Two minutes later, we reached Ezhil’s home which was just down the lane. We were impressed by the vision and care with which he had built it. Windows all around streaming in natural light, a high ceiling, a large hall, kitchen and pantry and 1 bedroom with attached bathroom, it appeared bigger than it was, all shiny with wall to wall marble design tiles, multi coloured walls, kitchen with granite counter top and an impressive back splash with a generous sprinkling of pineapples for a bountiful aura. The fully tiled bathroom had a western commode and shower. The steps and stainless steel railing leading up to the open terrace overlooking the fields were both solid and strong. Ezhil who has no formal education is in his late 30s. He came to work for my sister over 10 years ago. He was then newly married. Now he has two bright young boys Anish and Nishant. We educate his boys, take care of the family’s healthcare needs and generally relate to them as family members. He in turn has reciprocated as driver, elder escort, carer, and handyman.
Largely because of the respect and care with which my sister’s family and mother treat him, he has grown in confidence to aim higher than the rest of his family. Evidence the thought, detail and effort he has put into his charming home. He has browsed the internet and scoured stores for ideas and deals, personally done all the electrical work, and supervised closely every aspect of the construction, as much as his free time would permit.
When we arrived, Ezhil, his wife and kids ran outside to greet us. But they were a bit subdued as though in a stupor. Everything appeared to move in slow motion. A couple of relatives came in to meet us, but not the stream we had expected. They offered us juice, some tender coconut and sweets. A young relative who has a photo studio came to take our pictures. Ezhil had made plans for this day and it appeared not to be panning out as he had hoped. Anish was moping. I immediately assumed it was because I had shown attention to a young cousin of his, over him. I hugged him close and asked him what the matter was. “Was it something someone had said?” He just refused to say. We spent about an hour and left laden with tender coconuts and some plants that he had given us as return gifts. They did not urge us to stay longer or eat - usually South Indian hospitality is such that they will ply you with food and drink.
Something definitely was off, but we could not put our finger on it. As we neared Chennai, Ezhil called us on the phone. His wife’s young first cousin, all of 17 had been in the house earlier, playing with his boys. He had then left to play cricket in a local league. The first ball from the batsman had got him on the left side of the chest, while he was fielding, and he had dropped dead. They had just rushed him to the hospital with a faint hope of reviving him, minutes before we reached. Those were the boy’s relatives we had seen on our way in. That night it was all over the news since the tournaments had been organized in connection with annual the birthday celebrations of late Prime Minister, Jayalalitha.
The loss of this boy under these circumstances was tragic. However, what was stunning was the reaction of Ezhil’s family towards all of us. They did not want to “spoil” our experience and so had demonstrated stoicism in the extreme. It symbolized for me how inequality manifests in Indian society. That even such grave tragedies of the poor must be kept private so they do not interfere with the enjoyment of the wealthier class. Even Anish who had been very close to the boy and had known what had happened, had been socialized into believing this. My heart broke when I realized that all of them, including Anish, had demonstrated such great restraint and resilience and had not to let their emotions show!