I employed a child!

Our third child was born at the end of 1992 in Madurai. Two weeks later in January 1993, my mother brought little Malar, all of 10 years, from Bangalore to help me.

I had known Malar’s mother Iyamma from the time I was 10. Iyamma had been a servant in my parents’ home for 14 years now, and she was happy to send one of her children to work for me. Malar’s father had been an abusive man and rarely sober.

When Malar was about a year old, her mum had brought Malar to our Bangalore house one evening and I was immediately drawn to this chubby beautiful baby. I told Iyamma that she had a very cute baby. My mother chided me at that point, because in India parents are sometimes afraid of attracting the evil eye. But little Malar had the traditional large black spot of kaajal on her cheek to ward off the evil eye, so surely Iyamma would not worry.

But misfortune did come to little Malar, for that very night, her father, in drunken stupour, accidentally set their house on fire. It was either his beedi setting fire to something or a lamp that fell over or something. But Malar was badly burnt. Fortunately, she survived and returned home after a long stay in hospital. Mercifully, her face had been untouched by the fire.

I did not have much to do with that child till I saw her arrive at our home in Madurai about nine years later, employed as a little baby sitter to play with my older children, particularly my son Tim.

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Now, 25 years later, I want to be sure that I was fair to her. I want to be assured that I treated her with dignity. I looked at my 1993 photos and also had a quick read of my 1993 diary.

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Even though I lived in a culture that would not have frowned upon having a child as a servant, I am pretty certain that I did not consider her as being of lower status. But if given another chance, I would like to have done even more to improve her prospects.

I was too overwhelmed with three children under the age of four to do much for little Malar, other than feed her and include her in the activities that I provided my children. She was part of family devotions and Sunday School and the rest. As she had not been to school, I wanted to educate her, but that would have to wait for a year or so.

My father came in May to take her to spend a week with her mum Iyamma in Bangalore, and then he brought her back to me again.

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I have also made a note in my diary about her birthday in August. I hope we had a cake for her or at least something that she would have recognised as special, especially as pictures show that she was a part of the birthday celebrations of the other children, along with the cousins.

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Her only duty was to play with Tim, and with Prisy if required. Prisy was already adept at entertaining herself and so it was mostly Tim who needed to be watched.

They played in the garden a lot, and the moment she looked away, Tim would pop a handful of garden dirt into his mouth. Malar would try and get him to spit out the dirt, often giving his mouth a tight smack to make him open it. My mother-in-law was not too pleased about this, as she felt that the only people who could administer a smack were the parents. And so we had some minor frictions.

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About a year after being with us and blessing us with her smile and help, her mother wanted her back and she wanted to go back too. My hopes of teaching her to read and write did not materialise. Hopefully the remuneration for her services would have been helpful to Iyamma in making ends meet.

What now? Nothing, except that I pray that the Lord bless her wherever she is today and fill her life with true hope and joy, such as only the Lord can give.

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