Introducing my new Assistant, Shumi!

Living in Kolkata, and having just recently moved into my new appartment, there’s a million things that I need to keep in mind everyday, so my family hired someone who could do the basic help around the house.

The idea was a bit weird to me at first, to actually share your immediate living environment with a stranger. In India though, it is absolutely normal to have a permanent live-in help. The many years that I’d spent my childhood in this country, I remember when we had a live-in help. A teenage girl, who came from a poor background, illiterate and unknowing of her own age (yes, not many folk of that strata of society are even aware of something called a Birth Certificate), and also incapable of telling the time. I remember she’d lived with us a year after which she returned to her village to get married. Even at that tiny age that I was in, I was delighted to have her and to practise my teaching skills! I’d return home from school I’d teach her to tell the time and learn the alphabets. By the time she left us, she was able to read simple stories, write her name and much more, and tell the time! That was a tiny achievement I still remember with some pride!

When I first met Shumi, I was a bit anxious. We desperately needed help and I hoped to meet someone who would plan to stay on a long term basis. Well, Shumi made me feel completely at ease. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who can smile so wide for any small remark! Her simple outlook and smiling face made it possible for me to warm up to her quick. I asked her age, she said she didn’t know, so I asked her to guess. She said she thinks she could be 30, which is excellent, as I’d preferred someone mature but also a bit girlish. Speaking of girlish, it’s a pleasure to go out with her. Her ringing laugh puts everyone at ease, and shopkeepers are charmed.

Owing to her very girlish nature and wanting-to-please attitude, it was a bit hard for me at first to call her “you” in the polite way. If you have an understanding of French, “you” in French can be either tu or vous. Tu is used for addressing people of your age or younger. Vous is when you address people older to you or people of authority (The French dislike it if you adopt a “tu” attitude if you don’t know them too well). In Bengali, there is a tu, a vous and something that comes in between called “tumi”. As much as I’d wanted, I couldn’t use tumi on her and “tu” kept slipping out of my mouth. I so wanted to show her respect, and not make her feel “unequal” or something. I was quite relieved when she took to calling me “tu” as easily as I did for her! That was a little amusing for me! 🙂

Oh, and I can’t gush enough about her cooking! When we go to the vegetable market, and I see vegetables I’ve never seen in my life before, she knows how to make the most awesome meals out of them, cooked in the local fashion! Knowing her, I have no need now to step into Bengali restaurants, because I have the real deal right home here with me! 🙂

Shumi is a veritable goldmine! She knows the ins and outs of Kolkata, and even the surrounding regions! She’s told me of places that I never knew existed around this region of Bengal. She never falters on her language, which makes it possible for me to brush up on my Bengali language. I am already dreaming of letting her take reign and show me all the secret places that Kolkata has to offer. (well, I guess it would be just a big secret to me, since I’m an outsider!). She isn’t too knowledgeable on the “touristy” things that Kolkata has to offer, rather she’s told me stories of the peaceful areas along the river where funeral pyres are burning, of the green and golden ricefields that one sees when taking the train around Bengal, of visiting a big temple to the goddess of destruction, Kali at 3am at night!! Wow!!

I am just waiting for this busy period of settling in to get over before I am ready to rediscover Kolkata! So get ready Kolkata, I am coming out soon, especially hoping my camera works okay! I feel a bit paralysed without including photos in my posts!

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2 thoughts on “Introducing my new Assistant, Shumi!

  1. i always found it amusing that “tu” conveys the same meaning in french and in Indian languages like Hindi and Bengali..though in Bengali we use tui…I must say…your posts on Kolkata are very enjoyable…gives a different perspective to things I would normally take for granted…keep them coming 🙂

    • Yes, at first I was also struck by the similarity between tu and tui! Thanks for your compliment Know-All, Kolkata gives me a lot of food for thought everyday! 🙂

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