We stumbled across her through a family friend, who recommended her to us in a most passionate manner. She walked through the front door carrying a small polythene bag that was her only baggage and remains so to this day. I came into the picture, when my wife summoned me to act as an interpreter during the interview. I saw a dark six foot tall imposing rural woman sitting cross legged on the carpet. Her skin was dark and rugged indicating that she had spent long hours in the sun. What awed me was her voice, which had a stentorian authority that generated both intimidation and honest rustic loyalty. She looked ageless, but spoke of her children and grandchildren. I reckoned her to be around fifty five, but much later found that I had under estimated her age by ten years. Half an hour later Amma Ji was added to our household.

As time went by, we discovered one thing after another about her. We found that she was an experienced ‘dai’, who had delivered a goodly number of babies. She was also a gifted masseuse, with an uncanny knowledge of ‘pressure points’ and how to relieve stress, pains and aches through deft kneading. Her knowledge of ‘totkas’ would have surprised even the celebrated ‘Zubeda Apa’, but her most outstanding feature was her capacity to work tirelessly. She would finish her chores and then ask for more work, as if the word ‘idle’ was not in her dictionary. We discovered that she was a born leader because within a week of her arrival, she assumed control of all our younger domestics and put them to honest work.

She had another habit that initially impressed us, but with time became irritating. Before proceeding on leave to her village near Fatehjang, she would lay out the contents of her polythene bag in front of my wife and ask her to verify that nothing was being purloined from the house. This ritual was repeated year after year with unrelenting regularity, till she was told that we trusted her and there was no need to do this anymore. Amma Ji nodded her head in acknowledgment, but persisted with the habit.

One day, while I sat in my verandah smoking my afternoon pipe, this unique woman walked up to me and requested permission to visit the small bazaar some distance away from our suburban home. It was then that I discovered that Amma Ji was an avid ‘hookah’ smoker, but had refrained from the activity because she was not sure how we would react to this habit. On discovering that I too was a ‘sooty’ (for this is what she called my briar) smoker, she had now ventured to speak to me. This hookah, when it arrived complete with local tobacco, became our miracle lady’s constant companion, making me wonder at the level of her self-control in not having her daily nicotine dose, during the first few weeks of her employment with us.

This Eid, with prices of sacrificial animals rocketing skywards, Amma Ji asked my eldest daughter that she would accompany us to the local cattle market. On reaching the spot, she told my son in law that she and only she would negotiate a deal for the animals. This amazing ‘sergeant major’ of ours, made mincemeat of the hardnosed ‘dealers’ and we returned home triumphantly with a couple of fat and beautiful bovine creatures, whose prices I dare not reveal for fear of being labelled as a fibber. The show stopping incident during this event occurred, when the helpless ‘mandiwallah’ put up his hands and said “Khala ji, tussi aiwain i le jao” (Aunty, just take it away for free).

Amma Ji is now a permanent (or should I say prominent) feature of our home. She runs the household with an iron hand and never refrains from providing uninvited inputs in any matter concerning the family. We have accepted her idiosyncrasies as small return for her loyalty and integrity and have now come to the stage, where we would be at sea without her imposing figure moving in and around our premises.