He has been their domestic cleaner, for the last several years ever since they relocated to this foreign country – a cleaner for several of the apartments in the building in fact, where he was deployed amidst a team of workers. The team worked for the real estate division of the company which owned the building and the main job of the team was to keep the premise clean, besides all sundry work . Salary paid by the company was their main source of income and as a side income, to earn those extra bucks, they remain most willing to take up any odd job. After all, they are here to earn whatever they can to support their families back home.
Middle-aged, an overall straightforward and amiable guy, he’s ever ready to come forward and help anyone if some extra work is requested of him. Hailing from Chennai (India), he speaks Tamil, besides an additional manageable Hindi and broken English but what was noteworthy of him was his never fading smile and a polite talking nature. His job would involve about an hour’s work in every house that included sweeping and mopping the entire house, cleaning toilets, kitchen counters, dusting the furniture, watering the plants and all other work that the house owner would instruct. He has proved himself trustworthy in a way that he would make sure to hand over any valuable or costly objects that he would come across, lying around the house, absentmindedly left and forgotten by the occupants.
Initially, Neeta was a bit uptight about being friendly with the servants (especially a male) but very soon she realised that he was an easily conversable man and extremely comfortable to chat with. However most times, when there was nothing much to be said, besides some small pleasantries, he would silently finish his job and leave. Sometimes he would get sloppy and a couple of times, did end up breaking some display pieces while cleaning. Neeta would get upset at this but then would soften at his apology and let go while stiffly telling him to be careful next time.
One day she got curious and began enquiring about his family and background.
Neeta: Where do you live?
Aabad: We live in a labour camp which is a very far from here. Four of us share the room where we stay, and we divide the house work among ourselves. One of us cleans, while the other one cooks or washes. My day starts at 4.00 am as we have to be here by 5.30 am. We have a lot of work to take care of.
Neeta: What about your family?
Aabad: Madam, my family stays in Chennai. I have a son and a daughter who is taken care of by my wife and mother in law.
Neeta: How long have you been here? (She was curious)
Aabad: Madam, you won’t believe. I have been in this country for over twenty years.
Neeta: Twenty years? (She was shocked. How can anyone stay away from family that long?) How often do you go home? (She persisted)
Aabad: Madam, I go home once in four years and when I do, I make sure to go on a leave of full three months. Every year I cannot afford to spend that kind of money.
She is now peturbed.
Neeta: Don’t you miss your family? (Disbelieving, she prods further)
Aabad (Smiling): What to do madam? It’s our livelihood. I have responsibilities back home. My son is studying Engineering and I have to pay about 1.5 to 2 lakhs for his course every year. He has two more years to go. My daughter is yet in school. She is a very sincere student who always tops her class. The amount that I have to spend cannot be earned in there.
Now she is more appalled. Here she was looking at a guy, who is just a cleaner and yet such ambitions nurtured for his children. His affection for them was clearly evident. He is apparently a good father trying to provide them with the best in life. But going to the extent of educating his son to be an Engineer (which is way beyond his financial capacity) while enduring so many hardships and sacrifices to attain which was something that abundantly astonished her. He further mentioned that he was planning to similarly educate his daughter as well, however he would leave the choice of career to her. By this time, she was more impressed. That made her think and she got reminded of her own parents who, with an average education and income as theirs, had likewise taken maximum efforts to fetch all that they got in life. Having been a very dedicated hard worker herself, until a certain phase in life she had now reached a juncture where she wanted to take things easy further on. But what really astounded her was that these folks didn’t seem to be wanting to give it a pause (she could not fathom why)…they went about relentlessly and her next question just confirmed that.
Neeta: So what will you do after you son becomes an engineer? Will you go back? – she posed the question watching his expression carefully, when he smilingly looked away as he spoke.
Aabad: Let’s see Madam. As long as possible, isn’t it better to work and be independent? Why trouble our children? I plan to bring my son here once he finishes his studies.
Four years ago, when he was going home, he approached Neeta for suggestions on the tablet phone that he wanted to buy for his daughter studying in the 7th grade then. Neeta got a bit perturbed and couldn’t resist asking him as to why he wanted to expose a girl so young to the internet. His reply was that he had promised his daughter that phone if she tops her class which she did. Besides, the main reason why she wanted that piece was to be able to see her father properly (on a bigger, better screen) during their regular skype chats. It just didn’t make sense but rather made big sense. It was easy to figure out what a dedicated, loving, wonderfully sensible daddy’s girl she was, besides the extent to which she was missing him. Well, she deserved it full on.
The immediate next year, he mentioned to Neeta that he was looking for a small rented premise nearby. When asked why, he informed her that his wife and daughter would be arriving in a few days, to spend some time with him and take a tour of this place.
After two years, he happily informed her that his daughter has topped her high school with fantastic scores and would now be entering junior college. When she enquired after his son as to why he has not come here yet to work, his reply was that having finished studies, he has joined a company in Chennai itself for a start, as a trainee since obtaining some training would be better before looking for an opportunity here. He is a patient man, Neeta thought to herself. There are fathers who don’t hold back from creating a ruckus while forcing their children into taking up undesirable jobs or careers. Some of them even begin pressurising the children into start returning all they did (Shouldn’t all this be out of voluntary sense of love, affection and duty?). His children were lucky. He not only endured so much to educate them but was also allowing them time to set up their careers. Besides, he did not seem to expect anything in return. The man was truly an inspiration.
The guy has practically been with them ever since they relocated here and seen the family go through several phases of life that included parenthood, family gatherings, tiffs, etc. but has stood thick and thin with them all these years, always available to help. He would never demand a fee raise and would take it only when offered. Of course, Neeta was like that a very generous employer, considerate and humane in the treatment of her househelps but Aabad also has grown to like the family so much that he does not want to anytime quit working in their home. He has seen their little one grow up and was now taking on a new role of a supervisor sort of, observing and reporting Neeta, everything that appears out of line during her absence.
Sometimes the blessings of life are silent and inaudible, she contemplated.