The story of our domestic help’s medical bills came to an end about two week ago. It took me that long to get around to actually writing about it as it is a heavy subject and was bound to be a long post. I also have not posted anything else in that time because I felt that skipping this to post light hearted observations of the denizens of the subcontinent would be out of place until I did this.
We won’t be seeing any more of those medical bills. Our maid’s son passed away from cancer at the age of 34. He had a biopsy performed on one of the lymph nodes in his neck a few days before he passed. The result of the test indicated that he had advanced cancer and was too weak for chemotherapy. They could only try to make him comfortable. His breathing was weak and he was on oxygen. As seems to be the custom here, they gave a person on his deathbed something that he liked. In this case, it was whiskey, or some other alcohol. Though euthanasia was not the intention, the alcohol seemed to shorten his suffering and he passed from cardiac failure.
Our maid called Daniela on her cell phone. I overheard her speaking and it was clear that she was being given the news of his passing. Then my cell phone rang. It was sour driver, who had been informed by our maid’s surviving son. Wrenzo and his wife were going over to our maid’s late son’s home for the impromptu wake (they are Catholic). The funeral would already be the next day. We all piled into the car for the ride to the wake in Koramangala.
It was like walking into a different world.
Their incomes are well above the 100 ruppee per had threshold that Siva tells us two thirds of Indians live under. They would be classified as middle class; possibly lower middle class (our driver, with about 35% more income regards himself as middle class). Nevertheless, by the standards that we know in the west, they lived in hovels. That alone was shocking.
They had quickly set up a makeshift tent in the alleyway between apartment block where her son and his family lived and the building across the way; apartments that seemed to be one room manmade caves and had only a curtain for a front door. They had laid down cloth shoots on the ground to cover the bare earth of the alleyway and had strung a large cloth sheet over the alleyway. Someone had acquired (possibly rented) a pair of floodlights to light the alley. In the middle, lay our maid’s son, covered in a cloth with only his face visible. He was resting in a clear Plexiglas box that somewhat resembled a coffin, but was plugged in and had a power switch for some reason. People took turns paying their respects and laying flower wreathes on the box at his feet.
As the employers of the departed’s mother, it seems to be a tradition here for the men of the family to get drunk when a family tragedy occurs. In the case of our maid, that seems also extend to the mother of the departed. She was drunk as a skunk. She had outlived three of her four children; something no parent should ever have to do. Wrenzo has since loudly criticized her for drinking (though only with Daniela, never with me), though I can’t really blame her. We had the sense that though she would normally be the matriarch of the family, her position is actually quite weak within her family; probably due to long term depression. That explains quite a bit about why we had the feeling that our maid’s siblings were not helping. Shrunken matriarchs in search of redemption and acceptance don’t go around asking the family for help. They bring help to the family.
We were also accorded a position of honor. Firstly, we were the employers of the mother of the deceased. Secondly, we were the benefactors who paid for his – ultimately too late – treatment. Someone was always trying to make sure that we did not have to do anything tiring like standing on our own feet and everyone made sure to thank us profusely for helping with his bills.
We left with a sense that our help had been genuinely appreciated.