Thursday, June 2, 2011

They are Forgotten after the Elections!


So what do you feel about the election results?” my husband jocularly asked our cheerful maid, who goes by the romantic name of Vennila, which means moonlight. She often jokes about her name: “My mother gave me this name, little realising that I would be so dark complexioned!” She smiled at my husband’s query, and replied: “What difference does it make to us, sir?” What followed was a revelation to us.
“I wish we could pour out our woes before Amma. Nothing trickles down to our level anyway. You go to the government hospital for free treatment, and there you find a huge hundi, where you are expected to put money even before the treatment begins.”
Vennila works in a number of houses, and she is a willing worker who puts her heart into her work. My house shines like a new pin, and lights up with her beaming smile, even when she is in the doldrums. She has two daughters, one of whom has just finished her engineering, and the other doing her graduation. She claims no credit for the achievement. “I have been lucky that some kind soul or the other has helped me to pay my daughters’ fees!”. Apparently, in Madurai, her hometown, there is a ‘chairman’ who has no children and hence, wants to do his bit by helping children from poor backgrounds to complete their education.
Vennila wipes a tear away as she speaks of him. “Madam, it is these people who make a difference to us, people who have paid the fees of my daughters!” She continues: “Governments come and go, but our plight remains the same. If they wanted to help, they would have been blessed. Unfortunately they are so busy making money...!”
And yet, on Election Day, she walks in bearing the indelible mark on her finger, a mark that proves that every drop makes an ocean. “Look at the rice they promise us for `1 a kilo. It is stinky, filled with worms and insects. We buy it because that is all we can afford. The hostel where my daughter has studied for 12 years also serves them kanji with the same rice... the wealthier girls who can afford more are given good food. My daughter, whose father has taken up with another woman and is poor, has to survive on the worst kind of food!”
I ask a foolish question. “Do you have a bank account? Have you saved any money at all?” She laughs. “Madam, where is the money to save? I spend all the money I earn on our daily needs. There is never any money left over to save.”
That is when you realise that behind that broad beaming smile lies a litany of woes, well hidden, and brought out only when you begin to probe. Poverty is a dreadful thing, and the poor live their lives in little hovels, eking out day after day, desperately trying to keep things together. Once the election fever is over, and the televisions, saris and the gas stoves are distributed, it is time for them to go underground again, even as they hope for a better, brighter tomorrow, as has been promised by those they have voted for.

The New Indian Express
June 1st, 2011

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