Shanti Bai would come every day with her five-year-old daughter Maya to clean my house and wash my dishes and clothes. She had a distinct and dignified grace. Her head was always covered by her sari pallu and her busy hands tinkled with the sound of many-coloured glass bangles. While she went about briskly doing the jharoo-pocha, dusting and what not, her little one would sit shyly in a corner, observing her mother.
Last week she came minus the tiny toddler. I assumed she must have left her somewhere. Shanti's husband, an alcoholic, had abandoned her a year ago for another woman. But when Maya continued to remain missing, I could not help voicing my anxiety.
"Where do you leave Maya?" I asked Shanti. "Maya is no more. She passed away after a minor bout of fever. The doctors were not able to understand what went wrong," was her crisp reply.
I stood dumbfounded. Her only child had passed away a week ago and here she was continuing with her work, apparently unfazed by the emotional tempest. She had not taken leave, nor even mentioned the tragedy. Her face looked composed and dry-eyed, whereas mine was distraught, my tears showing. I thought of the other day when I had lost my handbag containing my mobile, purse and a few items I had paid good money for. How awful I had felt for a week after that, even shedding tears of rage at my loss.
Now, standing resolutely before me was a poor, illiterate and lonely soul, who had lost her only attachment. I felt deeply ashamed of my trivial attachments.
"Are you not sad at having lost your child," I queried, still in turmoil.
"Madamji, my internal detachment is a hundred times stronger than my external attachment," she said.
I am a daily reader of the Bhagavad Gita and have frequently re-read several verses on the importance of detachment. But the message had obviously never got into my head. Shanti Bai's succinct one-sentence reply suddenly revealed the Gita to me.