Warning: Very long post.
There is a small slum next to Infant Jesus church. You will pass it on the way to Koramangala from M.G Road. Most of the domestic workers who work in M G Road, Brigade Road and surrounding areas reside here. A hut costs anything between Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 in rent. Many families share space to reduce rent.
The place is mostly populated by immigrants from Tamil Nadu who came here generations ago. Most of them don’t even remember the name of their ancestral village in TN. As you walk into the slum, you are struck by the cleanliness despite its drab appearance from the outside. The houses are small but very neat and clean. A Neem tree or two grow wherever a small patch of earth is left uncemented. Most of the houses have at least a pot with some ornamental plant on the roof or in front of the door. Possessions are kept to a bare minimum and the kitchen sparkles with clean and neatly arranged utensils. The kitchen is the pride of the lady of the houses even if the kitchen fires burn but rarely. Even the surrounding areas of the huts are clean. If you were to give your old stuff to these ladies they will sell it to the Marwari in exchange for a saree or a utensil.
These intrepid ladies are free from domestic work by afternoon. Most of them work in four or five houses. They leave home around 5:30 in the morning after getting the kids ready for school and walk to their places of work. They go to work neatly dressed, with a red pottu on the forehead and fresh jasmine flowers on their oiled hair. Their children go to school walking or by bus.
Most of them wear the wash n wear sarees. In fact if you were give them a Silk Saree they will exchange it for a wash n wear saree at the Marwari shop. On Sundays when they go to the temple or church they wear colorful sarees with a bit of gold work. The culture passed onto them from their ancestors remains intact. Their homes, food, festivals reflect their lifestyle of their village back home in TN. It’s like they live in a time warp.
The marwari is an important part of these people’s lives. They lend money, buy used household items that they get from the place of work and sell things at very reasonable rates to these people. Of course they are unscrupulous too.
Once the ladies get back from work, they cook the afternoon meal. Those who can afford will buy a bun in the morning, but most of these folks live on two meals a day. Their diet is simple, rice and dal and the leftovers they bring with them from work. Since the ladies are free most of the day, they sit around chatting and sweeping. They sweep their homes every hour or so. Which is why the slum is spick and span. Many hut owners have now made pucca houses. As you walk through the streets skirting goats and chickens, it is difficult to believe you are in the heart of Bangalore. The place looks like those small villages you pass by when driving out of the city.
Small shops border the slum. You get everything at dirt-cheap rates here. From Whitewash to used engine oil to cooking oil and provisions. These shops cater to the slum crowd and you will see some brands that you didn’t know existed. For an MTR Turmeric powder you have a Mary Turmeric powder or a Raja Chilli powder and Rani coconut oil. A peek into these small shops will give you a glimpse of a thriving parallel economy. The shelves are neatly arranged and the shopkeeper usually sits outside on a stool. On Thursdays after Mass at the Shrine, crowds of worshippers come to these shops and they do brisk business.
What strikes you most as you walk into the slum is the absence of men during daytime as most of them hold 9 to 5 jobs as construction workers, masons, car mechanics etc.
The air in the slum is one of quite contentment. However by 7 ‘0’ clock the calm is shattered as the men return, drunk. Then the air rends with the weeping and wailing of women getting beaten up and raucous fights. This goes on till the men fall into a stupor and calm returns to the slum. In the morning everything will be forgotten as husbands are expected to behave in such manner. The women are resigned to it besides the presence of a man in their life makes a lot of difference in a slum. She will have a certain social standing and escape the lustful gaze of other men.
I have been into this slum several times with my Mom. Most of the times it was to pull out a badly beaten up maid and take her to hospital. After we moved out of the city, I have lost contact with the ladies of the slum. I do not know how things are now, but whenever I pass by in the Auto, I see that nothing much has changed. The houses are still neat and clean and the village like atmosphere still prevails. I do hope that the lot of the ladies, who carried me around, combed my hair and tut tutted at my mom because she didn’t put the black dot on my face to ward off evil eyes, is better now.