A wide toothy smile is what she will greet you with; the kind that reaches her eyes and your heart. “Call me baby” ; she said with her eyes still beaming , there is no child hidden within her, it’s at large. It was evident how she prides being called ‘ baby ‘ at the age of sixty. And why not?
One of the many cleaning ladies working in the students dorm at Asian College of Journalism, Baby Kannagam or as fondly referred to as Baby Akka by students, she is one zealous woman. Been working for the past four years, a timid yet striking personality, Baby Akka can steal vigour from girls who stride past many of us.
With white flowers adorning her greys, fragrance so fresh as if she’s an orchid; one is bound to be taken aback. But her tiny ponytail that struggles everyday to retain the flowers, suggests a different story.
A year back, she shaved her head and offered her long locks to a goddess, in barter for her good health as she was suffering from a life threatening disease then. ” I miss gracing my hair with long jasmine garlands. guess, my old age will now bar them to grow that long”, with her hands dropping towards her lower back, she signalled to me that they touched her hips just like mine.
Sweeping from under the table, bent like a rubber band; I could see the strain it had on her knees and back when she stood up. On asking her if it bothers her or was it my delusional idea of old age, she replied in affirmative to the former. I soon learned that she was the sole bread-winner in her house. ” My husband doesn’t work and extorts money from me to buy alcohol.”
The eyes shining like the brightest star were a disguise she wore, they didn’t shed the sparkle still when she began narrating the tough financial constraints she battles every day. In a meagre salary of Rs. 5000 she gives half of it to her widowed daughter who lives with them. With the remaining she takes care of everything that needs to be tended.
“I get pain relief injections for my knee and back every week for Rs.200″. I calculated the balance and fell into a pool of thought.
Her captivating self and a cheerful disposition did not cease to escape my gaze, she seemed so content. I wonder how?
Owning to her paining joints, she expressed her fear of being sacked if she asked the authorities to relieve her from work that required her to tread up to the third floor several times a day. This time, her eyes dropped. That moment of silence between us screamed her helplessness.
A mother of five married sons, one widowed daughter and a wife to an abusive husband; she concluded that her life has mostly been an uphill ride but now she has made peace with it. ” Some are born to bear”, she said with her usual alluring smile and an admirable attitude.
But the grandmother of eight, is yet to learn the art of concealing. She rubbed her palms and pressed them hard on the table, whenever she unfolded a wrinkled page of her life. In the next moment, she spurred to life and smiled , putting the sun that shone so bright that day to shame.
As Pablo Neruda once said, ” As if you were on fire from within, the moon lives in the lining of your skin” . Yes, indeed.