Amma became our full-time help on our posting to this town in far east. My wife, a cleanliness freak, had resisted her employment, as Amma was crude and rustic in both mannerism and turnout. For us, a working couple with two daughters aged 2 and 6, a maid was a necessity and Amma was the lone aspirant. In no time, all premonitions of my wife came true. Amma was egoist, unkempt, short-tempered and hated instructions. Her style of working, my way or no way, challenged the authority of my wife openly. Their mutual dislike soon turned into hostility, leading to frequent brawls. On the other side, Amma was an instant hit with children. They enjoyed each other’s company singing and dancing throughout the day.
For me, this lovable bond covered up her other frailties. However the two ladies remained at loggerheads with each other. Amma contested the general comments of my wife on hygiene, and at the end of each argument, would pack her stuff furiously, announcing that she was going back to her
village. I’d jump into the storm, cajoling her to stay back, fearing that my daughters would be left unattended.
My wife felt slighted and blamed me for supporting Amma’s theatrics. Fearing marital turbulence, I committed to back my wife during such sparring. The next clash saw me jump between the two. I faced Amma, fearing at the prospect of her actually leaving but holding on to my resolve of supporting my wife. I stuttered something like “... Amma, you are so elder to all of us... she is like a small child ...I mean... we are so small... and you need to be mature... you should be guiding her... I mean... guiding us. You are like a mother and if somebody is childish...” I wasn’t sure of my wife’s reaction, but as I turned around to face her, her stunned and hurtful look confirmed my worst fears.
Both fighters retreated to their respective corners. My wife spoke up only the next day, saying now it was her turn to pack up and go to her mother, as I have humiliated her by calling her childish and giving Amma the authority to lecture her. I tried to clarify that what I meant was that she was young enough to be her daughter and she should treat her like one. Further infuriated, she raised her voice and said: “Daughter, my foot! She behaves and treat me as though she is my mother-inlaw.”
Tension prevailed for a few days, only to return at my belated realisation of her retort. It was now my turn to whine and cry “I have not liked the manner in which you have dragged my mother into all this. She is not even here and the comparison is not appreciated.”
Another week gone, Amma was also taken aback by the silence between us; and she sobered down. We continued with the services of Amma but soon her newly married son moved in with her in the hope of finding better prospects in the city. The domestic work was handed over to the new daughter-inlaw, who was articulate and to my wife’s liking. However Amma, like a faithful watchdog, continued to supervise the overall security of our daughters, especially when my wife was not around.
The writer is an air force officer based at Panchkula