Yesterday was Ugadi, a festival to herald the New Year, celebrated by two regions in South India- Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. As it turned out, it was also NavRoz for the Parsi community, Cheti Chand for the Sikhs, Gudi Padwa for the Maharashtrians and Sajibu Nongmapanba for Manipur.

One of the things I cherish about growing up here in India and bringing up my daughter here is the myriad festivals we are exposed to, at every turn. I sincerely appreciate our living in a gated community with a cosmopolitan population that celebrates every festival from Sankranthi in January right up to Christmas in December in a wonderful way, including children and adults alike in the festive mood. To me, this symbolises our unity at a very basic level. We may be different in our beliefs, our political leanings and our personal faiths, but we come together as a community in situations like these.

Photo copyright: Shailaja V

Our household helpers are equally delighted when it comes to these festivals, because they get the day or maybe the weekend off to celebrate it with their families. So, it was a bit of a surprise when my maid turned up for work yesterday and went about her duties as if it was an ordinary day. She had brought her daughter along ( whose story is another one of inspiration all by itself) and we gave the child cash as blessing on this auspicious day. Smiling shyly, she turned and handed it to her mother. Soon after, they left for home.

This morning when my maid came in to work, I asked her, ‘Wasn’t it Ugadi yesterday? Why were you not at home, celebrating it?’

A smile danced on her face, but her eyes betrayed her anguish. ‘We did not have enough money, Akka, to buy all the items for the puja. I could not even buy new clothes for the kids. With the money you gave yesterday, I bought the whole family four varieties of sweets and they were all very happy.’

Her answer struck me like a blow. ‘But, you could have asked me. I would have gladly given you the money for the items as well as the dresses for the kids,’ I replied in an ashamed tone.

She broke into a genuine smile and said, ‘No, no, Akka. I know you would have. That is exactly why I did not ask you.’

Now I was confused. ‘But why not?’

Then, in the comfort of my kitchen, a woman ten years younger than me, told me something I will never forget. ‘ Akka, it is not the money that is important, but how we get it. I can easily take the money and buy the items, but how will my children understand the value of hard work? When I explained this to them, they readily agreed and insisted that I should not get them new dresses this year. In fact, they have all decided, on their own, to take up a summer project in the biscuit factory close by. They will spend a few hours each day, packing biscuits and earning some pocket money. It is a good way for them to learn responsibility. Then, next year, we can celebrate Ugadi in a grand manner.’

With everything at our fingertips these days, we forget to look up and give thanks for the things and people in our lives. Right before my eyes, a woman I have come to respect for so many different reasons, showed me how it is not enough to simply live life, but to look up, celebrate and enjoy it with every breath of our being. Through it all, we must hold our heads high in self-respect, show concern for others and place an emphasis on the things that truly matter.


{Thank you to for giving me an opportunity to share her story with you all.}

NB: Akka: Elder sister( in Tamil)
Puja: Ritual