There are no poor in Manampally…..at least not the type that was poor enough to work for a living.
Or perhaps they did not subscribe to the principal of working for a living. Their principal argument against this fundamental expectation was the presence of the umpteen well-to-do gulf returnees in the land, all of who needed poor families to complete their religious duties of Zakat (charity). In fact the poor were doing everyone a favor by staying poor by not working or by not going abroad and getting rich themselves, and depriving people of the chance to complete their divine duties.
Of the few that did turn up for work, say at a house, was the common opinion that turning up itself was the job and all associated activities optional. This explained the tendency to linger and engage the people of the house in merry chatter, possibly believing this spread of cheer an added perk of hiring their pleasant selves, and the rather quick onset of bad temper when asked to engage in the actual work for which they were hired.
Other similar ‘perks’ included unsolicited advice and questions (so why are you delaying your daughter’s marriage’), unwanted intimation (your son is walking around without his clothes; yes, the sight of an autistic boy wrapped in a towel scandalizes the women from the land of lungis) and the delivery of town gossip (That cow can never stay put, just like Abu Bakr’s daughter scarf)
This was not to say that turning up was a given – there was always the sickly brother who needed urgent visiting along with a request for travel fee that could be cut from the next salary, the sudden wedding of a far away niece for which was required the buying of a new dress and gold, and of course the children that fell sick at an alarming frequency – all of which ensured an attendance below fifty percent at any given point in time.
Of course, this did lead many of the women of these grand houses to decide rather bravely (considering the size of these mansions) to do the work themselves. After all, didn’t the lithe bodies of their mothers prove that housework was the greatest form of exercise. Resolutely they shun the modern mops and wipe the floors with cloth, grind their grain and coconuts on stone, discard their vacuum cleaners for stick brooms and water their enormous gardens with hand-pumped water from wells, until the general disillusionment that tags along with any form of exercise sets in.
Ironical as it may seem, the winds of disenchantment often brings home a beggar or two, sometimes the erstwhile help, sometimes the over religious undernourished woman in late fifties, abandoned by grown children, or struggling with even unhealthier family members, reciting verses of the religious text at intervals to kindle reminders of charitable duty.
And perhaps you permit the reminder, try to soothe their pains, considering your rich and blessed life. And the visits grew more frequent and time draws obvious patterns. And so when your knees collapse, you request them to help out a day in exchange for the money. They quickly clear the premises citing newer health problems or continue to linger with a selective hearing problem to the ever growing ailment list.
And you figure, that no matter how poor they seem or how troubled their lives, work was not an option in this filthy rich land.