We meet Mangula* in a little town outside Bangalore….where exactly is she from? Half Kannada, Telugu, Tamil…she doesn’t know. How many people groups are we in this busy Peninsula India? At least 70, I hear .
I get permission to tell her story, take her picture. Mangula is thrilled, unashamed, why should she be? She’s done nothing wrong, only given good in return for the trouble she’s received. A feisty, 64ish (maybe), you never know, she could be much older or younger:
M. is General dishwasher at the home here where we’ve been these past 10 days;
…is also garden lizard/ squirrel Chaser, Chef, Masseur. (Ahm, snake killer too if the occasion so arises). Will sing along with any song you are singing, in monotonous hum. Origin? Hard to say. Telangana, Kannadiga... she speaks a marinated form of sub languages, but her story is beyond my head. (Retold with permission). Maybe I should just call her Mingu….?
Has two surviving children:
one of whom is her daughter Aasha who died young after a life of abuse from a man outside her community. The runaway marriage ended in him asking Aasha to go to the city looking for a ‘well paying job.’….which was a round of hotels and nightlife that left Aasha with a HIV+ baby girl. Husband now gets himself a new wife, while also occasionally thrashing some pocket money out of mum-in-law Mingu. And I mean thrashing. Ming’s daughter Aasha didn’t live beyond that monsoon when she fell seriously ill….
Mingu tells me this as she carefully pours eucalyptus oil in my shoulder blades last evening; the massage is welcome. She has the fingers of God for achy sinews. Her speech can get coloured with words for the bad men in her life, for her husband who brought home another wife, and Mingu had to leave with her then infant. Recently the old man died and she had to ‘pay her respects’ ... in a 3 day ceremony, with 2 other ex wives. The 3 widows dressed as brides were given a turmeric bath, (wore red glass bangles that were systematically broken), then a river bath in which she near got drowned, following which she caught a lung full of cold….
She pauses mid-eucalyptus massage, I’m feeling so much better for the treatment but cannot understand how she gets through the day…
her silence is heavy, is she crying? M’s skin is like hardened leather, the voice soft with cares. There’s a grand daughter, Simi…..
every month Mingu gets tablets for the girl Simi, from a Centre 30 kms away on a bus that costs her Rs 300/- to and fro. Simi is 16, tall, with dark knowing eyes and a mouth that can spin tales, fight like a cat- you know she’s had it rough. Step mom hates her….
…grand daughter here is a wild one, looks 25. Long story-
last month she got married to an 18 ish year old from nearby village, and he swears to love her to his dying day. His ‘awful Ma who demands a dowry‘ doesn’t know about the Simi’s HIV+ ness. He works in a factory, has a Cycle and ‘Quarters’ to live in.
Ming is pleased at her grand-son-in-laws’ ways. He now has a small house near a local church, with music all day coming in through their window.
It is a treat to listen to the woman, her tears and soft rage, her gratitude to a God she hasn’t seen, and her zest for life.
Last night as we watched Romedy Now.…it went to midnight, Mingu in a head scarf; we hugged/wished each other Happy Valentine’s as families do. Ming grinned with all her white teeth, she hadn’t a clue what/ who Val was/is…..
and I’m a little guilty at being so smug in even saying/ wondering what Ming thought of the word, Love. How could I translate the word ‘Beloved‘ to her; ‘Love’ was, is only what others gave her, give her.
This is another post I’m unsure how to finish, or why I titled it the way I did. Women like this one, they might live a life thick with details they can’t really say, but they have my respect.
*Names have been changed.
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