“Am I not part of the family?” My maid asked, indignantly.
I looked up from my iPad, startled.
“Am I not part of the family?” She repeated, uttering each word more forcefully. “That family in the other flat didn’t offer me til-gur, not even haldi-kunku“, she complained, referring to the traditional sweet of sesame (til) and jaggery (gur) balls, which are given on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, the festival of prosperity, and convey wishes for a positive and joy-filled year ahead. Haldi-kunku is the customary greeting among married women, where they pat vermillion on each other’s forehead, acknowledging each other as part of one’s social circle.
“I’m not some outsider, some stranger, that they didn’t offer me this courtesy. It’s just rude,” she declared. She was clearly feeling hurt.
I, on the other hand, was impressed. Impressed that old rules defining relationships in the broadest sense still held strong. It used to be that a family was not just blood relations. It also included tenants. And servants. And relatives of relatives, friends of these distant relations, and pretty much anyone you had a reason to interact with on a regular basis. You included them in happy occasions, leaned on them on the sad ones, and looked out for them when needed. It was a loose, inclusive definition of family.
I was pleased to see it in front of me in this day. As we all know only too well, life has become hectic, stressed, and expensive. We can barely keep up with our own spouse and kids, who’s got the bandwidth for anyone else? Even Aurangabad, a small town, is experiencing these symptoms.
And yet, here it was, a throwback to social relations that made space for everyone. A code of relationships that was not solely, or even predominantly, defined in monetary terms. While the maid came to do a service, she also felt entitled as a member of the family for whom she worked. That’s why she didn’t ask for the custom to be carried out with her; she assumed it would be done, naturally.
I don’t know why she was left out by that family. I suspect it was an oversight, nothing more. However, it made me realize that there are people, still, who look at relationships in a complete, multi-dimensional way. It’s a nice realization. I’m also glad I gave her til-gur on Makar Sankranti.