Amma and Daddy were never at home on Saturdays. If anybody was, then it was the one who kept the house clean – vessels, clothes, fans, window-sills, sinks, bath, toilets, anything that needed to be mopped, swept or scrubbed – it was Maari with a coconut-‘kondai’ on her head, blessed with uneven, protruding teeth and the height and gait of a giantess. Hidimba would have looked burly in front of her, but could have never matched the tidiness that Maari brought about in any household. A gentle dip of the coir scrub in cleaning powder, followed by a couple of swishes across the vessel, a slight wash in the bucket and Lo! No Grease. No Grime. Just Clean Metal.
As soon as she arrived, Amma used to inadvertently get going, clearing old vessels and transferring food and edible items into fresh vessels, adding to the mound of clinking metal hydrated by hard water, to be cleaned. On the stove shone blue flames off the burner, warming the extra tea that she served Maari, in the background was my getting ready for school being parallel-processed and daily food would get ready by the time Maari would finish. Amma would be helped by Daddy in cutting and sorting vegetables and getting the meals into lunch boxes, whilst I’d make sure I finish homework and reading the newspaper before the cleaning room became free, to jump into the shower and get ready for school. Maari somehow charged the entire house into action with her dark appearance in the morning.
She was never late. Hardly fell sick. Never complained of any problems with the accumulating grit or sand on the floor, or the occasional swoosh of paper and rubble from my bookshelf. Or the amount of clothes that need cleaning. A small box filled with leftovers and a cup of tea would fill her basic needs, apart from a meager wage. This woman was surprisingly the only one in years to come, who’d never steal any belongings or damage them, be they the objects she had to clean or work with, or even common household stuff. Honesty and perfection in her work kept her at working for us for almost ten years. Till her drinking problems took over.
Maari herself realized she could not carry on with her hard work and her family. Alcohol seemed an easy way out, as a remedy to her occasionally drunk husband, and the aches and nags of her kids who were only twenty years younger than her. Unlike any other family where the dominant male would consume alcohol and abuse the woman, Maari brought out the darker side of the Hidimba in her, and decided to take on her man. He eventually ran away and settled for a soul less aggressive. The kids grew up to be independent individuals and found their way out of the mother’s home. She was left to herself, drinking during the night and the day, in regular intervals, between, before and after work, but never caused any damage to the people whom she worked for, or their property.
At the age of 50, Maari had reached a maturity grade of a teak tree, sturdy and weather-worn, but ready to be felled. It was her family that she was stripped off, like deciduous leaves in the stifling summers of Central India, but not her spirit. Her name as Maari, meant the One who transformed, and came to be worshipped later as the Mother of all.