, could be happy?
She asked her, “what makes you so happy that you break into songs?’
Muniyamma replied, “God has been kind enough to entrust me in your care in my old age. You are a very gentle and compassionate person and treat me with the affection of a daughter. Your children are all well-mannered and do not treat me like a servant in the house. They come and talk to me once in a while. Your husband is a decent person and is very affectionate to you, the kind of affection that I have never enjoyed from my husband. You provide me with the same hot food that you eat and not give the left-overs. You give me clothes not for covering my shame alone, but also of good quality that I have never known in my life. You take me to the doctor when I fall ill. You are also paying me well. What more blessings can I want?”
It took a minute for Sukanya to regain her composure. She learnt that happiness lay in counting the blessings and not in bemoaning over the minor difficulties in life. She was humbled by the positive attitude of her maid-servant and learnt that happiness is available for those who seek it. It inspired her to decide that she will not lose her cool by minor stresses or small hurdles anymore.
“Let us thank God for the doughnut instead of cursing the holes in it.”