Earlier this year, my mother spent a month with my eldest sister, leaving her home in the care of the driver-housekeeper couple who stayed in her outhouse and worked for her. They'd been with her for close to three years, and despite being absurdly young themselves, had managed to produce three children under the age of 6. The lady was incredibly pretty, a fresh faced 23-year-old from the village, innocent and unworldly. Her husband was much more gruff and given to staying out of home for long stretches but they were unfailingly kind to Mummy.
My mother was extremely good to them as well — when the lady had a hysterectomy, she was on paid leave for a whole two months, coming into the main house just to eat a breakfast of two eggs and a glass of milk, essentials for recovering from lack of a uterus in my mother's book. Mummy also part-paid the school fees of the kids and ensured that they had all the fuel needed to propel them to future greatness — a steady stream of stationery, decent underclothes, and a regular supply of cheese tins and custard powder. The kids paid for these freebies in sweat and tears, because Mummy appointed herself their tutor, philosopher and etiquette guide. They were untamed feral creatures, and under her strict tutelage, they stayed exactly as they were, albeit untamed feral creatures who could sing Johnny Johnny yes papa and ABCDE loudly, proficiently and totally uncomprehendingly.
Then Mummy came back from her month long stay with my sister and found that the house had been broken into the day she arrived, right under the obviously-not-so-watchful-noses of the housekeeper-chauffeur combine. All nature of things had been taken. The cops were called and duly descended. My mother became all Furious Robbed Householder from Hell ("the CHEEK of these so and so's — they took my fleeces from America but my Nagpur jacket wasn't good enough for them??!!") meets Inspector Clouseau ("hmmmmmm. Obviously, the thieves are illiterates from a cold place — my thermals have gone, but my passport is still here") meets Hindu Detachment Grand Central ("these are only things. God has cleared out my cupboard so my children don't need to do it when I am gone.")
The real Inspectors meanwhile, had theories of their own — and God, as the Supreme Cleaner Outer of Cupboards, was certainly not on the suspect list. They began to get heavy with the housekeeper-driver couple. Mummy was distraught and called the investigating team together, gave them mixed fruit juice and made a pious and tender speech about how much it savaged her soul to think of how the couple were being harassed. She had already had a word with them about their irresponsibility but they were young and so it was understandable. Meanwhile, she gave them a totally clean chit and so could they, the cops, after finishing off the mixed fruit juice, go out and catch the real criminals please?
Moved to tears by her obvious love and concern for her help and by her quivering eloquence, the police duly thrashed the driver, who obligingly made a full and frank confession. Over the course of the next few days, the couple were by turns frogmarched to their village and came back laden with almost half the loot. It had apparently been stashed in the cowshed, situated almost a vertical kilometre below the homesteads in the village and the police did an incredible job of lugging back what they could find. The rest, they said was irretrievable.
My mother was absolutely incredulous that the sweet unworldly pretty girl she had been mothering for the past three years had turned out to be this uterus-less snake in the grass, one who had collaborated with the gruff husband to divest my mother of all her belongings. They were hurriedly gotten rid off, and the process of auditing her stolen property, settling her back in to her home, her possessions and her routine continues to this day. In no particular order then, here are the things I have learnt from the whole incident — whodunnit, howdunnit, all that was stolen, all that was recovered, the process leading up to both me and my mother's response to everything.
1. When you roll your eyes and say to your elderly parent(s), "stop being so obsessed with locking everything, PUHLEEZ understand you have nothing worth stealing"; you're wrong.
2. When the cops say with infinite cynicism that Mataji, 95% of all break ins are inside jobs, sadly, they are 100% right.
3. There's a Carrie Bradshaw inside every woman — the longest description my ascetic mother gave of her missing possessions was not of her jewellery, but of her missing shoes. Here's a sample from the list she wrote obligingly for the cops in Hindi. "Cherry joote (flats), oont ke rang ke joote, chocolate joote (andar fur wale)"
4. Things that have been stored in a cowshed smell (unsurprisingly) of cow. Lending new depth of meaning to the old adage, you can take the loot out of the cowshed but you can't take the cowshed out of the loot.
5. Cops can be extraordinarily kind. Yes. I have seen three burly men listen with rapt attention to my mother breathlessly telling and retelling the story of how handsome Daddy looked at their wedding in his dushala, which was stolen. (The observation that he was unlikely to be getting married again in the afterlife and therefore not have much need of a wedding dushala came from me, not them.)
6. You don't need no discernment to know that truly lovely things are lovely — all my mothers pashmina shawls and sweaters were taken. By people who wouldn't know "cashmere" if it bit them on the bum.
7. Things aren't just things — they are also memory place holders. And sometimes; when memories are your most valuable possessions, losing dessert spoons can be more devastating than losing diamond rings.
8. Believing the best of everyone is liable to get you taken for a ride. Not believing the best of everyone means you are going to have a miserable life. You get to pick one.
Here's the thing. With or without the cheese tins, the school fees, the eggs and milk prescription, Daddy's dushala, the cherry jootas, the dragon bracelet, the cashmere sweaters, the fruit forks and all the million other things she will never ever get back — I know for sure that my mother has always picked right.