Author’s note: This essay was published in India Abroad on their web site http://www.indiaabroad.com under the blog category (October 15, 2018)
Those of us of Indian origin living in the United States, and especially those who own property, are used to performing tasks such as gardening, lawn mowing and cleaning up. (Though there are some of us who just let someone else do the work and enjoy a run in a park or yoga instead.)
I am always amused when visitors from India show interest in helping us do these tasks. First, they are curious because they have never done them back home – when a chore is to be done, there is plenty of low-cost help to do it. There is also the perception that someone of a certain social standing simply does not do it.
“What will your neighbors or friends say when they see you sweeping your yard or cutting the hedges in your garden? It’s simply not done. ” So goes the thinking.
This applies to work inside the home as well. Some jobs are to be done by designated people only.
When my sisters-in-law and brother-in-law from India were visiting for the past two months, one of the sisters didn’t want me to lift my dinner plate after a meal and place it in the sink.
“I’ll do it, Ashok. Leave it,” she said.
“Well, what happens if I do it?” I replied. “This is America.”
“But, I feel awkward.” She was genuine in her expression.
Then I got it. She felt it was a woman’s duty to clean up.
For the last few years, I have given up doing the lawn work that I had done for more than 35 years. It started the year our daughter decided to get married. All the planning and organizing and the travel to shop for clothes didn’t leave enough time for the yard work, so I hired a lawn service. The guys come with riding mowers, string trimmers, edgers and blowers. They accomplish in 20 minutes what would take me more than two hours. But it so happened a few weeks ago that our hedge in the front yard needed trimming and my wife wanted to remove some plants, which required digging. She asked a lawn company, and their estimate was atrocious. We looked for alternatives.
“I can trim the hedge. It’s just 15 feet long,” I said. “It wouldn’t take long. I did it many times, remember? And, I need to use the electric trimmer that is just lying around.’
“But what about the digging?” My wife asked.
“We’ll find someone, or I’ll help you.”
“No. It’s a bit of work and I don’t want you to break your back,” she said. “We’re not as young anymore.”
I remembered seeing an advertisement on the site Nextdoor. Two 15 year-old high school boys were looking for work. I recommended my wife call them. One of them lived a short distance from our house. He agreed to work for three hours at a very reasonable price.
We felt good that we would save some money and get back into doing work that we used to do.
Next Saturday, the young man, Anthony, showed up. His father drove him to our house.
“He doesn’t want to do work at home, but he’s willing to help you,” the father said.
“Well, it’s because he’s getting paid.” My wife replied. They both laughed.
My elder sister-in-law was observing all of this.
“I want to see how you people work,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, “as long as you watch from a distance.”
An memory from the days when I used to mow the lawn flashed in my mind. At that time, another guest we had came rushing out of the house when he saw me with my mower. He felt obliged to help me out.
“Let me do it,” he said.
“What?” I asked, after shutting the mower.
“Let me do the mowing,” he said again.
“Oh God. No. Please, no” I replied. “It’s not as easy as it looks. I don’t want you to get injured.”
He reluctantly agreed but stood to watch me with folded hands until I was done.
As Anthony and my wife started to work on removing the plants I hooked the 100-foot extension cord to my trimmer. I put lubricating oil on the threads. I was ready. Lo and behold the trimmer wouldn’t start. I pushed the start button several times, and nothing happened. I checked another wall outlet. It didn’t help. It couldn’t be, I thought. I had a voltage detector, which I used to test the outlets. The wall outlets were hot.
“We need a new trimmer,” I said loudly.
“Well, we wanted to get a battery-operated one anyway,” my wife said. “Now is the time.”
She was right. There was no going back. We were committed to doing the work. I made a trip to Home Depot to buy a new cordless trimmer. I can’t understand why the old one wouldn’t work, I thought. Maybe, like they say, Use it or lose it. Haha.
Trimming was much easier with the new machine. It was faster, too, because I didn’t need to worry about getting all tangled up in the extension wire.
When I was working, my sister-in-law was videotaping my work on her mobile phone.
“Am I going to be on the six o’clock news?” I kidded.
“No, I want my son to see this. He should know.”
“Okay,” I said.
She asked me to pose near a smaller plant so she could get a close-up and a better angle with good light shining on me.
Later she took another video of me using the blower to clean the debris from our driveway. We had lined up 25 clear plastic bags and bundles of brush all tied up along our sidewalk. She took a photo of that.
“You should have seen this,” I heard her, later, talking with her son. “It looked just like a barber cutting your hair. Nice and smooth.”
I was glad her son in India could see our yard work and also thankful that she was content with just watching and recording.