Another family too lives in the space our house is in. Their's is a much more meager structure at the far end and in the left corner; the main house being to the right. In the space between their house and ours is a good sized lawn and a garden patch. But since there is a washing place attached to and behind the main house and it is across the lawn, the family needs to walk across to get to it.
They are originally from Nepal, and I know little about the political conditions there, or the state of their economy. Its obvious this family is here due to the latter reason - a situation similar to that which Indians find themselves in when they go over to US. They've lived here about eight years - an arrangement struck between them and my parents - as likely to be mutually beneficial, after my father retired and they saw none of us, their children, would be living with them.
My father passed away three years ago, and my own circumstances, willed or otherwise, brought me to move in with my mother only a year ago. We all, her children and our children, were always amazed how well she yet managed to keep the house. The garden with its many flower beds and rows of potted plants drew exclamations of surprise from anyone visiting the first time. Within the house too, the wall hangings, carpet and other objects de art collected over their lifetime, though aged, were always dusted clean and well maintained.
It always appeared this way to me whenever my daughters were over, in the few days we would stay - my wife for some reason or another, was busy with her work and away.
When I arrived here that first time after deciding I would live now with my mother, as it happened, she wasn't home. I remember how warmly the Nepali man, Bahadur is his name, greeted me. My mother really was having difficulty being alone, and they could easily see that.
Bahadur's wife is Vishnu, a little surprising since it is a masculine name. She does all the house work in our house. I remember her earlier, as being stiff, in an emancipated kind of way, and her clothes were always drab.
One day last year we had some visitors over and were sitting down to lunch in the back lawn, as we often did in winter. A call came from their village in Nepal that her dad had died. Wailing, she just left whatever she was doing and walked over into their own house. Ofcourse my mother learnt what had happened and told the rest of us. We left her alone then and all of us together brought out the things we needed to take our meal, keeping our voices down. She went and stayed with her family in Nepal for two weeks and my mother did all the cooking and cleaning, with me helping as I could.
Another time a few years ago, just before my father died, I was staying with them again. Both of them, my parents, were out of town and I too was going on a trip with some people for a few days. When the people I was going with arrived and I walked out, Vishnu too came out to check them, though she had been washing some clothes inside. This has stayed with me, or made me realize a concern and a bond they had for us, which I was unaware of.
One of the profounder ways in which I have been affected by living ten years in US, and similarly by the few years in France, is in how much lesser is the distance between all of us as humans, compared to our relationship with everything else around us. I am sure I could not have otherwise shed something inside me, lying there because I would not have cared to turn it over and examine it, an attitude towards the servant-class here in India.
I remember an incident from my earlier years of school. A young man who cooked for us once dropped something boiling in the kitchen and burned his foot rather severely. This may have happened during the day, but in any case my mother asked him to take the day off and he went away to where he lived, some place in a cluster of houses behind our own house. Later my dad and I visited him, or rather I tagged along, to give him some ointment for his burns. He was all gratitude, but I was immensely moved at how stuffy his little room was. It was the first time for me of actually seeing how 'servants' lived. No we, those who employ them, really have never visited their homes.
As it is now, I occupy this room in the back of our house and it has a large window overlooking the back lawn. The house Bahadur's family lives in, its front door, is only partially hidden behind a hedge. It is a little awkward, because leading out from my room is a small porch, and sitting there one is looking directly into their house. Or in any case very aware of their talk and what they're doing, as much as those sitting inside or outside there would be of us. I did, as a matter of fact accept that this family is really my neighbor -- with the exception that I have some privileges and some influence over them, which I cannot ignore, like anything else which is a part of my real environment.
I have watched over my own two girls, as they went through school in US, taking them to their after-school and weekend activities, understanding and dealing with the needs of their schools and otherwise .. now I can recognize so much of that in the chatter I hear from this house as their teenage girls and a younger son, return from a neighboring school; or when Bahadur returns from his work-place and the children happily greet him, interspersed with their demands, he speaks back to them in a mockly gruff voice. I sit in my own room, partly annoyed with the distraction; but very much an onlooker as well, and a participant almost.
As it had to be, eventually, this family and I have become connected in some mental way. I am sure they think of me as actually related to them or in their minds, unconsciously perhaps, they put me in place of Bahadur's or Vishnu's older brother. Any sternness I put on in an effort to keep at a comfortable distance, with the actual relationship of the two family's in mind, the children probably see as easily as a moodiness, or a part of the nature, any real relative of their's might have had.