Murugan is from Kottakarai village. He started working for my mom when I was still a teenager, and he was just a few years older than I was.
Murugan recently shared a story about how as a kid he used to hate school, so every morning he’d pretend to pack his schoolbag and head out. But instead of making his way to school, he’d hang out in the fields instead and come home in the evening. When his father finally found out about this, he was badly beaten.
I find it amazing how Murugan has taught himself to recognize English words (like items on our regular shopping list), even though he can’t read the letters. He also loves to practice his spoken English and has a very unique way of expressing himself. He uses “want” for almost any verb-expression he’s referring to… “I want to buy, You want to tell…”
Yerumalai has also worked here for many, many years, but I can’t remember when he started – maybe I was already in Kodai school or something. Yerumalai comes from Edayanchavadi village, and we mostly call him “Savady,” as a short form of his village name.
Yerumalai shared that he used to be a goat-boy, taking his family goats out every day to graze. Then as a teenager, he became a mason’s helper, but he was never very good at it. He says he feels dumb for not being able to read and write. When he has to travel and catch a bus to another village or town, he often gets on the wrong one and is made fun of by the driver and conductor, “What? Can’t you read?!”
I love Yerumalai’s jolly attitude! He seems to always have a smile on his face and turns any situation into a humourous one! Just ask him to sing “Ba ba black sheep!”
Ruba is Ishama’s niece, although she calls her “Ma.” Ruba’s mother passed away when she was still very young, and she remembers growing up with Ishama and Ishama’s sister-in-law. Ruba studied until 8th grade and is passionate about reading, both in Tamil and in English. She enjoys being able to support her kids with their homework, as she knows that many other parents from her home-village don’t have this luxury. Ruba now lives in Pondicherry with her husband and kids, but she is still very connected to her village of Kottakarai. We often celebrate Ruba’s family life, as her husband is the cook at home (and he’s a chef during the day!).
Ishama too has a school story to share. During her very first school days, she was beaten badly by the other kids. Afraid, she decided to never go back. Although she didn’t mention it, I assumed she was beaten because of her caste. I asked Karthik about this later, as he obviously knows the invisible ins-and-outs of his culture, and he confirmed this for me – that she was probably beaten by the other kids because of her “castless”-label – not worthy of being acknowledged… Wow…
But then, after years of already knowing her, she shared another secret. Because her husband works in a granite quarry in Andra Pradesh, Ishama learned to speak Telugu fluently! What do you mean, she has no education?! Funny how she doesn’t register language skills as having an education…
I love Ishama. She’s shy on the outside, but so spunky and courageous on the inside.
Savandary is our newest staff member. She’s from Edayanchavadi village, like Yerumalai. Savandary lives alone with her youngest daughter. Her older daughter is already married, and her husband passed away. I can imagine it was a little shocking for Savandary to start working here, as our “Joy culture” is a little different, to say the least… I enjoy Savandary’s quiet presence, and her willingness to jump in and make friends here with the rest of the staff.
* – * – * – * – * – *
This was fun! We all decorated Sarah’s birthday card together, but it took some coaxing. First they were shy, especially the ones who haven’t spent too many hours of their lives with pens and paper… But once we got going, it was a full community affair!