Kuppamma

I go home every 4-6 months to a loving family. And there are few things that equal the joy of being at home at the end of the day. When I think of home and family, Kuppamma always features. I realized that when I saw her wave with her characteristic smile on Skype while talking to family during the weekend.

‘Kuppamma’ (an unusual name for all those who don’t have roots in Southern India) has been our maid for 22 years now. In reality, she has been a lot more than that.

To be capable of steady friendship or lasting love, are the two greatest proofs, not only of goodness of heart, but of strength of mind.

And my Grandmother has demonstrated that in great measure over 22 years by ensuring Kuppamma always felt loved and had a sense of belonging in our family.

Kuppamma, in many ways, is an incredible being. To all my friends, Kuppamma has been an ever present. She has watched all of us grow up (she started working for us about the time I was born!), served us delicious dosas when we were hungry and ensured we had our share of delicious lime juice with ice after tiring hours of games.

And when I think of it, Kuppamma has taught me many things implicitly. She always shows up with a beaming smile – no matter what. She is not without her theatrics and idiosyncracies (like all of us.. :)) but I’ve never seen her sustain a frown for long. And that’s admirable. She started working for us as a mother of a 1 year old with a permanently drunk and abusive husband who left her in due time. She used to work in 4 houses trying to maximize her earnings. My Grandmom convinced her to work for us and assured her she would have her meals covered. That was a big deal for her as she used to practically starve so she could take her portion home for her son and her ageing father. The moment my Grandmom realized what was going on, she saw to it Kuppamma had more than her usual share so she could take food home and not starve.

Over time, her life became intertwined with ours. My grandparents sponsored her son’s education, gave him odd jobs once in a while so they had more income and gave her ageing dad odd jobs as well. All the while, Kuppamma worked hard, showed up, smiled, cared and did all she could to make it all work. All our old electronics went to her, of course.

If you meet her today, she would probably talk excitedly about her son’s work at BMW’s factories or about her flat screen TV. She’s a different woman now. But, when we moved from being 10 minutes away from her place to a good 30 minute commute, she didn’t think twice about sticking with us. Of course, she’s older, slow and works lesser hours. But, she’s still tenacious, persistent, warm and cheerful.


(I was scrambling to find a picture of hers on my hard drive. So, here’s one without her usual smile and that’s her son standing behind her. She’s in the red sari.)

My grandparents have made a big difference in Kuppamma’s life. God knows how things might have turned out for her otherwise. We recently met another of our old maids who also had similar circumstances that didn’t end nearly as well. And that got me thinking..

We are all not born equal. It is a fact of life. What is ‘normal’ for me is not normal for ‘Kuppamma’ or many others like her. She did not have a maid to help around in her house, for starters. All this privilege comes with an enormous amount of responsibility.

If you are reading and comprehending this, you have access to a computer and internet. You probably even have a nice little laptop of your own or maybe you are affluent enough to afford a phone you can read this on.

Oh, and did I hear us moan? What was it about? A bad boss? A tough module? So we have jobs that pay us well now? And we can afford good education?

We have it so good.

We don’t need to starve to ensure our family members get food to eat. We don’t have any basic worries. Yet, can we all say with utmost conviction that we are doing all we can with all we have? That we are staying positive, showing up, smiling, thanking life for all it has given us? That we are working hard and bringing ourselves to work? That we are innovating, creating great things that could change the world? That we are, at the very least, sharing our joys and successes? Or that we are doing all we can to become great parents and family men and women who are shaping the youth of the future and helping the Kuppamma’s along the way?

Can we look ourselves in the mirror and unflinchingly say that we are doing all we can to be the best version of ourselves? Or are we stuck in a self serving loop with the singular aim of being the richest discontented person in a graveyard? Or worse.. To live with the aim of being ‘satisfied’ – akin to wanting to eat good meals without ever thinking of how we could serve the rest of the world and help the many who don’t have access to the good meals we get ‘satisfied’ by?

Because you see, the most inspiring thing about Kuppamma is that she has worked hard, done all she could with she has and given life her all. She has achieved extraordinary things for herself and the people around her given what she started out with. In essence, she has become the best she could be..

How many people can you and I say that about?

And most importantly, can we say that about ourselves?

I am proud to be associated with her. She is a reminder that there is inspiration all around us.

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