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The Extremes ?

Popularity 1Viewed 2339 times 2019-2-3 09:03 |Personal category:StoryTeller|System category:Life


Sarah greeted her friends at the door, looking very happy and excited to see them, yet there was an unmistakable new calm and relaxed look to her. After they were all done squealing, jumping and hugging her in turns they wandered in. They all exclaimed at the elegance and beauty of the house, all the way from the front porch to the dining room via all the other rooms - on the standard house tour. The place was truly luxurious in an understated way - very upscale and hinted of obscenely expensive features meant to be casually mentioned for those visiting the first time. In their hearts, her friends all were envious of Sarah's good fortune even though they were really happy for her. They felt she certainly deserved such, only that perhaps they too were equally worthy as they were part of her circle. They all knew the odds were astronomically against any of them striking such a lottery in life. Sarah had somehow pleased the Gods. She had fallen in love with a very, very lovely and very, very wealthy man who had fallen in love with her. He had proposed and she had finally accepted. They had married recently and she had moved in here after a long honeymoon. This was the first visit of her 'Friends Club' to her new home.

"So, how is life, Sarah? How is life different now?" Jen asked what was on everyone's minds, all curious, drinks in hand, as they stood around in the kitchen garden in a circle, facing Sarah.

"Well, it is certainly different now.  I can do anything or nothing - whatever pleases me. No worries about having to go to work, no struggling with the boss, the bills and the banks, no such pressure," said Sarah as her friends listened intently, silently, watching her with envious eyes. They could all see the change in her from a frazzled, often tense mad-scrambler in life.
"What does Richard expect from you? What does he want you to do?" asked Kim.

"It seems he expects nothing at all from me but to just enjoy our lives together. He asks for nothing but accepts anything I do happily and seems to enjoy life. I can get help to get anything done if I want, but I have not used that option of late - in fact Richard and the kids help me if I need. I can't bear to be idle or have everything done for me most of the time. I have gotten into a great routine," said Sarah with a reflective look.

"What exactly do you do most of the day?" pressed Jen, the friends wanted details - meaty, gory details that they could dwell over and talk about later.

 Sarah continued, "Unless I am too unwell, I plan all the meals for the day and a few days ahead. I make what Richard and the kids like and what is healthy. He often comes home after a full, busy day at work and just wants to unwind, relax, have a good time. I make sure we all eat well, rest well and have fun things to do. I try all the ideas and experiment with recipes that I had always wanted to try. I do a bit of the cleaning, laundry and gardening. I shop, I drop off the kids at school or pick them up. They are all now grown-up and acting independent - they still ask for my help in everything from clothes to rides around town. I direct the professional, housekeeping help, that we have, to maintain this place. 

 We all go for long walks, sometimes together, I set up the music that I listen to and what we both listen together. We watch movies, I help with the homework if the kids want. I am enjoying practicing my painting and art in the studio.  Life is just wonderful.  I just try and pitch in wherever I can and help, no one really demands anything. There is so little stress that I actually get a lot done and enjoy it!" 

Sarah completed her long monologue as many wistful sighs emanated from around her.


Tara welcomed the visitors at the door with a wide smile, folded hands and much traditional formal bowing.

"Come in, come in, Welcome to my house!" she said with obvious pride and anxiety showing in her face. These were strangers, women from a far-away land, accompanied by a local translator. They were from a 'rich country' and perhaps used to much grander residences than her small hut in the village. Tara had prepared for their visit for a week. Nothing much had really changed, only little bits touched up here and there, a few things tucked away out of sight and a few things brought into sight from their normal stations that were out of sight. She had cleaned up the house and the kids were under strict orders not to make a mess until after the guests had departed. Tara's husband was away at work and unable to be home to meet the guests.

Sarah, Jen and Kim were among the guests of Tara. They had come on a mission to study model families living in great poverty and still on the right track. The study was being conducted through an international philanthropic organization. They had wanted to study Tara's role and figure out how to help people like her if possible. They had offered a small remuneration to her for her willingness to speak to the group, show them around the house and share details of her life. 

Tara had prepared a snack, tea and coffee for her guests - she had insisted as it was the culture and tradition not to let guests come and go without giving them some food. The organizer and translator had earlier met with Tara and given her some money to cover the expenses for these and a bit more. They had instructed her not spend all of it on treating the guests but to keep some for her family. Tara had been generous in spending on the treats and the rest had promptly gone into the bank for school fees and supplies for the kids. It did not slow down Tara or her husband even a little. They just chugged along at their usual pace.

Tara led the group with the translator following right behind her. They all trooped in to see the tiny hut with three sections - a kitchen, a living/dining/bedroom all in one and a small store room with supplies. There was a tiny bathroom backing into the hut from the outside next to a well in the backyard, abutting the neighbor. All the bedding had been put away for the day and the living space was in the dining room mode now. A spread was neatly laid out and mats were set around it for the guests to sit and have their snack and tea. The translator helped in the communication as Tara served the guests with her help. All appreciated the effort of Tara even as they ate and drank with a bit of trepidation. Everything was surprisingly tasty and seemed well cooked.

"Where are her kids?" asked Sarah through the translator.

"They are outside playing with the other kids, there they are," Tara pointed out as everyone became aware of a lot of eyes looking at the group from outside the hut, through the windows and at the door, some almost pushing into it.

Tara's kids were at the front of a large group of other children and adults, all hanging around, curious and watching. Jen could tell from the three of the best-groomed kids at the front of the crowd that they were Tara's and that they had been prepared to look presentable, neat and tidy. They were all smiles, dark hair, bright eyes, wide smiles with pearly whites showing. They were being tugged at by their friends. All eyes were scanning the light-complexioned, strange looking people with various shades and colors of hair, not a common sight in these parts.

Tara's kids gave the crowd obviously practiced greetings with folded hands and formal bows. They were soon waved away to take their friends along and let the guests be alone with Tara. Tara's older daughter came to help clear up the dishes while her son and younger daughter led the crowd of neighbors away from the door. 

The guest group looked around the hut to see the meagre possessions of Tara's household, either out there or a few tucked away in bundles in corners and mud shelves. There seemed to be a few metal trunks and a suitcase in the storage area underneath a bundle of bedding. A transistor radio was playing softly on a ledge in the kitchen wall.

"I like to listen to songs as I work. My husband listens too when he comes home. We get all the news from there," said Tara, pointing to the radio and smiling shyly, but with obvious pleasure. She went and turned it off as she realized they wanted to talk to her and ask her questions - the purpose of their visit.

 Things quietened down and the translator started - first asking the question or taking a question asked in English, translating for Tara, then translating Tara's response for the group. She also translated all the responses and comments of the group for Tara.

Even though they had been briefed about Tara's family, they asked her directly and gathered the following details. Tara had not completed high school and had no marketable skills. Tara's husband had finished high-school, had apprenticed with a few tradesmen and was a lowly paid worker in a town, some distance away, that he commuted to almost every day. He worked every hour that he could so that he could provide for his family. Life was so hard that only one could afford to work outside and the other needed to be at home - each taking care of everything that needed to be done in their domain. Both Tara and her husband could ill afford to fall so ill that they could not work, though it had happened on a few rare occasions. During those times her husband stayed home - either ill himself or to take care of the chores when Tara was down. Then there was no money coming in. Friends and neighbors helped but they were all in similar situations. Fortunately, they had struggled through sickness, floods, droughts and fires and the family was on its feet and still humming along.

"Tara, this lady wants to know, have you not wanted to complete your education and possibly work outside the home?" 

"Madam, I was not good at studies in school. I dropped out and helped my parents at home. Some after I was old enough, I got married and since then I have been busy with the kids and taking care of the house. My husband needs to work and earn the money. He will be tired when he comes home. I am lucky in a way, I don't have to worry about the money. He does that. I just need to manage with what money I am given. There are so many things to do at home in the day. I don't think I would enjoy worrying about money." 

"Tara, what does your husband expect you to do? How is he? Are you happy with him?"

"My husband does not tell me to do anything or how to do it. But someone has to do the work at home, right? Otherwise, how can the household run?

I see what needs to be done at home and do it if I want to. Nobody is here to tell me what to do or not to do. I do what I want and how I want to do them. My husband is happy with me. Even if I do not do so well sometimes, he does not get angry with me. I too do not complain to him about money. We manage with what he brings in. He is working hard to earn money for all of us. I cannot even help him in that. He is nice. He likes what I do at home. He enjoys being home.

If I am very ill or he does not have work, he stays home, he does the housework. He helps me when he can. I know sometimes he has bad days at work. He does not take it out on me."

The guests all listened intently. They were getting more curious about Tara's family.

"Tara, the lady wants to know how you and your husband enjoy your life together. Seems like you are happy together. What do you do for fun?"

Tara heard the question, happily nodded and replied, "Yes, Madam. I and my husband are happy. We have good children. We sometimes go to the movies with the children. They often screen movies in the neighborhood playgrounds for free. If the children don't have exams to study for, we go. My husband can also act in dramas. He performs in the local theatre during festival season. We like to teach the children singing and dancing. Sometimes, we go for a walk along the canal track to the temple or village fairs. I cook and sell snacks at the fair. Often, we take the kids along too. We both like to listen to songs on the radio - he bought two - one for me to listen at home and one he carries with him.  My husband likes it when I sing sometimes too," said Tara blushing a bit.

"Do you not watch television, Tara?"

"No Madam, TV is too expensive. Some of our neighbors have TVs. They let us watch. Our kids often watch with their kids. I and my husband watch only good movies or concerts on TV sometimes when our neighbors invite us to watch."

"What is your typical day like Tara, what do you do every day?"

"I plan and prepare all our meals for the day and sometimes a few days in advance. I shop. I wash the clothes, do the cleaning of the house. It is easier since it is a small place. I walk the children to school and back. They are getting older and more independent now. I grow some herbs and vegetables around the backyard past the well. The water spilt around the well goes there. My neighbors and I share the garden."

"Tara, this lady wants to know if you ever find time for yourself? Not having to do any housework? Are you sometimes free to do nothing?"

"Perhaps once a week or two, sometimes I have finished all the work. The children are at school or watching TV at the neighbors and I am alone at home if my husband is at work. I then listen to songs, I like to do a bit of embroidery work that I learned from my mother. Somedays I pray and do a pooja at home. The older kids want to do things by themselves, but they ask me when they need me. I am getting more time to myself," Tara pointed to the pictures of Gods and Idols in one corner of the living room that sometimes functioned as an altar for prayers too!

"Tara, they want to know what your social life is like - do you have many friends and family that you see or visit often?"

"We have a lot of friends. All our neighbors are friends. We help each other even if we sometimes fight. We cannot visit far off family much, but once in a couple of years, I go to my village and see my brother's family. My parents have both passed away. My old aunt lives with my brother. They sometimes visit us."

The visiting group listened intently, sympathetically. 

Sarah suddenly blurted out, "In a fundamental way, her life seems to be a lot like mine now!"

Jen and Kim and the other members turned to her with a surprised look. The gears of many minds turned and suddenly it clicked for them too. It was quite true, what Sarah had observed.

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