Parveen landed as my cook in the most unexpected of ways. I had asked the lady downstairs (a 70-year old traditional brahmin lady) if she knew of anyone who she would recommend, and she said 'Brahmin-aa venumnu ellaam illiyonno?' (You aren't particular about having a brahmin cook, right? said in a very Brahminised tamil). I said 'Not at all! I just want someone who is hygenic, honest and cooks well' quite surprised by her progressiveness. She then went on to shock me pleasantly, by taking me to her neighbour and introducing me to this cook who happened to be a Muslim. (It is quite radical for a Brahmin lady of her generation!) And I decided to try her out.
Parveen is not a great cook, especially for the kind of food that my family is used to. She is used to cooking with too much oil, spice, masala - all of which neither of us really like. Not that I am a great cook either! :) Though I was giving her some basic instructions about our preferences, we weren't really looking forward to our lunch or dinner. Since Rajeev and I were living some very busy lives, we consumed anything organic, edible and home-made with gratitude. I began to wonder if I needed to look for a new cook.
In the meantime, I am learning more about Parveen, from all the stories she tells me as she does the cooking. Yes, she is quite chatty! :)
Parveen comes from a fairly well-off family. They own a car, which her husband drives for Besant Call Taxi. They have a maid to do all the household work.
She is honest. There are many things she could have lied to me about, out of fear of acceptance. But she always speaks what is true for her in her heart.
She has a lot of self-respect. She just left a job in another place because they treated her badly and it was unacceptable to her! A couple of times when I didn't inform her in time that I was not going to be home, she told me gently but firmly that she'd appreciate it if I respected her time and informed her earlier. "Remember, I have a life and I have a family too!" she said. When she makes a mistake, she is quick to apologise with a sweet smile.
Parveen has strong work ethics. She has strong views on what she would and wouldn't do at work. She informs me by a certain time if she can't come. She always keeps her word.
She is very open to learning new things and cares about her life. She was quite curious to know more about the whole deal about 'organic food' and asked me if I could get it for her family as well. I said it was expensive. She said it was okay. "I am willing to spend on good health!" Wow, I said to myself!
She deeply cares about her family, what they eat, how they live, etc.
More than anything, I am learning that she is quite a rebel in her community in an interesting and refreshing way. She is expected to wear the burkha, but says "It is such an uncomfortable outfit! Black kills in Chennai summers. I wear it only on occassions when it is absolutely essential." She is not supposed to step out at all. "It is so boring to sit at home all day! I want to go out, meet people, do other things and in the process earn some pocket money for my own expenses." Parveen's in-laws don't know about her going out to work. She has asked for leave whenever they come to town. Her husband does not know that she works in more than one house. Well, the important thing here is that she is neither fearful (about people finding out) nor angry about all that she is having to face. She is very matter-of-factly, fearless and light whenever she talks about these challenges in her community and about how she deals with them. Here is the biggest inspiration for me.
I've been a big rebel too starting from my high-school days. But, more often than not, I've been either very aggressive or very fearful in my rebellion. It is refreshing to see someone like Parveen be so cool about it, but very serious at the same time. It is clear that it comes from a certain deep conviction about her truth. It is clear that she does not care about getting anyone's approval about it. Now, that is very very inspiring to me!
I am sure Parveen is not perfect. But she epitomises the qualities of an ideal woman for me - strength, love, care, tenderness, fun, wildness, courage all at the same time. It's an honor to have someone like her come home everyday and touch my life. There's no way I'm going to let go of her so easily. I'm sure I can work with her on better cooking. :)