The mother-daughter duo
Twenty-four year old Champa and her fifty-year old mother, … , live in Govandi, Mumbai. Champa’s mother has been living in Mumbai for close to two decades. She came with her husband. Her husband passed away in 2008, and since then her daughter, Champa, has been living with her. Champa works in an embroidery factory; she supports her mother, and also a second mother (her father’s second wife) in the village, with her income. Her mother has been keeping unwell and the expenses are going up, it is getting difficult to get by everyday but she has a positive outlook towards life. Maybe she gets this from her mother, who believes that our thoughts in the heart must be used to build courage and one mustn’t lose hope.
From Mumbai to Belauri and back
Champa grew up in both Mumbai and Belauri ( in Western Nepal). Now, she likes visiting her village but she doesn’t like living in the village. She talks about her job, her family, and looking after both her mothers.
Champa returned to Mumbai in 2008, the same year that her father passed away. She came to Mumbai for treatment – she had a problem with her back. The treatment was successful, and then she thought there was no point in returning to Nepal – there is no work there. Also her mother was alone, as her father passed away. So she decided to stay on. Back then, her mother used to work, and she stayed home. “After my medication was over I helped mother in the house. I have another mother also. I have two mothers. My other mother stays in the village, and we have to send her money as well. So it was hard to sustain; and I had my back problem. Afterwards, I was better so I also started working.”
She started working in 2008, and got married the year after in 2009. Her husband stays with her, so that they can take care of her mother. “He stayed here voluntarily. He said that my mother was alone here, so we should live here. And here, we are living by somehow. My husband is working as a guard in a company. He has to do night shifts.” She stopped working after her marriage, and her mother continued to work despite her poor condition, so recently she started working again because her mother’s health started getting worse.
“Some have had even more difficult times than us. At least, we have other people in our lives. Some do not even have this much.”
Until last year, her mother was working in a school, and it was good as they were both working; they were also providing for her other mother in the village. They were able to meet all expenses but now that her mother has fallen sick, it has been really heard for her to work and be able to accompany her mother to the hospital. “Every hospital has its own system, so I have to be there. Having to work and go to the hospital, I am burdened with twice the amount of work. I have told her not to work for now, and I’m taking care of the expenses.”
In the village, she has her other mother, and besides her, she has many relatives. Her mother in the village needs money to meet her expenses, and also to grow crop in the fields. “We send money, but we can’t send her money every month. We have to spend on the medicines. We don’t have any savings; everything gets spent. So, I am taking care of two people, which is hard. We don’t have the income that we used to.”
Champa’s mother laments that they had to spend a lot of money. Also, Champa had to spend a lot of time going around in the hospital. “I don’t make that much money, so how do I provide?” she says. Despite the hardships, Champa has a positive outlook towards life. She says all she needs is blessings from everyone. “Some have had even more difficult times than us. At least, we have other people in our lives. Some do not even have this much.”
Unlike the mother, Champa has not worked in households. She worked for the children’s toy company that made plastic football, horses and hammers, and then she worked for Taj Hotel’s shirt company. There, she didn’t work there for long. Then, she took a job cutting threads—in an embroidery company. “We also had to attach borders. I left the shirt company after working for a little while. Now, I have joined another embroidery company, and I have been working there for a year. After you get good at it, it’s good. They let me leave in between work despite the fact that it stops the work. They understand, so I also have to make an effort. The work is good. They are good people. Let’s see what happens in the future.”
It has been almost eight years since she returned to Mumbai, and now she only likes to visit the village. She says, “I don’t like living there so much because I’ve been here from a young age. I was there for two years, and then I came here to India. I went there again to study. So, I stayed there for another three, four years to study. Then, I came here.”
“Regardless of being a son or a daughter, I’ll do what I can. I am the only support for them. I have two mothers. Whether you consider me a son or a daughter, I’m taking care of them however I can. There is no one else besides me. That is the only hardship I have.”
Married at the age of sixteen, and becoming a mother at the age of eighteen, Champa’s mother came to Mumbai at the age of thirty. She didn’t like Mumbai at first, but started liking living here later.
“I was married when I was sixteen. I had a child when I was eighteen. I came here when I was thirty. Then I went back to the village for just a month, to visit. I didn’t like it here I was sad, so my husband took me back to village. Then we had her (Champa). We brought her here when she was two.” She says, she liked it later when they started earning the money, built a shack in 1999, with great difficulties. She cleaned the shack, laid a few sheets of plastic, and started living here; there was no difficulty. She had her own house in the village as well. Her husband was a night watchman, who developed some health complications due to stomach problems and that caused his death.
Champa’s mother is sitting upright and talking to me. I ask her if she wants to lie down, but she says she feels okay. Champa says that her mother is a bit better now. She was not doing well before. She had to be admitted in the middle of the night as she had chest pain. Later, during the treatment, while trying to diagnose what was wrong, they found out that she had problem in the stomach. Mother says, “It’s been three months we have been running around for treatment. I don’t know how many more months we’ll have to do this. I am still taking the medicines. I still have to go for checkups.” There isn’t anyone besides Champa to take care of her; Champa is doing what she can as there is no one else to take care of her mother.
Their relatives live far away and they can come for a few days but everyone has their own work, says Champa. Having relatives over for a few days is not like having someone in the house. Champa says. “Regardless of being a son or a daughter, I’ll do what I can. I am the only support for them. I have two mothers. Whether you consider me a son or a daughter, I’m taking care of them however I can. There is no one else besides me. That is the only hardship I have.” She sometimes feels sad for not having a brother to share her responsibility but she doesn’t subscribe to the thought that after a daughter gets married, she no longer has her responsibilities. “Wherever I go, it is my duty to take care of them. I feel sad that I cannot perform my responsibility properly. I hope that I am able to take proper care of my two mothers. After that, whatever happens is fine with me. They should be in a better condition. That is my only concern.”
“When I went to Nepal, I completely forgot Marathi and Gujrati. And sometimes—maybe it happens to you as well—when I am speaking in Nepali, I use Hindi. And when I’m here and am speaking in Hindi, I use Nepali.”
Mind your language
Champa’s mother found it difficult at first to learn the language, and Champa learnt the local languages as a little girl, from her early years in Mumbai, but has forgotten some of it now.
Her mother says she liked the language despite not being able to understand. Her husband used to talk to others, and she did not have to come out of the house, to get things. Her husband – he used to get everything. He bought the vegetables, and even matches and needles. She did not know anything about going to the market. And one day, when her husband was away, she went by herself to buy turmeric. She asked in her own language, Nepali. Instead of haldi, she said hadelo. Then the shopkeeper said, “I can’t understand anything you are saying. What are you saying? Please say it properly.” Mother had said, “hadelo chayo.” Then the shopkeeper replied, “You are not getting anything I’m saying. And I don’t understand anything you are saying. So, we have a different understanding here. What you should do is you should send your husband. I have never seen you in the shop.”
Champa’s mother said to her husband, “You always do the shopping. Today, while I was preparing food I needed turmeric. So I went out to get it. But I didn’t know how to ask for it. So I said it in Nepali—hadelo. And I couldn’t understand what the shopkeeper said.” She told him that from then on he would always have to go shopping by himself. But slowly, she started to understand.
Champa says, “When I went to Nepal, I completely forgot Marathi and Gujrati. And sometimes—maybe it happens to you as well—when I am speaking in Nepali, I use Hindi. And when I’m here and am speaking in Hindi, I use Nepali.” Champa can speak Hindi, mixing a bit of Nepali. She can understand Marathi quite well but can’t speak much in Marathi; and also the same with Gujrati. She completely forgot these two languages. Earlier, she knew these languages perfectly. She says she likes Punjabi language, and can still speak a bit of Punjabi.
She feels that to speak a language you have to be able to speak it completely, like you can in your own language. Then only you feel like speaking in that language. But to speak a language in pieces just because you think you know it doesn’t feel right. That’s why she doesn’t speak Marathi; she can but with all the pauses she feels that it’s better that she does not speak. “And actually, I know India’s languages better than I know my own language. Mother and uncles, the older ones, can speak our language but when we speak we tend to mix Hindi and Marathi. We cannot speak our language fluently. I can’t, maybe others can.”
The spoken language in Western Nepal is a bit different from the Nepali spoken in Kathmandu. “For nights, we say ‘sanjha’, and for mornings, we say ‘bihana’. The words are the same, but every individual has a different way of saying it.” Her mother speaks in Hindi, in Marathi, and also inserts words from her own language.
“I had never gone out of the house. I was very sad. When my husband was there, I didn’t come out of the house. Now, I was in a tough situation. I didn’t know what to do and how to do things.”
Stepping out to work
Champa’s mother stepped out of the house to work only after her husband passed away. It was a big change for her, she says.
Champa’s mother had been working in a school for the last four years and prior to that she worked in households for a few years. She wasn’t paid much – a paltry sum of Rs.800 per month, but she managed. Champa recollects that it wasn’t that expensive back then, and also their expenses were less. She says that even educated people were making something like eight thousand back then. Those who were a little less educated were making four thousand. And those who have studied only little were making three thousand. Even three thousand was a lot back then. So in comparison, she was making eight hundred from one house. She worked in one place in the afternoon, and one more in the evening. So, in a day, she was working in two houses—half day each. From the morning till one in the afternoon, she worked in one place. And from one to five she worked in the other place. With that she could properly run the house.
“I had never gone out of the house. I was very sad. When my husband was there, I didn’t come out of the house. Now, I was in a tough situation. I didn’t know what to do and how to do things. What if someone does something to me? Will I know how to do the work? How do I do it? But, later I learned. I learned looking at others. I hadn’t worked outside my home. I felt very bad. After my husband died, I had to work even harder. I felt sad. I hadn’t even gone to buy matches. I felt very bad. But it’s alright, what can you do. Now, I don’t even have the energy to work.”
“They gave me clothes—they kept sets of clothes for me. I still wonder why I stopped working in households.”
Working in Mumbai
Champa’s mother has worked in households as well as in a school. She preferred working in the households, as her employers were really nice.
She says the people she knew never helped me; the only one to help her is God. God helped, but people never did. But despite of not finding a person to help her, she did not lose hope. She made her resolve even stronger. She recollects a time when seven bulldozers came to knock down her shack, but she still did not lose hope. “I maintained my self-respect. I had the strength. I did not lose hope, but people never helped me. I did it alone. I went ahead with my own courage. I have God beside me. I don’t have any person to count on. I have a daughter, that’s it.”
“Whether someone supports you or not, you should not lose hope. You should not become a coward. The thoughts in the heart must be kept in the heart and used to build one’s courage.
The employers she worked for, they were good. They gave her clothes, saree, food, etc. They were Christians. “Those people are good,” says Champa. Mother misses working in the households more than working in the school. “I’d rather work there again. They gave me food. They gave me clothes—they kept sets of clothes for me. I still wonder why I stopped working in households. They celebrate Christmas, and during that time they give you things—slippers, petticoat, blouse, saree, etc. I wasn’t short of clothes. Now, I’m starting to get short of clothes, since I started working in the school. And I am struggling lately.” In the past two, three months she has faced a lot of hardship. She feels bad, “What can I do? My daughter has to go around everywhere. Sometimes she doesn’t even get time to eat. She has been running around for me. We have suffered a lot in the last two, three months. We are managing our food with her earnings. But it’s not enough; we have to send money to village as well. If we don’t send, they won’t be able to farm. We have problems. Our house is in such a state. …”
She says that it was good, when her husband was around. Her husband was earning the money, and she had to wash clothes, cook food, do the cleaning and look after the kids – that’s all. There was no hardship back then. Now, everything is a challenge—everything depends on her, she says. There is no one to do it for her. If she faces any difficulty, there is no one to help her, and she has to carry everything on her own. “Whatever, path god paves for me I have to walk on it.”
Champas mother was wondering who will listen to stories of migrants like her, and others. She only wishes that women should not lose hope, “Whether someone supports you or not, you should not lose hope. You should not become a coward. The thoughts in the heart must be kept in the heart and used to build one’s courage. And give that courage to others, don’t let them get disheartened. Whatever that must happen will happen. This is all work of God. We must not lose hope. I tell her (my daughter) this all the time.”
The daughter feels like she hasn’t done anything for her mother till now. She says that her mother has been taking care of herself till now, and it’s only recently, that she has started to take care of the mother. Champa’s mother says to her that she has to take care of her when she can’t see, when she can’t move my hands and legs—when she is not able go to the bathroom. “Maybe you’ll get disgusted. Maybe you’ll get angry and beat me. It’s just a thought, who would do such a thing? If she does, she will get punished by God. I need to be taken care of then, when I’m completely helpless. Why would you need to take care of me now? I can still work. I can still see. I am working. I am feeding her. I have made a house for her. She is my only daughter. I am trying to give everything to my only daughter. But now having to do several operations, things are getting difficult. Everyone is tensed, we don’t have money. My only daughter is working. And still they don’t pay you on time. They pay you two, three months late. I was telling her to quit and study, and I would work. But then this happened.”
“My daughter is good. She is taking care of this house twice as better than what I was. I don’t have any tension, I have never lost hope. After they take out the stitches, I’ll start working again. But she’s saying I can’t work for one or two months … I can’t lose hope.”
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