Dear Readers, I would request you to read Chapters 1 to 5 of this series, first, for better comprehension of the continuity of the story so far...
The Lady Cook - Part 6
I had a Regional Commercial Conference in Jaipur starting Monday for three days. So I was extremely busy on Saturday in office reviewing and correcting the presentations prepared by my four team leaders. I had called up Geeta informing her that I'll be late in returning home. Off late I have given a duplicate of my flat keys to Geeta, so that whenever I am late in office, she could come in and complete her cooking. On Saturday evening I reached home quite late at 11pm after finalising the presentation slides.
My flight was on Sunday afternoon. So when Geeta came on Sunday morning, I was busy packing up and then going through my slides once again on my laptop. I couldn't speak to Geeta at all. This is my problem... whenever I have important meeting or office work in my mind, I concentrate only on my work and ignore everything else which are not important right then. So, I did not even enquire from Geeta regarding the arrival of her mother and sister. But Geeta was well conversant with this attitude of mine and she was careful not to bother or disturb me with trivial issues on such situations.
I had my lunch and left for the airport early. Geeta stayed back for cleaning up. She would lock up my flat and go home. She was one hell of a responsible woman and extremely dependable.
My conference went off exceedingly well. Two of my groups, Logistics and Accounts had won the Best Regional team awards. My other two groups of Customer Support and Administration had one member of each team winning the best employee for the Region in their respective areas. So it was win-win for all of my teams. We had a grand celebration party the last night, that is Wednesday night. My team comprising of four of my group leaders and the two prize winning executives returned by the morning flight of Thursday. The flight however got a bit delayed and I reached home around 3pm. Geeta was informed of my schedule. I had told her that I would be having lunch on my way back, so no need to keep anything prepared for me.
Since it was already late and freshening up and reaching office would be around 4.30 pm, I advised my team travelling with me to take the rest of the day off. I received a phone call from Geeta at around 4.30 pm. She enquired if I had my lunch and what time would I be back home this evening. I told her that I am already home. Then she informed me that her mother and sister has arrived the earlier day. She asked whether she could bring them along in the evening. I said that she definitely can bring them along. I also told her to ask her sister to bring all her original documents with her, along with whatever photocopies she had. Geeta said, that they'll come a little earlier than her usual time, if it's not any inconvenience to me.
At around 6.30 in the evening, Geeta came with her family. As I backed away from the door to let the three ladies in, I suddenly felt so small with three big and tall 5 feet 9 inches women standing right in front of my 5 feet 3 inches frame. Sita came towards me and bent down to touch my feet in a show of respect. I touched her head as a show of my blessings. I brought them inside and asked them to sit. Geeta was again carrying the tiffin carrier in her hand, meaning that she had already cooked my food and brought it.
Since I had to do some paper work with Sita, I asked her to sit with me at the table. I asked Geeta's mother to sit on the sofa, which she was hesitant to. I told her that I'll need some time with Sita and so how long will she remain standing. Geeta went straight to the kitchen area to arrange the food from the tiffin carrier. I went to her and told her to make tea for everybody. Also I gave her some boxes of Rajasthani snacks and sweets which I had brought from Jaipur to be given to all.
I then came and sat with Sita at the table.
Strangely, except for the initial namaste both Geeta's mother and sister had not spoken a single word. I thought that I would have to break the ice first and make them feel at ease.
I looked at Geeta's mother. She was an older version of Geeta, a little heavier too, but not flabby as such. She wasn't that old, now that I know, she was 54-55. I met her eyes and said, "Aunty, you didn't like me na? You are not talking to me. You must be feeling, 'Arrey what sort of a boss is this ? No personality.' "
She got very embarrassed and said, "No, no, what are you saying Sir ?"
I said, "See ? That day you were addressing me as 'Beta', (meaning 'Son') over phone, and now calling me Sir ?"
She said, "No Beta. I am a village woman. I don't know what to talk in front of such a big man like you."
I got up from the table where I had started to look at the documents Sita was showing me. I walked over to the sofa where Geeta's mother was seated and stood in front of her. I took her hand and asked her to stand up. She stood up towering over me. I looked up at her eyes, which was six inches above mine, still holding her hand and said, "Now tell me aunty, who is bigger ? You or me ?"
She smiled and said, "I may be bigger than you in height, but you are much bigger than me in position, education and success in life".
I said, "Don't say like that Auntie. In position I may be bigger than Geeta and Sita, but I need your blessings to be a better human being."
Saying that, I bent down to touch her feet. She caught my hands midway and pulled me to her body and hugged me lovingly. "Your position is not at my feet beta, your position is in my heart." The big lady with her magnificent height and solid body totally engulfed my small frame. My face was near her neck only. I was feeling so small inside her embrace, but it felt so safe and secure. She held me like that for about a minute, then still holding on to one of my arms, she tilted my face up with her fingers and looked down at me and said, "My blessings will always be with you Beta. I never imagined that such a big manager of such a big company can be so humble and down to earth. You have won my heart." Saying that she released me slowly.
I took her hand and pulled her to follow me. I led her by her hand to where Geeta was working at the kitchen platform. There I faced Geeta and said, "Aunty, let me introduce you to this naughty girl, her name is Geeta, she takes very good care of me. And Geeta, this is my Aunty. You take care of her now. Let me finish some official work with Sita and then we'll sit and chat."
Geeta said, "In that case, shall I make the tea a little later, so that we can have it together ?"
Aunty said, "That's better, we'll have tea together and chat". I was glad that Aunty is talking freely now.
I said, "Ok, once you finish your work Geeta, you show Aunty around my small flat". Everybody laughed.
I came back to check Sita's documents. She had the required educational certificates and ID proofs I wanted. She had even got them photocopied. She was smart enough to bring some passport and stamp size photographs also. I told her, "All documents are in order Sita. You keep the originals with you now. I'll keep one set of the photocopies and some of these photos. I'll prepare your CV and application letter tomorrow and bring the printouts. You just come once again in the evening with your sister to sign them.
Tomorrow is Friday. On Saturday morning, you will come to office along with the Application and CV that I will make for you and with these original documents. You will come with your brother-in-law Ramesh, sharp at 9 am. Ramesh knows where I sit, he will bring you to me. You will start your job from Saturday itself. I will make you the Appointment letter during the day.
Sita was beaming with happiness. I didn't notice that Geeta and her mother had silently come and was standing behind my chair, listening to what I was telling Sita.
Sita got up and came and again touched my feet. I blessed her by placing my hand on top of her head. She then went and touched her mother's feet. Auntie gave a long hug to her. Sita then hugged Geeta and said, "This is all because of you Chhoti, I can never thank you enough."
Then Auntie gave a big hug to Geeta.They were all so happy and laughing, I felt contented.
Then Geeta came to me. I was apprehensive that in her excitement lest she picks me up, like she normally does. But she just sat down at my feet and held my feet, looking up at me. I placed my hand on top of Geeta's head and said, "You don't have to say anything Geeta. Good things happen to good people only, it's just a question of time. Now, my next mission is to find you a better job. Now get up."
She was still sitting at my feet and crying. Tears ran down her cheek. I stood up and urged her to get up. She stood there towering over me. A strange sight, she was smiling with tears of happiness running down. I held her hand, lest she does something foolish in her excitement.
I said, "Come, now let's have our tea. Where can we sit, so that we all can fit in ?"
Geeta became active. She went into my bedroom. There is one chair in the room, she brought it. The dining table already had two chairs. It was still falling one short. She went to the kitchen area. There is a red plastic chair kept there for her to take rest while cooking; she brought that too and set it by the dining table. Aunty and Sita had by that time started bringing the tea. I saw that like last time, Geeta had made pakodas. She brought the snacks and sweets packets I had given her also to the table. I sat with aunty on one side and Geeta at the other, with Sita sitting opposite me. All three of the ladies were busy serving me only. I distributed equally to each of their plates too, to which there were vehement opposition, as if I have done a great crime. I joked about this and everyone laughed. It was an atmosphere of merriment. Geeta said, "Sir you were saying something about finding me a job, but please don't. I won't take up any job."
I said, "Let me try first. But if I get something suitable for you, why won't you do it ? Now aunty is there, taking care of your son will not be a problem."
Geeta said, "Sir, you are doing so much for us, I cannot leave your cooking and make you suffer again."
Aunty immediately intervened, "That also will not be a problem anymore. I am here...I can take care of Sir's cooking."
Geeta was looking at me, and silently shaking her head at me expressing her disapproval. She said, "No Ma, that will be too much of a pressure on you. If I also go out to work from the morning, you will have to handle the entire work in our house, cooking and cleaning and all odd jobs. Plus managing Gattu (her son). Then how will you take care of Sir's cooking also ?"
Aunty laughed, "The way you are doing it now. You also do the same work now. I understand that two of us have increased. But that also means two pairs of able helping hands in our spare time. And don't talk about pressure, this is nothing. You very well know what sort of physical pressure I have to work under in the village house managing the shop and household work. Also going to the market and bringing all those heavy bags of stock for the shop and then arranging them in proper place. Sita helps me, but she goes to school too for the day."
I was astonished, "Aunty, you do such heavy work. But why do you go to the market and bring stock. Don't they deliver to you over phone ?"
Aunty said, "That happens in your city, Beta. In the village, we have to personally go. Also since we cannot afford to spend more, we have to carry such load physically on our head back home."
I was surprised, "Wow that is why all three of you look so physically strong and healthy."
All three were smiling broadly. But Sita was generally silent. She was smiling but not talking at all. I turned my attention to her. "So Sita, all your school work is taken care of ?" She just nodded...no word. I tried again, "So you will be missing your friends back in the village ?" She just smiled.
Aunty said, "She doesn't have many friends, only a few, that too not so close. Her best friend is me only."
I said, "Aunty, can't you see, I'm trying to make Sita speak."
Again Aunty spoke up, it is no stopping her now, once she has become free of her initial inhibitions. "She takes time to open up. Once she is free with someone, she will talk. Till then she will be reserved. Give her time, after a few days, she will be free with you."
Sita looked at her mother in mock anger. Everybody laughed. Aunty said, "You were saying Beta that Geeta is naughty. What does she do ? Does she bother you too much ?"
I said, "No, no, she is a very good girl. I was just pulling her leg."
Geeta quipped in laughing, "No Ma, Sir is not saying, but I eat his head regularly."
Aunty laughed, "Why ?"
Geeta said, "I nag him all through with my family problems. That is the reason now both my husband and my sister has got jobs. Sir thought, 'If I do not do something for her, this girl will make my life miserable'. And that is the reason he wants to get rid of me now, by getting me a job. But I won't do any job, I will continue to eat his head."
All of us were laughing. This time Sita spoke up, "But what will you nag on now Chhoti ?Sir has fulfilled all your wishes."
Geeta was quick to answer, "Why? I'll pester him saying that he has got job for everybody, except me." All of us burst out laughing.
Aunty said, "Really Chhoti, Sir is such a respected person, your employer, and you disturb him like this ?"
I said, "Aunty don't scold her. I like her childishness. I don't mind anything she says or does. And talking about respect, she respects me a lot. She takes care of me not like she is doing her job, but as if she is doing it for her own family. She has broken that barrier of employer-employee relationship with me. And that is what I like about her."
I could see that Geeta felt very happy at what I said. At any other time she would have picked me up by now, but today she is controlling herself. She just picked up my hand from the table and held it up clasping inside her big palm. Then she looked at her mother and said, "This is my Kalpataru (the wishing tree), whatever I ask for, my wish is fulfilled." Then she bent her head and put my hand on her head. "I will now wish that this Kalpataru remains with us forever." Everybody laughed.
Then Geeta's mother said, "Let's go now. Sir had a long journey....And he has to attend office from tomorrow again, let him take rest."
All of them got up. I reminded Sita to come tomorrow to sign the papers. Then I asked her, whether she had good sober saris to wear at work. She said, she had some good saris. I told her that good saris for office does not mean party wear saris. I explained, what sort of saris are generally required to be worn in office. It seemed that they do not have such saris. I knew that they were not in a financial status to buy new saris. I asked them to wait and went to my bedroom. I brought Rs 5000 and gave it to Sita. She did not take it. All three of them protested vehemently. I told them, "Listen to me what I'm saying. Now that you are going to work in a big office, you have to maintain a decorum. If you do not wear your clothes properly as your colleagues do, you will not be accepted in their group. Then you will not like your work. Tomorrow buy at least 5 to 6 saris, of the type and materials I told you just now. You have to wear a different sari everyday of the week. Also buy matching ready-made blouse and whatever else you require. Do not buy less saris and save money. Show me the saris tomorrow when you come. If you cannot decide, then I can also go with you tomorrow evening or Sunday to help you buy them. In that case you can join from Monday. Consider this as an investment for your future. You do not have to return this money to me. If you consider me as your well wisher, please do not refuse this and do not try to pay me back. I'll feel very hurt."
I could see tears in the eyes of the three of them. First Sita, then Geeta touched my feet. Then their mother came and tried to touch my feet too. I did not allow. She took me in her embrace and hugged me. I was at the centre, with three tall, big women crowding me from all sides. Geeta's mother was saying, "You must be a reincarnation of their father, otherwise why will you do so much for us."
I tried to diffuse such serious emotional scene by joking. I said, "How can I be a reincarnation of your husband ? He expired 7 years back and I was born 40 years back."
She said, "I don't understand all that. All I know is that my mind is saying that you are him. Even you are exactly his size. So you must be him." She hugged me more tightly and cried. She was so much bigger and taller than me, that I was completely hidden inside her embrace. She had pressed my face inside her neck. She was so strong, I couldn't even move. She was not releasing me. After she held me for a couple of minutes, the daughters had to request her to release me. She held my hands and said sorry for being so emotional. I said that it's ok, since it helped her release her emotional stress, I did not mind.
They took my leave and left.
(Continued in next chapter...)