Achamma works in my neighbor’s house. She has been working here as a live in maid for over fourteen years now. She is a native of Trivandrum. She loves me and the dogs a lot and would regard us with great amusement initially. She had never seen anyone walking dogs in her village. When she first came into the neighborhood, I was but a toddler and I walked the dogs with my Dad. Achamma would come to the house gate when she saw me and I would linger to talk to her and then run to join my Dad who would have sauntered off ahead. Achamma would shout a warning asking me to be careful and watch me worriedly till I reached my Dad. Then she would walk inside the house closing the gate behind her.
I have grown up with Achamma. Every evening I stop near her gate to talk. She would tell me about her teenage kids, who were being looked after by her parents in Trivandrum. Her husband a drunkard had abandoned her long ago. Her children were studying then and she was forced to come to Bangalore to seek her fortune. Fortunately, her cousin placed her in a kindly Mumbaikar Malayalee household. She is very happy and well looked after here.
Earlier she would go home every year for Onam. On her return she would bring some goodies with her for me. My mother’s protestations would be lost on her. Soon she started going every alternate year. And now she has stopped going to Kerala all together. The other day I heard her tell my mom that a visit to Kerala always made her bankrupt. Buying gifts for siblings and helping out relations who ask for monetary help made her totally broke on every visit and she has taken a very hungry train ride back to Bangalore every time. Thankfully the train tickets were bought and paid for by her employer. Now her kids are grown up and working in Delhi. Her parents have died and their small house sold and the proceeds split between her siblings and her. After that, Achamma took her last train out from Kerala, never to return again.
Achamma is not alone. There are many menial workers like her who have severed their ties with Kerala and parasitic relations after the initial enthusiasm to help out family and relations. And the reason is watching their hard earned money making people take things easy and leading to increasing irresponsibility amongst youngsters. Many of her nephews have dropped out of school and are working as laborers. Their sisters who are working, keep them afloat by sending money home. Many of them are married and have wives working outside Kerala or within Kerala supporting them while they indulge in alcohol and party meetings and strikes. There is a lot that keeps these party workers going and it is not just the party, but a support system consisting of hard working people mostly women.
Now the support system is crumbling at the edges with the women questioning the men's spendings. A maid in a nearby colony was beaten up by her husband, who came from Kerala by train to do so, when she stopped sending money home. Teresa is an example of this phenomenon. The blind loyalty towards family members back home is fast vanishing and a colder and harder conviction has set in that people back home need to take life more seriously and live within their means. For far too long, many people in Kerala have treated the maru naadan Malayalee as extra pocket money. Now attitudes are changing. People are not willing to indulge even parents who waste money and youngsters who drop out of school or college.
Perhaps family ties are weakening or women are getting smarter or wiser. I wouldn’t know. But the consequences will be deadly as a lady lost her life recently after she ran away from home to work in Bangalore and was traced by her husband. He is now on the run. It will be a bloody transition, but it is happening and that is a positive sign.