Monday, October 16, 2006

No Wonder the British Preferred the Hills

View from the train going up the mountain to Ooty

Ooty is one of the most beautiful places in India. It was one of several important "hill stations" built by the British to avoid the heat and dust of the plains. The Nilgiris in general are unbelieveably beautiful. And I was fortunate enough to live there, in a town called Lovedale, for 3 months several years ago. This past weekend I went to Lovedale to visit the friends that I made there. Because of it's beauty and temperate climate, the Nilgiris have long attracted outsiders. Including the British, but also North Indians and various European expats.

Tea plantations in the clouds and fog.

The result is that a North Indian woman and her husband moved down to Lovedale to retire. After he passed away she decided to start a school. She hired teachers including my friend Josephine, to teach in this school. After a few years she got tired of running the school and closed it down. Then she offered Josephine a job as her house servant, gave her and her family (husband and two children) a single room to live in. This room is attached to a three room cottage which she rents out, often to foreigners, such as myself, which is how I became acquainted with Josephine and Lovedale. Recently she added a kitchen on to the one room, so that now Josephine and her family have one room for sleeping, plus a kitchen.

What is worse than having to be a servant, is being treated like one. And that is the tragedy of the situation. "Leela" is her pet name for Josephine, and she shouts it at the top of her lungs whenever she wants tea.

So when I went to Lovedale to visit this weekend I decided to do something to try to help improve their lives. Josephine's husband is an Auto rickshaw driver, (like a small three wheeled taxi, if you've never seen one), but business is rough and he doesn't own his own auto. Most of his earnings go to pay the rent on the auto itself. Also, these days many auto drivers have cell phones, which allow them to maintain regular customers. Raja (that's his name) wasn't able to compete. So on top of the birthday presents for Cinderella, I bought them a cell phone and a subscription to service for life. All they have to do is pay 50 rupees every 6 months to keep it active. My good deed for the week.

If I wanted to here, I could go on and on about the not-nice deeds of the rich woman who employs my friend. But suffice it to say she does not treat her as an equal, and barely as another human being. It is not slavery, to be sure, but the analogy can be drawn.

And yes, Cinderella really is her name. I'm not sure if Josephine knows the American story or only heard the name somewhere, but she named her daughter, her eldest child Cinderella. And despite the fact that both her parents are still living, this real life Cinderella lives in almost as tragic circumstances. All I can say is that I hope her prince one day comes. It was her fourteenth birthday on Sunday and we celebrated with presents, church, more presents, and chocolate cake. The chocolate cake was amazing.

I was only able to stay for two days, but it was still lovely. And I hope I really did make a difference in their lives. We shall see.

Cinderella, Josephine, Malcom and Raja in front of their home.

The view from their front door. Clouds and mountains, clouds like mountains.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, I'd be more tempted to tolerate poverty if that's what my front yard looked like.

Good on ya, btw.

- Dan