Alice Ayah – Remembering a Mother Figure
When I was in my teens, my married sister had left her 3-month-old baby with us and had gone to visit her husband in London.
Though there were plenty of servants, my mother wanted to keep a proper ayah for the little baby. After looking for one, for quite some time, we finally came across Alice. She was in her early forties, hefty and strong looking.
After being employed, she took complete charge of the small boy. She was very strict about looking after the baby. He had fixed hours of massage, bath, sleep, food, and play.
None of us were allowed to disrupt the routine of the dear little baby. My mother was very impressed by Alice and the way she looked after the baby.
I remember I was quite in awe of Alice and tried to keep away from her and the baby too. One day, the baby was sleeping peacefully and I was trying to iron my dress in the adjoining room.
Alice came inside and said – “Leave it Missy Baba, I will do it.” I was quite surprised and left the work to her. She happily finished ironing all my clothes and wanted to know if there were more to be done.
Since that day, we became friends and whenever she was free, she used to oil my hair and made plaits for me. She also used to cook tasty dishes for us in her free time while the baby was with my mother or father.
In the evenings, she would dress the little boy in smart clothes and take him to the nearby park in his pram.
When my sister returned, she took the baby to another town where she lived with her husband and we had to let Alice go. She only took the fixed salary and nothing else and went away to look for another job, saying she would visit us soon.
When I talk to my relatives who have ayahs, they name an exorbitant amount which they hand over to them just for looking after the kids. In those days, during the 3 months Alice stayed with us, she just took her salary for looking after the baby but did so much more.
She could easily have asked for extra cash or kind for all the cooking, washing, ironing, etc she did for free.
Once, a few years later, my parents had gone out of town but I had stayed back to attend college. Though my uncle and aunt were staying with me as Chaperone, I used to miss my parents.
One day, as I was sitting alone with my books in a pensive mood, someone knocked on the door. I got up to open it and exclaimed in delight – “Oh! its you Alice! How nice of you to come and visit.” Alice caught me in her arms and asked about my parents. On learning about them not being in town, she offered to stay the nights till they came back.
She told me she was working nearby and could come over in the evenings and stay the night. I was thrilled to have her. During those evenings and late nights, she would regale me with funny stories of her childhood which made me laugh so much that tears came to my eyes.
She also sympathized with me on learning that father was not keeping too well. My parents returned and after meeting them, Alice went on her way. This was the last we saw of her. We supposed she must have left the city for her native village because she had told us she didn’t like working anywhere else after leaving our work.
In this day and age when I needed an ayah for my kids but couldn’t find anyone as dedicated and unselfish as Alice, I truly miss her!
Contributed By: Madhuri
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